The New Kid: Review for The Karate Kid

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When it comes to remakes, I think that the concept of a remake itself is perhaps interesting, but the execution and actual creation is seldom, if ever, necessary. Yes, there are exceptions to the rule: The Magnificent Seven (Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai), Peter Jackson’s King Kong, and several others have proven that remakes can offer a wonderful new vision for a new generation. My question, however, has always been: If you want to introduce a good film (or bad) to a new generation, why not just re-release it in theaters? I mean, they’ve done it before. Gone with the Wind has been rereleased over five times, which is part of the reason that it is the most successful film ever released, including inflation. So, why not do that? The question has yet to be answered.

Will Smith, such a power hand in the land of Hollywood, has produced a remake of the film The Karate Kid as a vehicle for his son, Jaden. The original film starred Ralph Macchio as the “grasshopper”, as it were, and Pat Morita as the master, the legendary Mr. Miyagi. Macchio is bullied in California, having moved from New Jersey. He gets a job with a seemingly frail old man, who is in fact a martial arts master. And for the remake, the locales have been changed, moving the apprentice, young Jaden Smith as Dre, to China with his mother, played by Taraji P. Henson. Their maintenance man is a seemingly lonely recluse named Mr. Han, played by martial arts master Jackie Chan. From there, the changes are relatively minute, staying true to the original storyline and message of the 1984 film.

For the sake of both a contemporary audience and the main character being all “cool”, the dialogue has suffered a great deal because it needed to be “updated”. This update consists of some of the most cringe worthy lines in the last five years, Jaden saying things he probably wouldn’t dare say in real life for sheer embarrassment. Yeah, I hate to bring it up, but the dialogue is very stereotypical of black kids being cool. Saying banal things that make anyone with an above average vocabulary blush, the main problem was that not only was it really stupid. It was also really unrealistic. The problem of dialogue was also, for one reason or another, stretched to include Jackie Chan’s character. Yeah, we know Chan has an accent, but we also know he can speak pretty fluent English. What does screenwriter Christopher Murphey do? He gives him a broken up accent trying to make Mr. Han sound as foreign as possible. Now, I understand that it would be equally as silly if Mr. Han came out as some linguistics expert, but giving him such a thick and odd accent was troublesome. You could see Chan’s face struggle trying to make it sound as if his character were struggling with the words, climbing over them as if they were cumbersome logs.

The film’s strength lies in its storyline and its message, which is close enough to the original film to please purists but fresh enough for new audiences. The same coming-of-age device was used, but I suppose with a new outlook. The present generation, Generation Y, I believe, is impatient and mouthy, and never knows when to shut up. Chan’s Mr. Han shows us the importance of respect and patience. But Chan shows some of his most dramatic and strongest acting that we’ve ever seen in part of the film, where he and Jaden show the power of rising from within to master your feelings and reach your goal. As a bereaved son, it was powerful for me especially. Though, while the film is able to look upon Chan’s lost wife and child for an entire scene, little is mentioned of Dre’s father, which is disappointing.

The acting, besides Chan’s strong performance, regardless of its laughable lines, is average at best, even with Academy Award nominee Henson (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) in the cast as the discernable mother. Though her facial expressions and tone of voice were certainly recognizable to any child and mother, the performance seemed very much as if she were trying far too hard. Jaden Smith is charming in a strange, child-like way, but if we’re looking for acting as good as his role in The Pursuit of Happyness, you’ll be a bit hard pressed to find it. Not to say he isn’t good, it’s just that, he’s not great. Macchio’s portrayal was more impressive, in comparison.

The story remained rather true to the original film, impressively so, and the insertion of new action sequences with new choreography was a very smart move. The sequences were filled with humor, but towards the end where the tournament takes place, gets violent, so I would suggest the littler ones shield their eyes. When Dre throws a bucket of dirty water at his tormentors early in the film, the chase sequence that ensues creates the same kind of excitement and suspense that the Madagascar scene in Casino Royale did. The movements and cinematography are very similar and even some of the choreography is reminiscent of the scene. It’s very successful in creating exciting moments in the film. And like all sports films, there’s a montage. The montage in this film is charming and funny and very cute, as you see Jaden work his way up and become stronger and stronger, a progression that is often done but seldom done in an interesting way. Sometimes montages are too funny, sometimes too inspirationally sweet, but this one balances it out to create a very good montage.

James Horner once again proves that he’s a great film composer, mixing contemporary American music with traditional Chinese compositions that give a nice flavor to the film. And what else is there when it comes to music? Very nice track selections, some classical, like a piece from Chopin, and some very hard and exciting rock, like “Back in Black” by AC/DC, and a great dance track like Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face”, and some hip hop from Jay-Z, the overall selections are fantastic and eclectic.

The film represents a great show of rising from within to harness your inner power to reach your goals, and, much like the original is positively inspirational. The script is fine, while the dialogue is very weak, but overall, the film is another of those good remakes. Enjoyable and quietly powerful, Chan and Smith hit their marks and go above and beyond their expectations.

Grade: B+

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