The Karate Kid (2010) is a remake of the popular 1984 movie of the same name, this time using kung-fu. (The studio apparently considered releasing it with the name “The Kung-Fu Kid” but changed their minds.)
You’re probably wincing already, but maybe you should give the remake a chance. It stands up well on it’s own. It’s a fun movie, lightweight but well-made.
Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) is a 12-year-old boy from Detroit who is forced to move to China when his mother gets a job there. Naturally he is unhappy, but he meets some nice kids his own age, and things are looking up for him until he runs afoul of a nasty gang of bullies from the nasty local kung-fu school.
Fortunately he makes friends with his building’s grumpy maintenance man (Jackie Chan) who turns out to be a master of Movie Kung-Fu, and agrees to give Dre lessons.
I’ve long felt that any move that includes Jackie Chan can’t be all bad, and once again he comes through for us. In fact he pushes himself. Instead of just relying on his familiar comic talents, he tries his hand at dramatic acting, and actually does a credible job.
11-year-old Jaden Smith is surprisingly good as the main character, and Taraji P. Henson is very good as his mother, who is well-intentioned but clueless about young boys.
One slight problem is that while Jaden Smith is talented and looks the part, child actors of that caliber are rare, so the movie falls back on the standard practice of casting teenagers as preteens, and 20-somethings as teenagers. As a result Dre is surrounded by kids who are supposed to be his own age but look much older.
We should probably should be willing to overlook this. Chances are we wouldn’t notice it at all if it wasn’t for the unusual circumstance of having one actor capable of playing his own age.
There are other things that need to be overlooked. The movie is not (and does not pretend to be) a realistic depiction of martial arts training and practices. Nor is it a realistic depiction of the problems one is likely to encounter when moving to another country. This is just supposed to be an entertaining fantasy, and on that level it does a pretty good job.