The Karate Kid

Movie Information

The Story: A Detroit youth who has moved to China with his mother trains for a kung-fu tournament in order to stand up to a gang of bullies. The Lowdown: A paint-by-numbers tale of uplifting inspiration that's surprisingly engaging and with a nice serious-minded role for Jackie Chan.
Score:

Genre: Preteen Action
Director: Harald Zwart (The Pink Panther 2)
Starring: Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan, Taraji P. Henson, Wenwen Han, Zhenwei Weng
Rated: PG

I’m sure it’s heretical in some corners, but I’ve never once seen The Karate Kid (1984), despite being of the age where this should have been a part of my youth. But let’s say for a second that I had been weaned on Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita—would this affect my opinion of this latest incarnation? Would I be wailing and gnashing teeth at Hollywood’s ruination of my childhood?

No, of course not. The idea that one movie could sully someone’s childhood is just silly; it would indicate it wasn’t much of a childhood to begin with. Anyone who wants to take exception to Hollywood cranking out a remake of some beloved prepubescent classic should just take to mind what Raymond Chandler once said when someone asked him about what Hollywood had done to his books: “Hollywood hasn’t done anything to them. They’re still right there on the shelf.”

But really, this is about the mootest of points, since this Karate Kid—besides similarities to the original in its basic plot—is a remake in name only. Maybe the most interesting aspect of the movie is how the film goes out of its way to play against expectations. It’s more than just how there’s no character named Mr. Miyagi. The film points out pretty early on that there’s no karate going on here; it’s all kung fu. More than this, but it’s almost refreshing to find a remake, reboot or whatever this is, that’s not obsessed with in-jokes and references. The closest thing we get to this is Jackie Chan waxing his car—and that’s it. There’s not even a cheeky “wax on, wax off” thrown in.

Don’t mistake this Karate Kid for some bastion of originality. The movie is your basic uplifting sports flick. A young boy (Jaden Smith) learns martial arts from an old man (Jackie Chan) in an attempt to stop bullies, with it all culminating in a fighting tournament. The only huge difference this time around is that the setting has been shifted to China.

The intervening quarter century has also ratcheted up the violence a good bit. Sure, it’s all blood-less—the movie is PG-rated, after all—but it’s shockingly visceral for a film aimed squarely at preteens and more than a bit unnerving.

Even with these reservations—and the ungodly 240-minute running time—the movie still works within the confines of its limited aims, passing with ease the “If I were a 10-year-old, would I find this awesome?” litmus test. But even with its predictability and its bloated running time, it’s not a complete waste for people who have passed middle school. A lot of this is pinned on Jackie Chan’s performance. Surprisingly, one can easily forget how he’s pretty much never been given anything to do other than just be happy, goofy Jackie Chan. Here, we get what might be the closest we’ll ever see to a serious role for Chan, and he nails it. For such a run-of-the-mill movie, Chan’s performance is probably more than the film deserves. Nevertheless, I’ll be the last to complain that the performance is there. Rated PG for bullying, martial-arts-action violence and some mild language.

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42 thoughts on “The Karate Kid

  1. Chip Kaufmann

    It probably seemed like 240 minutes while you were sitting through it, but the running time is a mere 140 minutes.

  2. TonyRo

    1) it’s 140 minutes and doesn’t at all feel like that once the movie gets going

    2) it’s extremely faithful to the original movie in many respects beyond the scene mr. han waxing the car. there were very subtle beats that any fan of the original could see coming and appreciate (Mr. Han saving Dre from the punks; almost catching a fly with chopsticks; break the leg).

    3) no words about any of the lead kid’s performances? Jaden Smith has some serious acting chops, expect big things from him. Wenwen Han, a first time actress here, was also excellent.

    3) one of the better remakes i’ve seen in recent years (praise I thought I would NEVER give)

    all in all though, a pretty poor review, but a fair star rating

  3. Dread P. Roberts

    First of all, how did you manage to not see the original Karate Kid movie(s) as a youngster? It ultimately doesn’t matter, but it just seems a bit odd. I don’t think I could’ve avoided that even if I had tried. This shatters (shatters, I tell you) my worldview, that everyone in my age group was weaned on an unavoidable series of ’08′s films.

    this Karate Kid—besides similarities to the original in its basic plot—is a remake in name only.

    The intervening quarter century has also ratcheted up the violence a good bit.

    Also, I’m a little perplexed by some of the wording of this review; because after mentioning that you’ve never seen the original, it then looks looks like you’re making various comparisons to the original, slightly beyond the obvious stuff. Granted, one doesn’t exactly have to sit down and study the intricacies of the plot to know what’s all about, but still…

    What did you think of Jaden Smith’s performance? I read some other review that said he was actually fairly decent actor.

  4. Ken Hanke

    It probably seemed like 240 minutes while you were sitting through it, but the running time is a mere 140 minutes.

    And the amazing thing is that made it past three editors!

  5. Ken Hanke

    Also, I’m a little perplexed by some of the wording of this review; because after mentioning that you’ve never seen the original, it then looks looks like you’re making various comparisons to the original, slightly beyond the obvious stuff.

    I don’t know, I’ve never watched the original (I’ve seen pieces of it) and didn’t find anything beyond the obvious points.

  6. Justin Souther

    no words about any of the lead kid’s performances? Jaden Smith has some serious acting chops, expect big things from him. Wenwen Han, a first time actress here, was also excellent.

    Jaden Smith did pretty much nothing for me. He’s a bit too much mini-Will Smith for. He’s good and being bratty, though.

    one of the better remakes i’ve seen in recent years (praise I thought I would NEVER give)

    This I’ll agree on, but I’m less inclined to call it a remake. A friend of mine called it a “spiritual successor,” and that seems more reasonable somehow.

  7. Justin Souther

    First of all, how did you manage to not see the original Karate Kid movie(s) as a youngster? It ultimately doesn’t matter, but it just seems a bit odd. I don’t think I could’ve avoided that even if I had tried. This shatters (shatters, I tell you) my worldview, that everyone in my age group was weaned on an unavoidable series of ‘08’s films.

    There’s a whole wad of ’80s movies that I’ve never seen. Stuff like First Blood and Top Gun and a whole bunch of stuff I could keep listing I’ve never bothered seeing. A lot of it comes down to when I was at the age to see all this stuff, we didn’t have a ton of money to go to the movies or rent videos (there’s probably some other factors, but this one seems the most logical), so I just watched my Ghostbusters VHS all the time and was perfectly happy with that.

    Also, I’m a little perplexed by some of the wording of this review; because after mentioning that you’ve never seen the original, it then looks looks like you’re making various comparisons to the original, slightly beyond the obvious stuff. Granted, one doesn’t exactly have to sit down and study the intricacies of the plot to know what’s all about, but still…

    Well, I know the general plot of the original — that part I’ve picked up to a certain extent. As far as the in-references go, everyone knows “wax on, wax off” and I figured that the fly with the chopstick thing was a reference since it was in the trailer. As for the leg breaking thing, I had no clue that was a reference, but that’s only because the woman behind whispering “wax on!” during the car waxing scene didn’t feel the need to point it out to everyone. And as far as the increase in violence, I figured it was a safe assumption that things weren’t this visceral in 1984. But we all know what happens when we assume.

  8. TonyRo

    probably should take two hours out of your life and watch the original….it’s a classic of it’s time….otherwise you shouldn’t make reference to a film you’ve never watched

  9. Dread P. Roberts

    There’s a whole wad of ‘80s movies that I’ve never seen.

    Well, I specifically asked about ’08s movies – I don’t know what all this ’80s business is about. Seriously though, there is worse things that could happen then missing out on stuff like First Blood and Top Gun. Besides, I was really being entirely serious. Thanks for the feedback, Justin.

  10. Dread P. Roberts

    I was ‘NOT’ really being entirely serious. What is wrong with me today? I can’t seem to type a proper sentence to save my life – good grief.

  11. TokyoTaos

    I had no desire whatsoever to see this film and only went because it was the choice of a young friend whose recent high school graduation we were celebrating. I have to say I was very pleasantly surprised – in fact I would probably give it 4 to 4.5 stars for this kind of film. As the reviewer noted Chan gave a great performance, one very different from his usual parts. I also thought Smith did a great job – he has a great screen presence and all the emotional notes he has to hit in this film are believable. Yea, he’s Will Smith’s son but that doesn’t carry a movie – which he certainly does here. The other kid actors in the movie are also great. It never felt too long. The fighting is a little too cringe-worthy at times, especially for a younger audience. China as a setting is used powerfully – sometimes in a Hollywood-inspired way, but often in a very realistic way which I appreciated.

  12. Justin Souther

    it’s a classic of it’s time….otherwise you shouldn’t make reference to a film you’ve never watched

    If it’s a “classic of its time,” wouldn’t it be conceivable that — while I’ve never watched the film — I’d have some frame of reference in regards to it? I could understand your frustration if I were making more radical claims about the original’s quality or the like, or even comparing the quality of the new version and its source. But I’m not. And as far as I can tell, I never made mention of anything that I wasn’t already aware of through some type of pop culture osmosis that’s nearly unavoidable with something as well-known as The Karate Kid. I have no issue with this, but then again, I wrote the damned review.

  13. Justin Souther

    Well, I specifically asked about ‘08s movies – I don’t know what all this ‘80s business is about.

    I think it’s just a day for numerical typos.

  14. Justin Souther

    that’s not saying much

    No one said it was. Try getting worked up over something worth getting worked up over sometime.

  15. TonyRo

    No one said it was. Try getting worked up over something worth getting worked up over sometime.

    It’s that lack of passion for film and film criticism that tells me the Mountain Express has no idea they have a hack on staff.

  16. Ken Hanke

    It’s that lack of passion for film and film criticism that tells me the Mountain Express has no idea they have a hack on staff

    Oh, please. All this fuss over a remake of The Karate Kid? That’s about as out of whack on the priorities scale as I can imagine. Just because someone isn’t passionate about the same things you are doesn’t make them a hack.

  17. TonyRo

    Oh, please. All this fuss over a remake of The Karate Kid? That’s about as out of whack on the priorities scale as I can imagine. Just because someone isn’t passionate about the same things you are doesn’t make them a hack.

    Anything worth doing (i.e. reviewing movies, even bad ones) is worth doing right.

  18. Ken Hanke

    Anything worth doing (i.e. reviewing movies, even bad ones) is worth doing right.

    I don’t say it isn’t, but not all movies are going to generate the same degree of passion in everyone. The idea is absurd. I see nothing wrong with the review. It’s even-handed and perfectly fair. Is it worked up about the film one way or the other? No, but that was the effect the movie had on the reviewer.

  19. Dread P. Roberts

    Just to clarify, my inquiry was not meant to be a detraction of either the review, or the reviewer. I think Justin is a perfectly adept, qualified reviewer, who’s reviews I enjoy reading. Otherwise I wouldn’t be reading the MountainX reviews in the first place. With so many movie review articles out there, that strikes me as being a waiste of time. I regret being involved in this – especially since I haven’t even seen this movie, and have (more or less) had zero interest in seeing it in theaters. The very idea of it’s existence initially struck me as something of a pointless waste. But then again, so do the majority of these damned ’80s remakes. It’s like a plague of completely unnoriginal, exhausted ideas have consumed all the big budget hollywood studios.

  20. TokyoTaos

    Dread P. Roberts – see it! You might be pleasantly surprised as I was. I’m not a fan of ’80s remakes either – or of many of the originals for that matter!

  21. Dionysis

    20 posts and counting for this movie?? Hoo boy. Like Ken, I saw parts of the original film at different times, catching most of it. I’m not sure what the operative definition of ‘classic’ is here (box office draw maybe?), but the original was hardly a classic to me. Maybe a classic example of the type of stuff typifying the big screens during that period. It wasn’t a bad film, just (IMO) undeserving of a remake/reboot or whatever.

    Few movies from that era left any real impression on me (at least of that type of film); one 80s film that I think was far superior to the Karate Kid (with some similarities…small fry kid picked on, gets help, overcomes obstacles, prevails in the end, etc.) was My Bodyguard. I’d far prefer to re-watch that than either the original or this latest go. But others will probably disagree.

  22. Ken Hanke

    I’m not sure what the operative definition of ‘classic’ is here (box office draw maybe?), but the original was hardly a classic to me.

    Near as I can tell “classic” has become so elastic as to have been rendered meaningless. Just about any artifact of any era gets the “classic” label slapped on it these days. It wasn’t long ago that the original Friday the 13th was being called one. If the term means “a prime example of its time and genre,” then I have no argument with it, but to use “classic” in the, uh, classic sense is to put it on a level with The Gold Rush, Sunrise, Frankenstein, Casablanca, etc. That’s plainly ridiculous.

  23. Dread P. Roberts

    see it! You might be pleasantly surprised as I was.

    Oh, I certainly plan on seeing it sometime. I thought this was more in the ‘DVD rental’ territory. The big question in my mind: “is it really worth seing in theaters, more-so than other, viable options?” Last weekend was Splice, and this weekend it looks like Toy Story 3 is on the ‘must see’ agenda for my daughter. I’m lucky to get to even see one movie in theaters a month, much less two. Next month my wife and I are already pre-booked w/ a babysitter for Inception, so I’d have to go out of my way to cram this in there. You have peeked my curiousity, though.

    The big issue is that I know this (along w/ the other remakes) is aimed squarely at two groups of people. 1) A new generation of kids, and 2) People like me, with a bit of nostalgia for the original. I don’t like the idea of hollywood trying to make a quick, lazy buck off of my nostalgia. It’s slimly business ethic – like a used-car salesman – and despite any appeal, I’m naturally rebellious to this sort of thing. Granted, I know this is nothing new.

  24. TokyoTaos

    Dread P. Roberts – I would say it’s worth seeing on the big screen because of the cinematography – some really beautiful shots of China – but I think the movie would still hold its magic in DVD form. Maybe my high opinion of the movie is influenced by the very low expectations I had going into it – who knows! To be honest I have hardly any memory of the original. I was ten years old when it came out and my memory has always been a little short in retention – so this film succeeded for me without any nostalgia for the original whatsoever.

  25. Dread P. Roberts

    Thanks for the input TokyoTaos. I do appreciate good cinematography, and the fact that I lived in China for a while, would probably only add to my appreciation in that regard. We’ll see.

  26. bobaloo

    One question: So a remake of a fun 80′s movie made for the express purpose of giving Will “Welcome ta Erff” Smith’s kid a starring role gets three stars based on based on the strength of Jackie Chan’s performance?
    I is confused.
    This movie pretty much exemplifies everything that’s wrong with Hollywood.

  27. I haven’t seen the original either. I was too busy renting shelves of horror films at the local stores in the 80s.

    Still, it’s good to see Chan get back on track.

  28. Ken Hanke

    So a remake of a fun 80’s movie made for the express purpose of giving Will “Welcome ta Erff” Smith’s kid a starring role gets three stars based on based on the strength of Jackie Chan’s performance?

    Here we go again with the damned star system. Three stars is not a recommendation. Three-and-a-half is a mild recommendation. Three simply means it’s okay. Still, there’s more in this review that’s commented on positively than just Chan’s performance.

  29. Ken Hanke

    I haven’t seen the original either. I was too busy renting shelves of horror films at the local stores in the 80s.

    There’s a man with his priorities in order!

  30. bobaloo

    Still, there’s more in this review that’s commented on positively than just Chan’s performance.

    True, Justin said it wasn’t filled with in-jokes, the violence is teh awesome and 10 year olds will like it. Pardon me.

    And to most movie-goers, 3 stars out of five is indeed a recommendation. But I didn’t know you were so sensitive about the subject.

  31. Steven

    [b]And to most movie-goers, 3 stars out of five is indeed a recommendation. But I didn’t know you were so sensitive about the subject.[/b]
    It is? If you put it any other way (60%, 6/10, etc.), it doesn’t sound like a recommendation.

    Whenever I see a 4 star review from the Moutain Xpress, I’ll try to check it out. If it’s 4 1/2 or above, I’ll probably watch it when it’s in the theater.

  32. Ken Hanke

    But I didn’t know you were so sensitive about the subject.

    Only because this has been brought up several times. If I had my way, we’d do away with the whole rating system.

  33. It is? If you put it any other way (60%, 6/10, etc.), it doesn’t sound like a recommendation.

    60% is pretty much a recommendation that the film is worth your time. On Rotten Tomatoes, anything over 60% is “certified fresh” and considered a good film.

  34. Ken Hanke

    60% is pretty much a recommendation that the film is worth your time. On Rotten Tomatoes, anything over 60% is “certified fresh” and considered a good film.

    The comparison doesn’t hold, since it only means that 60% of the reviews were positive. If you want to put a letter grade to three stars, it’s a “C” — in my book, that’s not a recommendation. It merely means it’s fair.

  35. KC Cruzz

    Justin, let’s not forget Taraji P. Henson was in the movie too. Quite a bit, I might add. It’s ok to sometimes mention the contributions of the black women in a movie that does not center around the concerns of black people. They are not invisible, you know.

  36. Justin Souther

    Justin, let’s not forget Taraji P. Henson was in the movie too. Quite a bit, I might add. It’s ok to sometimes mention the contributions of the black women in a movie that does not center around the concerns of black people. They are not invisible, you know.

    I hope that by not mentioning Henson in this review isn’t construed as some sort of slight against Henson, her gender or her race. Unfortunately, there’s only so much room I’m alotted per review and only so much I can discuss within that space. Because of this, the only acting role I really had room to get into was Jackie Chan’s, but only because it was so surprising that he’s been given a chance to actually act.

    I’m a fan of Henson and I usually find her underutilized in most of the films she appears in. I’d say that even in this case she could’ve been given a better role since her character disappears from the film on occasion. But she gives a very strong, warm performance in this film, which I didn’t mention because it wasn’t surprising — I come to expect it from her. I have yet to see her give a bad performance. Ken and I have discussed this before, how we both think that it’s a pity there aren’t better roles out there for actresses like Henson or Queen Latifah or Gabrielle Union. They seem to end up being very good in a lot of lousy movies.

  37. TokyoTaos

    In Justin’s defense – and as someone who really liked this movie Henson’s performance in this movie is serviceable but not much more (due to the script, not her abilities. Believe me, she was not given much to work with.)

    In fact if there was any standout female performance it would be Han Wen Wen who plays the part of the little Chinese girl Jaden has a crush on. She lights up the screen every time she’s on it..

  38. goldencindy

    Here’s my review: I loved seeing China. Made me want to go there. I liked Jackie Chan. The bad kid was great and the girlfriend was awesome too. Jaden Smith? Er…every time he opened his mouth, his voice sounds like a 4 year old kid. Plus they kept doing these close-up shots of Jaden, and all it did was emphasize his babyishness. Weird. Maybe when he’s gone through puberty and his dad stops carrying him around like a two year old, he’ll be better.

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