Its remake, which swaps sunny California for China and Ralph Macchio for Will Smith’s son Jaden, plays by the same basic rules as the 1984 version, and despite a strikingly similar screenplay, manages to feel distinct through its subtle updates in plot, protagonist, and setting.
Carefully arranged and deliberately paced, this new “Kid” is anything but a quick cash-grab. It’s a carefully, almost delicately constructed film, but like the original, one that overstays its welcome at two plus hours. The pacing is curious for several reasons, not the least of which (as I might once have whined) is the attention spans of its target audience.
Normally, I would defend a film that takes its time telling the story, but both versions of “The Karate Kid” suffer from thematic redundancy. Every scene with our hero fleeing from oppressive bullies, wooing the girl, or training under his enigmatic master (a respectable turn by Jackie Chan this time around) serves the same principle function, and when you ultimately shortchange the audience on a convincing progression anyway, there’s no reason not to trim the excess.
But those boring patches are generally made up for by the surprisingly intense fight sequences—Especially from an audio perspective. The impact of each blow is authoritative, loud, and visceral, and during key showdowns, my audience became a chorus of ‘oofs’ and applause. “The Karate Kid” is a crowd-pleaser, no question, and a lot of fun to hear a reaction to.
The brutality of the combat is also surprising because the film is made and marketed for children and their parents. I don’t think anyone who sits down to watch a movie about kids fighting each other has much elbowroom for offense, but many may be expecting something tamer. “The Karate Kid” also has a strong moral core, teaching the tried and true self-defensive approach to practicing martial arts. Above all, it’s nice to see a film with almost an entire cast of children that doesn’t talk down or pander to a young crowd.
Of course, it suffers like so many sports dramas do, from the inherent predictability of an underdog story—And doubly so as remake of an existing film. 2010’s “Karate Kid” suffers from a lack of genuine surprises, but polishes it’s tired archetypes to a like-new finish; which is fortunate, because Jackie Chan swatting a fly is about the extent of the filmmakers’ willingness to innovate.
Still, it’s a movie that’s just too adorable to stay mad at. Chan and Smith work well together, validating the latter as a genuine talent (even if it’s largely as a carbon copy of his father), and contributing to the former’s best performance in years. Their bond is convincing, and their relationship is the emotional anchor for this more serious take on the 1984 original.
It’s worth noting that 2010’s “Karate Kid” has no actual karate in it, since Chan and China dictate kung fu be the more socially relevant discipline. I imagine this may confuse inspired kids, who show up disappointed to their first week of karate class.
Nevertheless, the film, like the values it teaches, is well balanced and focused. Maybe it would be more fun if it were aggressively on the narrative offense—But I guess that would be against the rules, wouldn’t it?