DIR: Harald Zwart • WRI: Christopher Murphey • PRO: James Lassiter, Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith, Ken Stovitz, Jerry Weintraub • DOP: Roger Pratt • ED: Joel Negron • DES: François Séguin • CAST: Jackie Chan, Jaden Smith, Taraji P. Henson
Like most people of my generation, the news that another ‘reimagining’ of a hallowed ’80s institution gave me sweaty palms and sleepless nights. Nobody could take the place of Danny LaRusso or Mr. Miyagi – and no phrase on earth would ever usurp the iconic, the beautiful, the sublime ‘wax on, wax off’ of the original. It was with low expectations, therefore, that I gathered my nieces and nephews together to attend the family screening of the new The Karate Kid movie, already convinced that Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan could only desecrate a legend. How entertaining it is to be proven so wrong!
First and foremost this is a children’s movie, but like all the most successful of this sub-genre, it is also a family movie that can be enjoyed by both the kids, and the adults they have dragged in with them. This small but salient point means that while the children giggle at the comedy and cheer at the action, the adults can nod sagely at the lessons of respect, hard work and friendship buried in the subtext. This is not to discount how action-packed the movie really is – the initial bullying-kid-beat-up is really quite brutal, but in keeping with how harsh the world has become for young kids. And this is a film about young children – gone is the hard world of the 17-year-old original; here, the protagonist is 12 years old, and so are all the bullies. This doesn’t mean the fights are less realistic – in fact, it makes it even harder to watch, seeing young children engage in this behaviour.
But Jaden Smith makes every moment work – a carbon copy of his famous Dad, he is Will Smith in absolute miniature. He has amazing comic timing, can throw himself headlong into all-out action, and is more than capable of engaging with dramatic moments and emotional scenes. In fact, all the adults in the movie are playing catch-up with his fantastic performance. His character, Dre, is the classic fish out of water, moving with his mother to Beijing, where everything is strange and scary to him. There, he meets kung-fu bullies, a pretty girl, and a grouchy mentor – Mr. Han. While no Mr. Miyagi, Jackie Chan shines onscreen, creating a believable and emotional rapport with Jaden. In fact, their comedic and dramatic interaction provides a solid backbone to the entire movie.
There are quite a lot of subtitles, seeing as how half the characters are Chinese, so although the film is 12A, younger children might struggle – unless you’re willing to spend much of the movie reading to them. However, it’s perfect for the 8-14 age group: the action scenes, comedy moments, and relationships – both with his mother, and the young girl Dre takes a liking to – are played out to perfection, and the kids in the cinema were cheering and clapping by the finale. The movie has its faults, of course, (Mr. Han’s back-story could have been left out, for one thing) but Jaden Smith is a star – and probably the most talented and likeable child actor to light up the screens in years. His easy manner and obvious enjoyment ensure that you identify completely with him, and follow his story every step of the way. This is not the The Karate Kid of the ’80s – it’s a martial arts remake that’s a whole new breed, and the introduction of a legend to children of a whole new generation. ‘Jacket on, jacket off!’