The Karate Kid
Taking away the misgivings of the brutality, the uncomfortable romance and cynicism about the film's very existence... a heartwarming and inspirational underdog victory.
For anyone who grew up in the Eighties, Ralph Macchio as The Karate Kid was a prized memory of golden-hued cheese. The vulnerable, lovestruck teenager taught to defend himself against bullies by Noriyuki 'Pat' Morita. Wax on, wax off. Aaaah.
Oh the indignity of the remake - making it a vehicle for Will Smith's progeny Jaden Smith? Except what we have here is an engrossing family film, ticking all the right boxes. To placate those seething with rage, let's get the bad points out of the way first.
It's far, far too long. Even though it's consistently entertaining throughout, the length is too self-indulgent for a children's film. Point number two: 12 year olds punching and kicking each other in the head on several occasions, sometimes while being cheered on by their parents, is disturbing - violence is seen as a noble way for these youngsters to settle their differences. Is kung fu really this brutal? Yikes. And another point about the shift in protagonist's age - keeping the romantic angle for pre-pubescents. Seriously? Luckily, the charming young Wenwen Han's innocence keeps Jaden's cheekiness in check.
On to the good, and there's a surprising amount of it. The original story is faithfully adhered to, but the sumptuous, loving photography of the new location of China makes it an entirely fresh movie. Director Harald Zwart depicts Beijing's vibrancy without going all-out tourist board. Jaden's Dre Parker and his mother (Taraji P. Henson) relocate from Detroit to a low-key apartment in the Chinese metropolis. Struggling with jetlag and disorientation, Dre's relationship with his mother is strained, with Henson's harsh bickering unsympathetic. He soon comes face to face with local kung fu prodigy Cheng, who, driven by his jealousy of Dre's blossoming relationship with a pretty young violinist, wastes no time beating the young boy to a pulp. Reserved apartment janitor Mr Han (Jackie Chan) is on hand to step in with his kung fu moves, and turns the wannabe karate kid into a true kung fu master, in protest of the thuggish techniques employed by the mistaught bullies.
Dre is an inconsistent character, but where Jaden struggles to maintain the child's internal drive, when it comes to the action and the charm, he is a natural. The intensely physical role is a lot to ask for a small child, but this bundle of energy is never less than watchable, and any qualms about nepotism can be forgiven. Chan is captivating, creating a moving and sympathetic mentor with - like the original - heartbreaking secrets of his own. His Mr Han takes Dre on a stunning journey of China's mystical highlights, hoping to enlighten the young boy. Thankfully the chemistry between the pair is a delight, and their friendship always believable. Taking away the misgivings of the brutality, the uncomfortable romance and cynicism about the film's very existence, the new Karate Kid remains a heartwarming and inspirational underdog victory.