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Old 06-10-2010, 11:00 PM
Harald Zwart's The Karate Kid (2010)

Here's the link to the published version of my review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:

The Karate Kid (2010)

The vast originality of Hollywood strikes again with an update of "The Karate Kid," a small film that became very popular and even spawned several sequels. Why on Earth somebody thought that we needed a remake of the original film is anybody's guess, but here it is with a few small changes to the story in an effort to make it seem fresh.

Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) and his mother, Sherry Parker (Taraji P. Henson), have moved to China because her job has recently transferred her there. Dre must get used to a whole new culture where he doesn't even speak the language. While visiting a nearby park, he has a run in with some bullies while trying to talk to a girl, Meiying (Wenwen Han). The head bully, Cheng (Zhenwei Wang), gives him quite a beating, which unfortunately won't be his last as he tries to get revenge on him.

However, this second beating is observed by a handyman, Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), who helps Dre out by using the bullies' Kung Fu against them. After Dre witnesses this, he has a strong desire to learn from Mr. Han, who initially refuses to teach him, but after a visit to the bullies' dojo, Mr. Han decides the best way to prevent them from beating Dre up again is to enter him in a martial arts tournament with a promise of immunity until then. Mr. Han's method of teaching Dre seems strange at first, but, just like in the original film, there's a reason behind these strange teachings...

This remake starts off with some promise by trying to do something different with the story. It creates different characters (though they have essentially the same roles as their predecessors) and moves the story to a new location. Sadly, that's where the important changes stop. After a long, stretched-out opening, the story finally starts when the bullies begin to pick on Dre. From then on, it ultimately becomes a by-the-numbers duplicate of the original film.

There obviously have to be some other small changes since the story has been moved to a new location, but there's just really nothing here that shows why the filmmakers thought this needed to be remade. If they had changed the story around in some way, then this might have been worth doing a remake of, but instead, this version is an instance where, if you've seen the original, then you've already seen this film.

The original film left an impact partly because the story was fresh at the time, but also because of its two leads, Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita. They were able to pull off the sensei/student relationship very well, leading to the audience cheering for Macchio when it came time for him to fight. For the remake, they have been replaced by Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan, neither of whom really leaves any kind of impact in their role. Add in the fact that we know exactly where the story is going and you have a very drawn-out final sequence where we have to wait for the inevitable to happen.

It's also curiously lacking in emotion, but I think this can easily be tied to the fact that Smith and Chan just didn't have much chemistry together on screen. They simply aren't able to pull off the relationship that Macchio and Morita had in the original. It certainly didn't help that Chan mumbles most of his dialogue in the film, not that he or anybody else gets anything that important to say.

The screenplay, by Christopher Murphey, a first-time screenwriter, is another problem. It gives Dre way too many dumb things to say while needlessly stretching out the entire story into a film that runs overly-long at 132 minutes. It could have easily stood another trip through the editing room for some cutting. There are some problems with the pacing early on, though it seems to find its footing once the story gets going, but there's still the problem of it following pretty much ever plot point of the original.

If you want to see this story done right, then simply go back and pick up the 1984 film. As far as remakes go, this is better than most. It's certainly nowhere near as dreadfully bad as the recent remake of "Death at a Funeral." "The Karate Kid" is not a terrible remake, just a completely unnecessary one. 2/4 stars.
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