Reel Reviews | The Karate Kid

by Tim Gordon

One boy’s cross-cultural coming-of-age tale strongly resembles 1984’s The Karate Kid, but this latest version has more in common with several other prominent recent releases. With his performance in this film, Jaden Smith steps from his family’s long regal shadow to “announce his presence with authoritah!”

As the story opens, young Dre (Smith) is preparing for a move that will change his life forever. With his mother being relocated to Beijing, Dre leaves his friends and family behind to start a new life. Not necessarily a bad kid, Dre is at the age where most young boys begin to push back on parental authority and is making his mother’s life uncomfortable.

Soon through a set of circumstances, Dre begins to feel the heat. While meeting a new friend, Mei Ying (Wenwen Han), he crosses paths with the neighborhood bully, Cheng (Zhenwei Wang) with disastrous effects. Beaten down and embarrassed, Dre retreats into a shell keeping his mental agony and distress from his overprotective mother.

Dre’s fortunes take a turn for the better when the building’s maintenance man, Mr. Han (Jackie Chan) observes his young new neighbor’s behavior and comes to his aid, unexpectedly chasing away the gang assaulting the overmatched Dre. To stop the abuse, Han accompanies bruised Dre to the Kung-Fu studio and observes the overly aggressive teachings of sensei, Master Li (Yu Rongguang).

The arrogant sensei promises that his young thugs will leave Dre alone if he agrees to fight in the upcoming Martial Arts tournament. But he warns Han that “if Dre doesn’t fight, he’ll cause harm to the both of them” in an ominous tone.

With a small window to prepare, Dre’s initial lessons consist of the eager student removing his coat, hanging it up, putting it back on, dropping it to the ground, and hanging it again. “Everything is Kung-Fu” implores Han, who is dealing with his emotional problems that are revealed later in the story. While Dre goes through his monotonous routine, Han works on the “car in his living room which will provide the film’s central emotional moment.

The rights to the story were purchased by Will Smith’s production company as a star vehicle for young Jaden, whose breakthrough performance ensures that his father’s gamble pays off. Displaying many of the same charismatic skills as both of his famous parents, Jaden gets to stretch out in this role displaying a little of everything in the film’s title role. His performance in this film is part Rocky and equal parts, Neo from The Matrix, playing a person whose character gets an entire movie theater’s audience out of their seats cheering for our young hero who just has to believe to pass the film’s final test!

While Smith shines, Chan also brings credibility and skills as the modern-day Mr. Miyagi. Mimicking Miyagi’s style, Chan brings his physical brand of martial arts to the film and the scenes featuring him training Smith must have been as painful for both Will and Jada to watch as it was to film for Jaden.

There have already been rumblings of dissent from people who claim this latest version culturally dumps on China and that the film is steeped more in the art of kung-fu than karate. While those claims are up for debate, what can’t be denied is the sheer power of this 2010 version that supersedes the original. The Karate Kid 2010 is more of everything: more developed, more inspiring, and much more fun.

The original film was nominated for an Oscar and spawned two sequels. While the jury is still out on its predecessor, fueled by the new “Fresh Prince,” audiences are sure to enjoy Jaden’s kung-fu fighting!

Grade: A