There are some things that just shouldn’t be messed with. How does the saying go… “If it’s not Baroque, don’t fix it?” We have seen so many remakes of ’80’s movies that are far from necessary. The Karate Kid will join their ranks. It’s a sign of the times when Hollywood can make a longer and higher-budget (but far inferior) version of a successful 1984 film that was endeared by all the youth of the time.
Jaden Smith plays a new and younger version of The Karate Kid as Dre Parker. Dre is immediately thrown into almost the exact same plot as the original Kid. This time though, our young hero is whisked away by his widowed mother not to California, but to China for her job. He finds himself getting harassed by the local bullies, and in particular by the threatening Cheng.
Dre quickly realizes his “street skills” are no match for his abusers’ finely-tuned kung fu moves. He runs, he hides, and still the beatings persist – until one day during a particularly fierce beating, Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), Dre’s apartment maintenance man, comes to his rescue in a flurry of mad kung fu skills.
Here begins the start of two familiar but now unbelievable plot movers: 1.) Cheng’s kung fu master demands that Dre fight in a tournament so his students can continue to beat him up and 2.) Dre and Mr. Han begin an unlikely friendship as Han prepares Dre for the tournament.
There are a few nods here and there to the original Kid in Christopher Murphy’s screenplay, but what may have been meant to ‘pay homage’ ended up feeling like a great big let down. There is a moment from the trailer where Han is following a fly around with chopsticks, and instead of catching it like Miyagi, he swats it with a fly swatter. The ever memorable, “Wax on…wax off” is turned into 10 minutes of watching Dre put on, take off, throw down, and hang up his jacket. Even the infinitely famous “crane kick” has been messed with and made more ‘hip’. Even worse, Murphy messed with the values and lessons of the original; Dre spent very little time actually learning kung fu, but after a single montage, he was suddenly a master. It was silly. There was no hard work and no personal reward, like the original.
The real problem with The Karate Kid is unfortunately with it’s actors. Where Smith and Chan may have sounded good to begin with as the leads, they are more than a little unbelievable. Jaden (who is genetically blessed with the facial structures of his parents) was hard to empathize with, since he was unnaturally charismatic throughout, which is probably just due to his youth. Even in scenes when he’s getting beat to a pulp there is a notable disconnection. He didn’t have that vulnerable quality that made the audience identify with the character that Ralph Macchio had. Chan is in the same boat, and is unable to compare to Mr. Miyagi’s (Pat Morita’s) Oscar-nominated original performance. Chan’s familiar face makes him more than suspect as he hobbles around trying to look old and feeble before showing his butt-kicking skills, instead of giving us that magical moment when Miyagi (who is totally meek and unassuming) finally shows off his Kata prowess. The supporting characters did alright, but nothing to write home about. Dre’s mom (Taraji P. Henson) stood out a little more, but only because she acted like a caricature of a black mother that Will Smith’s character from Fresh Prince would have come up with. (Will and Jada were among the producers of the movie.)
The backdrops were exactly what I expected from this movie. It was shot in China and specifically Beijing, so naturally the Great Wall of China was used. I mean, it’s totally believable that The Great Wall would shut down all their tourist attractions for a day so some random American can practice some kung fu, right? There were some truly beautiful scenes though, most of which revolve around Han taking Dre to an ancient kung fu training ground. There are plenty of ‘John Woo’ moments as well, but they just didn’t jive well with the movie; they were distracting.
Your kids are probably going to like it. All-in-all it is a mediocre kid’s movie with punching and kicking and some fairly clean language and gags. But for you parents who were hoping for a bite of nostalgic heaven, you will be sorely disappointed. (And I do mean ‘sorely’; after sitting through this 135 minute movie, your butts will hurt!) Every scene made me cry out for the original. It’s like they took out the charm, added Will Smith’s mini-me, and threw in a lot of unnecessary hip-hop elements. They took out the basic lessons from the first movie about working hard to become a master of yourself, and turned it all into beating each other up with awesome kung fu.
I give The Karate Kid 3 “Miss You Miyagi” out of 5.