A coming-of-age-classic gets the full remake treatment this week as The Karate Kid roars into theaters with a reboot that throws the traditional coming-of-age plotline against the epic backdrop of China and amidst the thrilling world of Kung Fu. With its adventurous scope and thrilling fight scenes, this film connects much more than it misses. Even if it overstays its welcome a little bit.
Check out the full review below. . .
- Director: Harald Zwart
- Writers: Christopher Murphey (screenplay), Robert Mark Kamen (story)
- Cast: Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan, and Taraji P. Henson
Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) a 12-year-old boy, moves from Detroit to China with his mother (Taraji P. Henson) when she finds a new job. Dre struggles to fit in at his new school and when he catches the eye of his classmate Mei Ying (Wenwen Han) the class bullies who make it their mission to torment Dre. One such encounter results in Dre’s being beaten particularly badly until his apartment building’s maintenance man, Mr. Han (Jackie Chan) breaks up the fight. Secretly a master of kung fu, Mr. Han mentors Dre in the martial art in an attempt to rebuild his confidence and face off against the bullies who humiliated him in a massive kung fu tournament.
- The Scope: This film does not allow itself to be confined by the small story that forms its core. Instead, it treats us to expansive Chinese vistas, a sweeping score, and stunning fight choreography. This expanse makes the film feel like something of an epic rather than a small coming-of-age story and it really works well. Especially as a kids film – as the wide scope makes the development of Dre’s skills seem like an adventure rather than a life lesson.
- The Heart: Many question the decision to make the lead in this movie so young, but it would be hard for the film to find the relationship between the mentor and pupil with an older student, and that relationship forms the heart of this film. A heart that beats warmly and steadily as Mr. Han and Dre use their training to reveal their characters and grow together. This relationship allows the film not to lose its coming-of-age themes as it travels around China for its epic training sequences. It also permeates the rest of the film and the actions of its characters as their developments away from each other are firmly grounded in their relationship together. This is essentially par for the course in any coming-of-age film, but it’s handled deftly here.
- Dre’s Mother: May as well not even have been in this movie at all. We’re given no backstory about her, have no idea why she decided to move the family to China, and the only hint of a relationship she has with her son is that she doesn’t want him to throw his jacket on the ground (seriously, this is a MAJOR issue for this character). You’d think that a mother who just moved her son to a foreign country would want to be somewhat involved in his life. Instead, she functions merely as a plot device who hangs around in the background. A missed opportunity.
- The Length: At about 140 minutes, this film sticks around longer than it needs to – especially for a kid’s movie. The strange thing is that it does this without and exposition or denouement whatsoever – it’s entirely the middle. Because of this, there’s a long stretch where the film lacks any real momentum. It goes off into several different directions and just sort of sits around waiting for the end. There are a lot of subplots that could be trimmed or even removed and Dre’s introduction to the bullies stays around much longer than it needs to in order to make an impact.
The Karate Kid has a clear goal in mind: It wants to tell a coming-of-age story in a way that will excite a young audience with an adventurous feel. And with that in mind, this film is an unqualified success. The fight scenes are thrilling and the film just looks gorgeous as Mr. Han and Dre’s training takes them from The Great Wall to the Forbidden City, all with a sense of wonder and grandeur that builds an excitement that spreads well beyond the confines of the small story, making it somewhat epic.
There are failings in the film. It rambles too much and misses several opportunities to reveal something about the Parker family other than that they moved to China and the son gets beat up a lot, but that would only be necessary in a film looking for depth. This movie doesn’t concern itself with that: It wants to entertain kids and it does it very well.
The Karate Kid opens in wide release on June 11, 2010