The Karate Kid

As a classic underdog story, the Karate Kid echoes movies like Rocky, channeling it for a new audience via a charismatic young lead.

Although a star-vehicle for Jaden Smith, The Karate Kid manages to capture enough heart to be a respectable film. As a classic underdog story, it echoes movies like Rocky, channeling it for a new audience via a charismatic young lead. Owing to its genre, there is not much unpredictable about the story, yet it works suitably to be a crowd-pleaser.

Twelve year old Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) has to move to China with his mother (Taraji P. Henson) when she is transferred from Detroit to Beijing. While still trying to adjust to their new home, Dre begins to like a girl in his neighborhood, only to be bullied and rebuked by Cheng (Zhenwei Wang), leader of a gang of school-kids trained in Kung Fu. After getting beaten up often, Dre is saved by the building repairman Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), who takes it upon himself to teach the young kid the art of real Kung Fu, so he may face Cheng in the Martial Arts tournament.

Director Harald Zwart deserves appreciation for diverting enough from the 1984 original and keeping his audience absorbed during the retelling of this oft-told tale. Zwart, a Norwegian, thankfully deprives the movie of the American snobbery that permeates most Hollywood movies when dealing with non-western cultures. Dre is not seen eating Pizza or teaching his class-mates American street-culture. Instead, he struggles with chop-sticks and learns to cope with his new environment. This also gives the movie an opportunity to take advantage of the beautiful locales of China, from the Forbidden City to the Great Wall. However, The Karate Kid is not without its fair share of sentimentality. It goes through a few languid paces, notably during a superficial romance and Mr Han’s sob story. Thankfully, the crunching fight sequences of the climactic competition and its grand finale provide a fitting payoff for the movie’s lengthy build-up.

The Karate Kid, although calling the movie “Kung fu Kid” would be more apt, benefits from two actors’ captivating screen-presence. Jackie Chan is as watchable as ever. With this movie, he makes the graceful transition to the wise tutor/mentor supporting role that is apt for his age. Although we do not get to see Chan’s trademark antics on screen, it is his presence and portrayal of Mr Han that lends the required credibility to Jaden Smith’s training sequences. These training scenes are the highlight of the film, becoming the centre-piece around which the movie is built. Jaden himself is rather watchable. Inheriting the charm and charisma of his father, the spirited young actor manages to hold screen for its entire 140 minute runtime, an honor at his age. As a young lead star, his character asks more from him than he has the capabilities to deliver. While his physical prowess is admirable, it is the more dramatic moments where he falters. This does not become a major problem as, thankfully, the movie is interspersed with many martial-arts sequences that live up to the expectations of the film’s theme.

The Karate Kid is undoubtedly and primarily a star-vehicle for Jaden Smith. His parents, the producers here, have provided him with a significant platform to showcase his skills, which for the most part, he delivers. By not being too ambitious or commercialized, The Karate Kid retains an innocence that many movies of this scale lack. Combined with the possible future of its lead actor, this movie will be looked back at fondly down the years, perhaps even superseding the memory of the original.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

About Shariq Madani

Shariq is a social, talkative, fun-loving guy who enjoys books, food and a long drive. But his real joy is in the comfortable darkness of a cinema, watching a good movie, and later spending hours discussing it.