I’ve not seen The Karate Kid. I’ve not seen The Karate Kid 2 and obviously because of that fact, I’ve not seen The Karate Kid 3: The New Batch or whatever it was called (The Next Karate Kid? Hang on, was there a third or was that the name of the second?). It was never one of those movies I felt I had to watch, I never really had that much of an interest in martial arts or underdog sports movies as a kid. However, I completely understand that to kids in the 80’s, it’s the rite of passage untouchable family movie that’s looked back with nothing but glory, like Space Jam appears to my generation, so I think that when a remake of the first movie was announced, certain people had the right to be a bit hesitant about it.
The downside of this movie, and even as a someone not acquainted with the series is that essentially, it’s a vanity project for Jaden Smith, who is the son of Will “The Fresh Prince” Smith and the movie is produced by Will and his wife, Jada, so obviously they have a big hand in the movie coming together and no doubt, the casting of Jaden. I haven’t anything against the Smiths, except maybe that god-damn Whip My Hair song, but personally, I felt it hangs over this movie, despite Smith’s best intentions and whilst it doesn’t make the movie bad, it just ruins the illusion (Plus watching it with people who are in love with Will Smith pointing out whenever Jaden does any Will Smith style expressions or lines or commenting “He looks like his father” doesn’t help).
The story is that Dre Parker and his mum are moving to China after she gets transferred by the car company she works for. Dre then meets a girl, falls in love and is beaten up by an older kid who may or may not fancy her himself, typical teenage stuff (I’ll come to this more later). After getting saved by Jackie Chan, he goes to the dojo to set things straight and ends up being signed up for a brutal tournament that genuinely borders on the “This got a PG rating?” territory. So Mr Han trains him, he gets on the wrong side of the girls parents, he enters the tournament, nearly loses, then wins. I’d have spoiler free’d that, but it’s your standard underdog sports family movie, so it was inevitable that he’d win. And add to that Cheesy Freeze frame fade out to the sound of a Justin Beiber song featuring…Jaden Smith. Yeah. Vanity project.
The story’s a pretty solid foundation, it flows pretty nicely with a couple of call backs and a standard 3 act structure with a B plot romance, but there are still a few problems with it in the set-up. I felt the opening scenes rushed us into getting to China, I think they could have done some more shots around Detroit to really give a sense of it being his home and really emphasise him being a fish out of water, which again is quite loosely brushed over, he genuinely catches on to his location quickly, minus not learning the language with a definite confidence, making the big moment where he throws a tantrum about hating China less effective than it should be. But then, the movie is about 2 hours anyway, so perhaps it was cut for time.
To add to this, throughout the film, I always got the impression that the part of Dre was actually written for someone older, he seems too street smart and confident for a twelve year old, I expect this of a 15 year old, not someone who’s not hit puberty yet. But for what it’s worth, Smith does do his best with what he’s given and whilst at times, it doesn’t exactly work, he’s still likeable to the audience. It’s Jackie Chan though that really shines here. He’s still the fighting expert that he always is and maybe I’ve not seen enough of his movies, but in the ones I’ve seen, he’s always seemed to be either a big unstoppable action hero or daft foreigner…who can kick ass, but here he seems to be more mellowed and mature and even a little tragic, I felt more connected to him than I did with Dre.
But the films strengths is less it’s plot and it’s action, it’s actually a visual delight. The crew all upped chopsticks and shot it in China, and by god does China look beautiful in this movie, it’s like a tourism advert interspliced with Kids Fight Club. Wide angle swooping helicopter pan shots of the Great Wall, busy markets full of life, perfectly choreographed marshal arts students in matching uniforms looking like dancing rose petals, it’s damn poetic and I was surprised by how good those shots were.
I think for a family movie, you could do a lot worse than this, hell for a remake, I’m sure you could do a lot worse…in fact I think a fair few horror movies proved that point. Inevitably, it will date a lot worse than the original because it uses popular music such as Flo Rida, Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga within the soundtrack, which is something I’m usually not a fan of, unless you’re intentionally trying to capture that era or it fits the mood of the piece, which it certainly doesn’t here. And of course, people who saw the original will hate it because it’s not the original and in essence, it IS a vanity project to launch Jaden’s career, but if you can overlook that, what you get is a polished family movie that will entertain the kids AND give you a good idea of where to go on holiday this summer. Better get those plane tickets now before BA go on strike again…