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film review: The Karate Kid

Reviews
by Leonard Maltin
June 11, 2010 4:00 AM
3 Comments
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In today’s risk-averse movie business, we’re seeing more remakes than ever, including retreads of films that don’t seem that old (to some of us). After a screening of the new Karate Kid I asked a couple of ten-year-old boys if they knew the 1984 movie, and they did, thanks to DVDs and cable TV reruns. Interestingly enough, neither one wanted to compare one version with the other: they like them both. I do, too.

The original Karate Kid, written by Robert Mark Kamen and directed by John Avildsen (in the same mold as his first smash hit, Rocky), was a shamelessly manipulative but well-told story, perfectly cast, with Ralph Macchio as a boy who needs to learn how to defend himself and Noriyuki “Pat” Morita as his unlikely mentor in martial arts, Mr. Miyagi. (In real life, Macchio told me the other night, Morita “couldn’t touch his toes.”)

That premise is the only tangent that connects the 1984 hit and its new incarnation, written by Christopher Murphey and directed by Dutch ex-pat Harald Zwart, whose previous American credits include—

—such undistinguished fare as Agent Cody Banks and The Pink Panther II. This expert, if overlong, piece of entertainment is likely to propel both men to the front ranks of commercial moviemaking. It’s a winner.

A great deal of credit goes to the film’s two stars. Jaden Smith, Will Smith’s 11-year-old son, reveals a level of charisma and screen presence that was only hinted at when he appeared with his father in The Pursuit of Happyness. It’s often been said that juvenile performances can be cobbled together in the editing room; I don’t think that’s the case here. This young man has what it takes.

Jackie Chan is likable and persuasive as his teacher, an introverted maintenance man at the Beijing apartment building where Smith and his mom (Taraji P. Henson) come to live after leaving Detroit behind. Chan’s character undergoes as great a transformation as Smith’s in this screenplay, and it’s enjoyable to watch because he is such an appealing actor—and still supple enough to kick butt when the occasion demands.

The new Karate Kid takes its time establishing its story building-blocks, and stretches out its climax, with a kung fu tournament that’s much more violent and bone-crunching than the one I remember from the first movie and its two sequels. The underlying messages of courage and honor still come through, although they’re a bit muddy at times.

What matters most in a film like this is rooting interest, and that is firmly established and well played out, with appropriate doses of villainy and puppy love. The most important new ingredient is the Chinese setting, and Smith’s position as a fish out of water dealing with a country, and culture, he doesn’t know or understand.

I could find nits to pick, but they pale alongside this film’s exuberance and entertainment value for a broad audience. The Karate Kid deserves the success it’s bound to enjoy.
 

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3 Comments

  • taler | November 11, 2010 12:09 AMReply

    great movie but not all i looked up to it is better

  • Claude | August 3, 2010 7:27 AMReply

    I hadn't particularly left the house planning on seeing this movie (I was aiming to see Inception. I just turned up at the cinema and it was the next one showing, so keeping in mind your positive review, I decided to give it a shot and it was really worth my effort (if you could call it that).

    For me, the icing on the cake was the Chinese setting. I have been fascinated by the country ever since I saw The Last Emperor and therefore the scenes inside the Forbidden City and on the Great Wall were particularly satisfying.

    I thought Jaden was perfectly cast, bringing real feeling to what was not an easy part to play. Jackie Chan also brought a vulnerability to his role that I had not hitherto seen (or maybe I just haven't watched enough of his movies to comment!)

    On another note, I am eagerly awaiting delivery of the new Movie Guide and wondering how close my ratings are to yours!

  • Jeffrey | June 17, 2010 7:15 AMReply

    I have to agree with all that was said here. Many people (myself included) had serious doubts about this movie being just another cheap knock-off film for the sake of nothing more than a new generation re-vamp for the younger crowd who might say that the original is outdated. The only complaint I could have about the film is the name. Had it been given any other name, it probably could have been just as succuessful as a completely autonomous martial arts/coming of age film. But one could also boast that the two versions of the film need not be compared. Each one has its own greatness that sticks with you over the years and leaves you hoping that future generations will appreciate them the way we did. Hats off to Jaden for completely surprising me with the way he was able to put this movie on his shoulders and run with it. Seriously, what other little kid actor is gonna give you goosebumps when you watch him go toe to toe with Jackie Chan. Mr Chan was equally impressive in The Karate Kid as well. There were quite a few scenes where you are literally in his shoes feeling the pain he feels. In particular, the moment he opens up to Dre about his dark past. BUt even in his own lapse when they both feel at their worst, Dre makes a move that forces both characters to re-focus and find their center again, and for the first time in the film his mother is able to truly see the impact they both have on each other. This no doubt instills an immovable sense of confidence in her that Dre will be just fine in their new home, and that their relationship will be much better for it with his newly found appreciation of the mantra: Kung is in everything, even in how we treat others. Go see this movie, you will not be disappointed!!

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