I am not now, nor have I ever been, a fan of remaking movies. More often than not a remake is a complete desecration of the original. “Psycho” and “The Pink Panther” are just two of myriad examples.
All rules have exceptions, however, and Peter Jackson’s spectacular rendering of “King Kong” in 2005 is one of them. In fact, I considered it the best remake I had ever seen, but now I can add another film the very short list of a remake that not only does justice to the original but also may indeed surpass it.
In 1984, Ralph Macchio became famous for his portrayal of Daniel Larusso, a youngster who coped with being bullied by learning self-defense techniques in “The Karate Kid.” Larusso’s mentor in the film was the lovable Mr. Miyagi played the late and great Pat Morita, who deservedly earned an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor. Despite its undeniable hokeyness, the film became a classic that spawned a number of sequels that predictably didn’t measure up to the original.
When I first read that a remake of “The Karate Kid” was in the works, I thought, “Oh, no. Here we go again. Why can’t the filmmakers leave well enough alone? The truth is, however, that the 2010 version starring Jadan Smith and Jackie Chan, may even be better than its 1984 predecessor, and it definitely is the best film I’ve seen thus far this summer.
In keeping with the plotline of the original, the film begins as Dre Parker (Smith) and his mother (Taraji P. Henson) make a major move from Detroit to China, where she has a new job. (In the original the relocation was from New Jersey to Los Angeles.) Naturally Dre is unhappy in his new home, and he really begins to hate it when Cheng (Wang Zhenwei), the school bully, and his buddies begin knocking him around on a regular basis.
Enter Mr. Han (Chan), the maintenance man in the building where Dre and his mother live. In addition to being able to solve plumbing and heating problems, Mr. Han also happens to be a kung fu master, and he agrees to prepare Dre to compete in an upcoming kung fu tournament to get the bully off his back. Now if this sounds familiar, that’s because it’s almost the same plot as the original film, and while it may not have quite the charm as the first film, it has plenty to recommend it.
Smith is outstanding in the role of Dre, and he obviously did extensive martial arts training for the part because his kung fu moves are simply terrific. In the film’s production notes, producer Ken Stovitz explained why the decision was made not change the name of the movie.
“The reason the movie is called ‘The Karate Kid’ is that at the beginning of the movie, Dre thinks he can fight the bullies with a little karate he knows. But in China even the kids know kung fu and they’re experts. So if Dre is going to survive, he has to learn kung fu.”
Of course Chan is a natural for the role of Mr. Han, and, with all due respect to Morita, his martial arts moves are much more believable than Morita’s were in the first film. Chan and Smith have a great chemistry, and the bond their characters forge in the film is completely convincing.
Another thing this film has going for it is the cinematography. Much of it was shot in such stunning locations as near the Golden Buddha overlooking the Forbidden City, inside the Forbidden City, on the Great Wall of China, and atop Wudan Mountain. These scenes are absolutely breathtaking.
Also contributing to the film’s effectiveness are the fine performances of Zhenwei, who is sufficiently despicable as Dre’s nemesis, Yu Rongguang Yu as Master Li, Cheng malicious teacher, and Han Wenwen as Meiying, who is Dre’s female friend.
Perhaps the most impressive aspects of the film, however, were the fight scenes at the tournament. Chan’s Stunt Team choreographed all of them, and they are at once brilliant, realistic, riveting, exciting, and spectacular. And trust me when I tell you that you will want to stand up and cheer during the film’s final scenes.
“The Karate Kid” (Score it a nine.) is an absolutely fabulous movie for the entire family. And as much as I love the original, I must admit that this remake has more kick to it.