Three and a half stars
When I left the theater, I had two thoughts. The cinematography by Roger Pratt, who photographed the first two “Harry Potter” films, is breathtaking and vibrant. Another is that Jackie Chan’s performance is pained and simple. His performance is Oscar worthy. Yes, I’m reviewing “The Karate Kid.” No, I'm not kidding. For those of you who saw the 1984 classic, yes, there isn’t many surprises in the new one as far as plot goes. Though, there are some differences. For one, it takes place in China.
Jaden Smith (son of Will Smith) plays Dre, the son of a single mother (Taraji P. Henson) who leaves Detroit, after a transfer to an auto plant in China. They arrive in China, and right away Dre doesn’t fit into the Chinese school. He tries to impress a Chinese girl who speaks English, but gets knocked over by a bully. He doesn’t defend himself well, and next thing he knows, he is a target. The hot water at the new apartment he lives in isn’t working, and he goes to the maintenance man (Jackie Chan). He continues to be bullied, until the quiet maintenance man, Mr. Han, steps in and defends Dre. Dre’s mother is naturally worried about him. Dre doesn’t want to live in China anymore. All that changes when Mr. Han agrees to teach him kung fu. Training for kung fu isn’t what Dre thought it would be. For the first few lessons, Mr. Han simply teaches him how to pick up his coat.
Jackie Chan’s performance in this film is excellent. This is a Jackie Chan we haven’t seen before. We’ve seen him as a buddy cop in the “Rush Hour” movies, and we’ve seen him as well, a buddy cop in the “Knight” movies. Here, he is different. He is silent and pained. He is quiet. He is unshaven. He isn’t stumbling through broken English for humorous effect.
Jaden Smith is a cool kid. Dre and Jackie make a good duo. In this film, the idea is that they teach each other lessons about getting up when life knocks them down. Though, he tries to make the best of it. Then there’s the matter of the girl he met on his first day at the Chinese school. They make a pinky swear that they would both be at each other events. A kung fu tournament and a violin audition, but of course, as they must, things become complicated when her family see’s she is with a skateboarding kid from Detroit. Of course, she can speak English. She says most kids in China can speak English. Of course, they do. Of course, this is all leading up to the big match that Mr. Han by mistake signed him up for. Mr. Han realizes that the kid who was bullying Dre has a bad teacher, who teaches him to show no mercy to his victims. Already, we have a good versus bad instructor thing happening.
Jaden Smith has a lot of charisma in this movie. He begs Mr. Han to teach him to stand up to the bullies, and Mr. Han ends up teaching him a lot more. I’m not kidding when I say Jackie Chan has turned in an Oscar worthy performance in the Karate Kid. He plays this character with little words, and doesn’t play him to a humorous effect. Chan plays this character well. A few more things I should note. The film runs a little long, at two in half hours. They stretch out the suspense leading up to the big match at the end. Though, I have to say it’s worth seeing. Jackie Chan's performance is worth seeing. For an international movie star who’s made a career playing a buddy cop, this is the turning point he needs. It’s about time he taught a kid how to do kung fu. That’s another thing. The movie probably should have been titled “The Kung Fu Kid” instead of the “The Karate Kid”. They mention in the film that’s its kung fu many times. Though, they wanted to keep the original title so people would recognize it as a remake of the original.
There were a lot of kids in the theater. Probably with there parents who saw the 1984 original. So, take your kids to see 'The Karate Kid.' It's new and a uplifting tale with lots of ethnicity on the screen, which is always a good thing. You might know the story. Though, the story is new to them.