The Karate KidBy Karen Wilson
MPAA Rating: PG for bullying, martial arts action violence and some mild language.
Release Date: June 11, 2010
Running Time: 2 hours and 6 minutes
Plot Synopsis: After moving to Beijing for his mother's new job, Dre Parker has trouble adjusting to his new home. Everything is foreign, from the language to the chopsticks, and when Dre tries to make friends with a pretty girl on the playground, a group of boys pick on him and beat him up. Dre thinks maybe he'll join a local kung fu school to learn some self-defense but the gang of bullies also trains at the school where the teacher urges them to show no mercy on their opponents. One day when the boys are beating up Dre, his building's handyman Mr. Han steps in and displays his formidable kung fu skills. Mr. Han agrees to train Dre to fight in an open Kung Fu Competition and show these punks who is boss.
Sex/Nudity: Dre and his friend Meiying flirt with each other, attend a romantic shadow puppet show, and kiss behind the scenes at the show.
Violence/Gore: Cheng gets mad that Dre is talking to Meiying on the playground and Cheng fights Dre knocking him to the ground and giving him a black eye. Cheng knocks a food tray out of Dre's hands in the school cafeteria. Dre tosses a barrel of filthy water on Cheng and his friends and they chase Dre through the streets of Beijing. When they catch him, two boys hold his arms while Cheng punches him. Mr. Han fights the whole group of boys using them to punch each other and finally tying them up in their clothes. Cheng's kung fu teacher Master Li smacks one of his students when he refuses to finish a sparing match with a decisive punch. At the final kung fu competition, one of Dre's competitors nearly breaks his leg and Master Li tells his student he wants Dre finished.
Profanity: Dre uses the word "ass" a few times until Mr. Han tells him to watch his language.
Which Kids Will Like It? Teenage and pre-teens should enjoy watching Dre adjusting to life in China and learning to master kung fu. Some of the fight scenes are pretty intense though. They might be too much for very young children particularly when Dre really seems to be badly hurt by his opponents.
Will Parents Like It? Adults who have a nostalgic fondness for the original Karate Kid will be pleased to see the familiar story expanded upon and made even more dramatic in this remake. While we don't get to hear classic lines like "wax on, wax off," there is a final last-ditch attempt kung fu move that seems impossible but wins the day.
Kaboose Review: Child actors have it tough; the pressure to succeed in the competitive entertainment business can't be easy to handle at a young age. On top of that add the weight that comes with being a child actor with two very famous parents. But if anyone can handle the stress it seems to be Jaden Smith, the charming 11-year-old son of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, who previously appeared with his dad in The Pursuit of Happyness and now takes on a starring role in the Karate Kid.
A remake of the 1984 classic that starred Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita, this updated version features Smith and international superstar Jackie Chan, transporting the action to China and switching the focus from Japanese karate to Chinese kung fu and creates a wholly delightful and original movie. In fact, this Karate Kid might even be better than its source material since it features more realistic fight scenes, gorgeous photography of China, and a really affecting performance by Smith.
In the 1984 version, Daniel and his mother move from their working class life in New Jersey to swanky Los Angeles where he feels like a fish out of water amongst the rich kids. Dre and his mother also make a big move, but theirs is halfway around the world to Beijing where Sherry has gotten a job at a car company. Not only does African-American Dre look different from his Chinese classmates they also have a huge language and cultural divide. Smith plays these scenes of Dre's confusion, false bravado and frustration perfectly. The audience is right there with him as he struggles to befriend a cute, studious girl from his school named Meiying and stay out of the way of Cheng, a very fierce local boy who repeatedly beats Dre up with his impressive kung fu skills.
Dre does develop a friendship with his building's maintenance man Mr. Han (the always excellent Jackie Chan) who agrees reluctantly to teach Dre kung fu. We get to see the requisite montage of Dre training and transforming physically but we also come to see how he transforms emotionally, learning the precepts of martial arts. When Mr. Han takes Dre to the mountain village where he first trained and the two hike to the monastery at the peak and drink from the dragon well, you can't help but believe Dre has to be changed forever by this amazing learning experience. Kung fu is more than just cool moves you can use to decimate a bully -- it's a way of living.
Directed by: Harald Zwart
Cast: Jaden Smith (Dre Parker), Jackie Chan (Mr. Han), Taraji P. Hensen (Sherry Parker), Han Wen Wen (Meiying), Yu Rong-Guang (Master Li), Zhenwei Wang (Cheng), Zhao Yi (Zhuang)
Karen Wilson is a freelance writer living in New York City.