You realize you’re getting old when Hollywood begins remaking movies you saw as a teenager for a new generation.
The first time I saw the original “Karate Kid,” I thought it was one of the greatest movies I’d ever seen. Six months later, renting it on VHS, it had paled a bit and was never quite the same. I’ve caught bits and pieces of it on cable over the years and it has its moments. Most of the charm of the first movie comes from the give and take of Daniel-san and Mr. Miyagi.
So, when I saw the trailers for a remake, I wasn’t quite sure.
Seeing the new version, I can say it’s a fairly faithful modernization of the original. No surprises here if you’ve seen the first one, though moving the setting from California to China is an intriguing move. Our hero is Dre, forced to move to China after the death of his father and his mother gets a new job there. Dre crosses paths with some bullies on his first day in his new home, defending the honor of a cute girl.
Dre is beaten up and soon begins hiding from the bullies at his new school. One afternoon Dre is following his tormentors at a distance and throws a bucket of dirty water on them. This leads to them chasing him and beating him up, six on one. Enter Mr. Han, the building maintenance man who drives off the attackers and takes Dre to their kung fu school to talk to the instructor. Han agrees to allow Dre to fight, but only in the upcoming kung fu tournament.
If you’ve seen the original (or really any underdog sports movie ever made) you’ll know there aren’t any surprises here. As I said before, what the movie’s success comes down to is the on-screen pairing of Han and Dre. Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith have the right give and take to make it work, even in several scenes as we learn about Han’s inner struggle and pain . There aren’t any scenes as memorable as “wax on, wax off” but visually this version has a lot more going for it with the backdrop of China.
I do wish Dre hadn’t had quite as much attitude as we see early on, but at least they try to have some character arc to it. Neither this or the original will be mistaken as a classic, but both are fun in their own way.