When I read that there was going to be a remake of the 1984 film The Karate Kid, I smiled in fond recollection of the original (which was a great family favorite in our house) and was interested in seeing the new version because it was being shot in China - a country (and a culture) about which I feel I have a LOT to learn. I was looking forward to seeing it.
The results? A mixed bag. Since I generally prefer to judge a remake on its own merits and try to avoid making too many comparisons to the original, I was somewhat surprised that, after seeing Karate Kid 2010, ALL I was doing was making comparisons in my head - comparisons in which the new version kept coming up short. Annoyed with myself, I decided to watch the 1984 version again to make certain it wasn't just nostalgia that was coloring my opinion. So I re-watched. It wasn't just nostalgia - the original IS better.
The Karate Kid 1984 wasn't the best written or best acted film ever - or even of 1984. But it was very popular. Kids liked it. Their parents liked it. People saw it multiple times. They quoted from it ("wax on, wax off"). Some, including my own kids, still do. :-) Enrollment at karate schools across the country rose dramatically. What really came home to me during my back-to-back viewing of the two films is that the new version simply lacks much of the heart and most of the humor that formed the basis for that initial popularity. And both of those - the heart and the humor - came, IMO, from the wonderful relationship between Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita). While the plot of the remake closely follows the original, the new film never comes close to capturing the essence of that relationship and so failed to engage me in the same manner the original did.
But while I didn't find the heart and humor in The Karate Kid 2010 that would have given me that "absolutely love it" feeling, the film has its own charms and I was able to enjoy it on its own merits, particularly in a couple of areas where it clearly outclasses the original, such as:
* The athleticism of its stars (Jaden Smith as Dre Parker, Jackie Chan as Mr. Han & Zhenwie Wang as the bully, Cheng). Jaden Smith, even at age 11, has more muscle definition than Ralph Macchio had at twice his age (or possibly ever) and is physically much more convincing as a student who could master difficult martial arts moves in a short space of time. Chan and Wang (Wang particularly) are also more convincing athletically than their counterparts. * The vastly superior fight scenes. Each and every fight scene is better "choreographed" and much more interesting to watch. (They are also more violent - parents might want to see the film before taking children under the age of 10 or so.) * Dre's friendship with the violin prodigy Meiying (Wenwen Han). Even as a dedicated fan of Elisabeth Shue (the love interest in the original film), I found the Dre/Meiying relationship more appealing. I probably would have enjoyed their storyline more if the writers had simply left it platonic and concentrated on the cultural differences between them to create some tension, but their relationship made possible one of my favorite moments in the film: the scene where Dre goes to Meiying's home and addresses a formal apology to her father in Chinese. I also loved the violin piece she played. * The gorgeous scenery. Views of China including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and a mountaintop temple were simply stunning. (Those interested in seeing more of China might want to check out Wild China: Natural Wonders of the World's Most Enigmatic Land). * And, lastly, the ancient healing method? MUCH cooler in the new film.
Both films have a collection of underlying messages that they effectively deliver - that violence is not the answer, that there is honor is being a peacemaker, that bullies often learn their ways from others and, most meaningful to me personally, that children (or anyone for that matter) should never have to live in fear. I will say this: if a remake, even if it doesn't quite live up to the original, renews these messages and makes them more accessible to another generation, I'm in.
I give this new version of The Karate Kid 3.5 stars - for me it hovers somewhere between "it's ok" and "I liked it". I'm rounding down because, with some serious editing (dang, it was too long - just like this review!), and with a little more care to inject more heart into it, I would have been happy to give it a firm 4 stars. While I believe the original is better, I think this one is worth a look and that its messages are ones that every generation deserves to hear.