The Karate Kid (2010)

(On TV, May 2017) The 1984 version of The Karate Kid is such a cultural fixture that any attempt to remake it was doomed to irrelevancy. This being said, this 2010 remake does try its best, most notably but relocating the action in China where our hero involuntarily immigrates when his mom gets a new job. The change of scenery does much to renew a movie that largely recycles the original film’s structure: The look inside modern China can be interesting at times, as well as highlighting the fish-out-of-water nature of the protagonist. Unfortunately, that same basic decision does have its drawbacks: it removes the quasi-universal nature of the backdrop for American audiences (although, and this is significant, it does open it up to Chinese audiences), making it much harder to empathize with the high-school trials of the (significantly younger) protagonist. It also weakens the impact of Mister Miyagi’s teachings and makes a mush out of the protagonist’s attempts to fit in. Essentially, it transforms the universality of the first film into a very specific situation, and sabotages itself along the way. It doesn’t help that at eleven or twelve, lead actor Jaden Smith looks far too young for an archetypically teenage role. While it’s nice to see Jackie Chan in a decent American movie role, he doesn’t have much to do—far more judicious is seeing Taraji P. Henson in the “mom” role, greatly expanding the original character. To be fair, this Karate Kid remake is decently executed: anyone who hasn’t seen the 1984 film is likely to be moderately satisfied by the result. But for those pesky viewers with fresh memories of the original, this remake has too many small issues to enjoy.

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