By Nick Manteris · 0 Comments · Leave a Comment
The studios continue to mine the past for ideas (is original thought dead? …or just too expensive?) and this week at the box office we are given the choice of two different films based on properties from the 80s: The Karate Kid and The A-Team. The Karate Kid is the more important of these two remakes – as far as pop culture is concerned, anyway – and it easily won the showdown in the ticket office at 11:59 Thursday night.
Let’s address the title before we start on the film: Karate is a Japanese martial art, but in this film the characters are practicing kung fu and the story takes place in Beijing. The term “karate” comes up in the movie once, but the character that mentions it is quickly corrected. During filming it was rumored that they would call it The Kung Fu Kid – that’s the name used in China and Japan – and why they didn’t use that title really makes no sense at all. The only plausible reason is that the studios don’t have enough faith in their audiences to not be completely and totally stupid. (Maybe I’m giving the general populace too much credit, but I think we can handle a slight title change. It would have helped this remake stand on its own and might have lessened the backlash from the hardcore fans of the original. Btw, I also believe that sequels can be successful without the actors from the original as long as the story is good, but I’m not sure everyone will get behind me on that one.)
This version of The Karate Kid features a younger protagonist that isn’t quite as insecure and awkward as his counterpart. Jaden Smith is capable as Dre Parker, though he hasn’t yet developed nuance as an actor. Jackie Chan, however, gives perhaps the best performance of his career as Mr. Han, though this is a more serious and subtle role than the stuff he normally attempts. Most of the framework of the story is identical to the 1984 film, but the setting takes a drastic shift to another country and the cultural clash brings to mind the situations from Karate Kid II. There are several other differences as well – the crane kick, “wax on, wax off” and “sweep the leg” don’t show up in this interpretation of the story. Also, the film is long, but they somehow manage to rush through some key moments: Dre meets a new friend, finds a love interest and makes an enemy during his first day in a new country, for example. (The fact that the friend never shows up again for the rest of the movie is not important.) The speed that Dre learns some of his moves also borders on being completely ridiculous, but it’s probably the most easily-overlooked unrealistic element.
I have to admit that I was extremely skeptical about this remake, but it was mainly because the initial pitch for the movie implied an urban youth with an interest in hip-hop. Thankfully, that was just racist speculation and another one of my fond memories from childhood wasn’t disgraced in an attempt to trick me out of some of my money. Some of the latest reworkings and reimaginings have soured me on the idea of remakes in general and I fully expected this to be another one to add to that list. (Recently, the TV series V and Clash of the Titans are the two most blatant offenders.) I’m not saying that this Karate Kid can stand up against the original, but its heart is in the right place and the story, while predictable, still works. (It’s also – surprisingly – the best movie I’ve seen at the theater since Kick-Ass, though Iron Man 2 was a more fun ride. Not that I've really cared much at all for the other stuff I've seen this year.) It's worth seeing, but it's nothing spectacular. In twenty-five years I bet there won’t be any Dre fans creating something like the Bat for Lashes track “Daniel,” though, that’s for sure.