It’s hard to redo a classic movie. Most fall very flat. Rarely can even the biggest stars fill the shoes of fond memories. Such is not the case with the latest 80s film remake, The Karate Kid. The original is a classic, particularly if you were young enough to get behind its Rocky Jr. ethos and draw some inspiration from Ralph Macchio’s winning portrayal of the title character.
While this version lacks in freshness; it follows every beat in the original story virtually verbatim. The film stands on its own by a setting far more majestic and provides more emotional touchpoints than even the sentimental original.
Once, again, we get the story of a boy, played by the charismatic Jaden Smith, who’s moving out of the only home he knows with his mother to a strange new town. In this case, a move from east coast to west coast is trumped by a move from Detroit to China, far more foreign than Ralph ever dreamed (until the sequel to the original).
Soon enough, Dre finds trouble from local bullies and these guys somehow seem meaner than the Cobra Kais of the original despite being several years younger. Unable to escape his tormentors, Dre is trapped and must be rescued by his apartment building’s maintenance man Han, played by Jackie Chan.
I feel hard pressed to talk any more about the plot because I don’t know that anyone hasn’t seen the orginal. Let’s just say that it’s all there, even the adorable puppy love interest (Han Wenwen) to complete the circle of cinematic life.
The true greatness of this Re-telling, and thankfully it’s not a re-imagining, is the relationship between student and mentor. The training of young Dre and the bond that is generated between he and his master is as fulfilling and perhaps even more touching than the original.
I’ve read several reviews that either complain about or simply cite the longer run time of this version of The Karate Kid. I couldn’t be less interested in whether such a worthy trip down memory lane (albeit in a fancier car) takes the scenic route over the short cut. For all the things this film gets right, I have to applaud and even stay through the obligatory Justin Bieber/Jaden Smith collabo song during the end credits.
For me, I could have been the harshest critic of this film if there were missteps but I guess that makes me even more of a cheerleader seeing there were none made. Whether its sentimentality or simply a solid story well told by very engaging performers, it must be said that Chan and Smith are both in excellent form here, a good movie is a good movie and The Karate Kid delivers a potent crane kick (well, not really but I think you get my meaning).