Review: The Karate Kid
PLOT: When his mother's career gets her transfered to Beijing, twelve-year old Dre (Jaden Smith) is forced to leave his friends in Detroit behind for a new life in China. Once there, he becomes the target of a group of bullies, each of whom are experts in Kung Fu. After being rescued by a local handyman, Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), Dre manages to convince the reluctant kung-fu master to take him on as a pupil, so he can compete in a local tournament, which he hopes will get the bullies off his back once and for all.
REVIEW: This “reboot/remake” of THE KARATE KID is shockingly good. I say shockingly, because judging from the fact that this is from the director of AGENT CODY BANKS, and THE PINK PANTHER 2, and has Will Smith's son in the lead alongside Jackie Chan- who hasn't made a good American film in at least a decade, you would assume this would be an awful film.
Surprisingly, it seems like everyone involved with the admittedly unnecessary remake, has stepped up to the plate in a big way, as it's actually a pretty decent film. No, actually, it's more than decent...it's good!
For one thing, director Zwart obviously had a healthy budget to work with here courtesy of producers Jerry Weintraub/Will Smith, with them shooting the film on location in China. The scenery is gorgeous, and the filmmakers make the most of the local, with us getting a glimpse into the forbidden city, as well as a nice little sojourn into a temple studying kung-fu deep in the mountains, which is beautifully shot.
It also helps that the people behind this actually seem to be fans of kung-fu films, with this loaded with a bunch of shout-outs to genre classics. The villain's named Wu Ping, after the great Yuen Woo-Ping, and stepping in for Martin Kove as the villainous teacher, we get none other than IRON MONKEY himself, Yu Rong-Guang. The climactic fights are extremely well choreographed, with no fancy quick cutting, and lots of long shots that prove young Smith must have trained hard for the role- as he looks like he could easily kick Ralph Macchio's ass (let's face facts- the fights in the original KARATE KID were always crap).
Jackie Chan also gets a hell of a role as the Miyagi-esque character, Mr. Han. Chan's been in a lot of shit lately in North America, but in Asia, he's been moving toward becoming a character actor with films like LITTLE BIG SOLDIER. As Han, he gets the best role he's ever had in America, and he really gets to act. His big emoting scene, in which we discover his tragic past, is among the finest acting I 've ever seen from Chan.
As for Smith, he's not half bad! He has a lot of the same charm his father did, back when he was THE FRESH PRINCE OF BEL-AIR, and he's much better here than he was in the crappy DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL remake. Obviously, he knows a thing or two about Kung-Fu, and the fact that I found him convincing opposite the skilled Chinese youngsters playing his opponents, is impressive.
My only beefs with THE KARATE KID are the following; first, why is it called THE KARATE KID? KUNG-FU KID would be much more appropriate, as there's absolutely no Karate on display here. Second, it runs 140 minutes, which is at least 15 min too long, and should have been trimmed from the slow first hour. I also thought the kids fighting Smith were a tad too evil, as is the coach, who's downright diabolical. They also unforgivably build up a fight between Yu and Chan that never happens, and was my only major disappointment with the film.
That said, I enjoyed the heck out of KARATE KID, and if you like Chan, and can get over the fact that this is a remake of a childhood favorite, you should check it out.