What sets this remake apart from The Karate Kid (1984) is the homage to past moviegoers who watched the original film.
I can recall watching the original Karate Kid numerous times in my house, my basement, my friends’ basements, etc. Not to mention the reenactments, and definitely not to mention the Nintendo game of the same name.
Apart from Goonies, ET, and Jaws, I can’t think of a more 80’s film than The Karate Kid.
I went to see the remake with a negative attitude as I usually approach any remake. However, I must have been softened by the enthusiasm of children. I am a hard, hard man after years of post-secondary education, harder than I would like to admit. I approach every source of enjoyment (TV, movies, books, magazines, the county fair, etc.) with a calloused, angered sense of criticism toward it’s underlying capitalist motives. However, a curious thing happened to me when I was watching this film: there were children in the audience who were loving it.
I admittedly have a heart of stone, but when my lovely niece is in the room, I abandon any sense of reason and enjoy trivial endeavors that I would never indulge in otherwise (such as building a Lego locomotive, or tossing a ball endlessly to a person with no hope of ever catching it). Such was the case with The Karate Kid.
There is no good reason to like this movie over the original, but the enthusiasm in the theater reminded me so much of my enthusiasm for the original that I couldn’t help but be engrossed. Yes, there are absurdities like the jumbotron at the finale of the karate tournament, and the laughable delivery by Jaden Smith (in Ralph Macchio’s character) which mimics his father much too closely; but I myself was moved by Jackie Chan’s performance as Pat Morita’s analogue. I’ll go beyond other reviews I’ve read and say that this is a breakout performance for the previous clown of martial arts films. A tour de force by Chan.
His performance was helped not in a small part by young Mr. Smith’s enthusiasm and (I suspect) stunt work and dedication to the physical aspects of the role, not to mention the fabulous settings in China (which I want to visit all the more) and the great work of the Chinese actors who played ancillary roles.
A criticism would be that Smith’s young love interest’s (Wenwen Han??….sorry, but IMDB does not have pics, and I saw the film yesterday, so I am guessing) subplot is never resolved. This is minor, but the engagement with Chinese culture could have surpassed just their kick ass martial arts skills.
If you have seen the original, I must recommend this film simply because the story is updated such that you will enjoy it again even though the outcome is obviously the same. As a rule, I roughly judge remakes, but this movie not only updated a classic story for a new generation but threw the savvy watcher enough bones to last through a theater of kids screaming over the sensational young actors in the film. I must say, I look forward to Jaden Smith’s career as an action star, so long as he is able to shake the obvious paternal acting tics he has acquired from his father.
8/10: catch it in your chopsticks!!