I first saw the original Karate Kid years ago. I really enjoyed it and I saw it a few times. I saw the second movie a few times, but I don't think I've ever seen the third movie. It has been a long time since I last saw the movie, but I did enjoy it. I had some doubts when I first heard about the new version of The Karate Kid with Jaden Smith, but once I saw the trailer, I became interested in seeing the movie.
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Single mother Sherry Parker and her twelve-year-old son Dre are moving to China because of her job. Sherry is trying to make the best of the situation, but Dre is clearly not happy with the move. After arriving at their apartment, Dre tries to fit in at a park by the apartment building, but he ends up crossing Cheng, a bully, who beats him up. Dre has trouble fitting in at his new school, though he does become friends with Meiying, a girl who is nice to him. Dre continues to have trouble with Cheng and his friends who are also students there. The maintenance man of the building, Mr. Han steps in to help Dre one day and it isn't long before he agrees to teach Dre kung-fu. Cheng and his friends study kung-fu with Master Li, and things are set up for Dre to enter a tournament.
Even though it has been years since I've seen the original, I still remembered the basic story so I knew what was coming in many scenes of The Karate Kid. That didn't bother me since the movie was very entertaining. There are enough different things from the original to keep this movie from being a carbon copy of that movie. The basic main story of a teenager struggling to fit in at a new school and deal with a bully is still here, though it has been tweaked. Dre is younger, and he and his mom move to a new country instead of just a new city. That does cause Dre some additional trouble in fitting in since he doesn't understand the culture or the language. Dre first tries to teach himself some karate moves by watching a show on television, but he ultimately learns kung fu, a different type of martial art. From what I remember, the movie was originally going to be called The Kung Fu Kid, which would have fit the subject better.
Having a character have to adjust to a new home isn't anything new for movies. I do think that aspect of The Karate Kid is handled well. Starting a new school is hard enough on kids, especially as they get older, because of the various cliques and how cruel kids can be. Throw in the fact that the school is in a different country where the kid trying to fit in doesn't understand the language, and that does add even more complications to the situation. It isn't surprising that Dre has trouble adjusting. He tries to act tough the first time he encounters other kids, and he even seems to be making a friend, but the friend disappears quickly and Dre ends up catching the attention of a bully instead.
Unfortunately, bullies are everywhere, and it seems like much of the time, they get away with what they do. Others do witness Cheng beating up Dre, but none of them try to stop what is happening. At one point, Meiying tells Dre to tell someone what is happening, but she could have done that herself. The bullying does serve as one of the main motivators for Dre learning kung fu, so I get why it is in the movie. That doesn't make it pleasant to see though. Cheng and his friends study kung fu with a twisted teacher who drills into them never to show mercy, and Cheng has really taken that to heart. Even when his friends try to get him to stop going after Dre at one point, he continues. The beatings Cheng gives Dre in a few scenes can be difficult to see and could upset some viewers, especially younger children. I don't think the violence is excessive or that graphic, though there is enough of it that it could bother some viewers. Parents may want to watch the movie before letting their children see it. The movie is rated PG, but there could be a little more violence in it than some parents would want their children to see. Parents should also take into consideration the fact that the movie is over two hours long when deciding on taking their kids to see it.
Most of what is shown in The Karate Kid is tied to Dre learning kung fu. Mr. Han doesn't want to teach Dre at first, but he changes his mind after seeing how Master Li is teaching his students, including Cheng. It doesn't seem like Mr. Han is teaching Dre much at first since it involves him doing stuff with his jacket. Eventually it is shown that those movements are also movements used in kung fu. Mr. Han is teaching Dre more than just kung fu with his various unique lessons. As the movie progresses, the bond between the two of them grows stronger. It becomes clear that Mr. Han needs Dre just as much as Dre needs him. The relationship between them is the most important thing in the movie, and if it didn't work, the movie would have failed in a big way.
Dre isn't happy about moving to China. I do think that is understandable. He tries to fit in, but he is soon targeted by bullies. He remains unhappy, which is still understandable. He does have a bit of an attitude at times, but it makes sense given everything he is dealing with. There is a lot of character growth for him and the changes are believable. Jaden Smith, son of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, is really good in the part. He shows a wide range of emotions and is very intense at times when it is needed. I did notice a few mannerisms that reminded me of his father. Jaden definitely has his father's charisma and I can see him having a successful acting career.
Mr. Han is quiet and at first he seems a bit distant. He is just more observant and he notices all sorts of little things that get used at some point. There is more depth to the character than there seems at first. Something about his past comes out at one point and it is clear that it has really impacted the man he is. Jackie Chan is really good in the part. I have seen several of his other movies and I've enjoyed the ones I've seen. I've always been impressed with his fighting. This time, I was also impressed by his acting. Mr. Han is different from all the other parts I've seen him play. He gets the chance to show more emotion.
Sherry isn't in that much of the movie. It is clear that she is concerned about Dre and she is trying to make the best of the move to China. Taraji P. Henson is fine in the part. Meiying is a girl who is nice to Dre from the start. She plays the violin and is preparing for an important audition and her friendship with Dre does complicate some things for her. She is nice, though not that developed. There is a bit of a romance between her and Dre added, which is a little odd since they are so young.
Cheng is the bully who beats up Dre more than once. Cheng is always with his group of friends who also study kung fu with the same instructor and the group of them enjoys tormenting Dre. Cheng is good at kung fu, but he has been twisted by how he has been taught. He really isn't nice at all. Zhenwei Wang does well with the part. Cheng's friends are always around without them really standing out. Master Li teaches kung fu at a large kung fu school. He teaches his students to be brutal and not show any mercy. Master Li is borderline abusive to his students when they upset him. He isn't likable in any way.
Jackie Chan - Mr. Han
Wen Wen Han - Meiying
Taraji P. Henson - Sherry Parker
Jaden Smith - Dre Parker
Zhenwei Wang - Cheng
Rongguang Yu - Master Li
Harold Zwart - Director
The Karate Kid is a well done and very entertaining movie. It is one of the better remakes I have seen and people should give it a chance.
This review is part of CaptainD's Good Movies EpiGuide 3 Write Off.
* This review was originally posted after I saw the movie in the theater. It is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.
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