Fellow children of the '80s: Merely pondering the possibility of
a "Karate Kid" remake tears at the very fiber of our
No one else needs to say the words "wax on-wax off" ever again.
No teen bully could possibly be as slickly menacing as Billy Zabka.
And as climactic showdown songs go, nothing could beat the cliched
bombast of "You're the Best Around." (Now it'll be stuck in your
head the rest of the day, just like it's stuck in mine. You're
Sure, John G. Avildsen's original 1984 movie was formulaic, but
it was OUR formula. There was no doubt Daniel-San was ever going to
lose to rich, arrogant Johnny, leader of the Cobra Kai, in the
finals of the big karate tournament. But that was OK. He had heart
on his side — and the crane kick. Avildsen also directed "Rocky,"
so he knew a little something about playing up the underdog theme
for maximum emotional impact. We were sucked in despite
Nevertheless, a new version of "The Karate Kid" is upon us.
Director Harald Zwart ("Agent Cody Banks") hits all the same notes
and adheres closely to Robert Mark Kamen's original script, down to
a sweep-the-leg moment in the finale. Details have been tweaked in
Christopher Murphey's new script, including the setting: Instead of
moving from New Jersey to Los Angeles because of his single mom's
new job, our young hero moves from Detroit to Beijing, where he
promptly incurs the wrath of the local thugs and learns martial
arts to protect himself. (And by the way, it's now kung fu.)
But one of the biggest changes of all is the character's
Ralph Macchio was what, like, 35 when he played Daniel? But he
looked 16, as his character was, so he seemed like a good fit. Now
the character, Dre, is 12 — as is the film's star, Jaden Smith, son
of Will and Jada (both executive producers). But with his pretty
face and slight build, Smith looks about 9. It's inescapably
distracting. And so neither the fighting nor the romance with a
girl who's out of his league — two key components of "The Karate
Kid" — makes sense.
Even after the obligatory training montage, Smith is still a
tiny, lean kid. Macchio didn't exactly bulk up, but he had an
attitude about him, an East Coast swagger, that helped make his
transformation into a karate master believable. Plus it's just
uncomfortable watching kids this age beat each other up to the
point of serious injury; there's no one to root for in that.
Still, we must watch Dre go through the motions of learning from
Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), the handyman in the building where he and
his mother, Sherry (Taraji P. Henson) now live.
Dre hates it in China — doesn't understand the language, can't
use chopsticks, etc. — but when he meets a pretty violinist named
Mei Ying in the park, he's smitten. School bully Cheng (Zhenwei
Wang) doesn't like this development, though, and goes on a mission
to make Dre's life even more hellish than it already was. Enter Mr.
Han, who not only fights off Dre's enemies, he heals the boy's
injuries and puts him through his own peculiar training
We all know where this is headed: The Big Tournament. But first,
"The Karate Kid" stops at the Great Wall and the Forbidden City —
you know, just because they're picturesque — which contribute to
the movie's overlong running time. Still, Chan is solid in an
extremely different role, one that's much more serious and
understated than his well-known, playful persona. All the trademark
acrobatics are there, but without the cheerful mugging. After
decades on screen, it's refreshing to see Chan shift gears like
Functioning in the Mr. Miyagi role, Chan also has decent
chemistry with Smith. But things are awkward between Smith and
Wenwen Han, the Chinese version of Elisabeth Shue's Ali-with-an-I.
Their ages, her shy demeanor, her English (which is sometimes hard
to understand) — all these factors conspire against them, and the
The ending is still rousing enough to make the film a
crowd-pleaser, though. But after this, hopefully some '80s classics
like "Sixteen Candles," ''Better Off Dead" and "Revenge of the
Nerds" will remain off-limits.
"The Karate Kid," a Columbia Pictures release, is rated PG for
bullying, martial arts action violence and some mild language.
Running time: 135 minutes. Two stars out of four.