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The Karate Kid movie poster

The Karate Kid: Movie Review

Action, Drama, Family
Rated: PG
Directed by: Harald Zwart
Starring: Jackie Chan, Jaden Smith, Taraji P. Henson, Wenwen Han, Zhenwei Wang, Rongguang Yi
Released by: Columbia Pictures

In Short: This return to a much-loved film classic stands up to the test, anchored by strong performances by Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith.

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A Multicultural “Karate Kid” for the New Millennium

It’s been more than 25 years since “The Karate Kid” first burst onto the silver screen. The classic teen drama starred Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita as the bullied kid and the handyman/karate master who teaches him to defend himself. It was a huge hit in 1984, earning more than $90 million and spawning two sequels.

But of course, there is a whole new generation that has never seen the original. Consequently, as is Hollywood’s way, the powers that be (including the two producers, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith) decided it was time to update the story.

In this iteration, Jaden Smith (Will and Jada’s son in real life) plays Dre Parker, an African-American fish out of water who gets bullied by a group of bigger, stronger boys; the twist is that he and his mother have been relocated by a job change to Beijing, so the bullies are Chinese kids instead of the California surfer dudes of the first “Karate Kid.”

Another key difference is that this time, the martial art that Dre learns is not karate. Instead, maintenance man Mr. Han (Jackie Chan) teaches him kung fu, most likely because that’s Chan’s favorite form of fighting.

Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith in The Karate Kid Wenwen Han and Jaden Smith in The Karate Kid

And fight they do, in some very tough scenes that bring out the intensity and fear that children who are bullied in real life surely feel. Young Jaden Smith shows that he really is an actor in this film, particularly in those moments. He proves he is an athlete, too, despite his still-scrawny 11-year-old frame, as he takes on the challenge of becoming a kung fu master.

Jackie is terrific, as usual, although it would have been great to see him do a bit more fighting himself, not just in one impressive scene. Of course, at 56 years old, Chan’s body may just not be willing to do the amazing tricks he used to do.

Naturally, there’s a love interest, a big fight against the main bully and a very predictable ending. But without all those, it wouldn’t really be “The Karate Kid,” now would it? Tweener kids will most likely enjoy this movie that’s aimed directly at them, and parents won’t squirm too much in their seats, particularly when the action moves to some of China’s most amazing landscapes, at the Great Wall and beyond. Those scenes are breathtaking.


Reviewed by Jenny Peters

(Updated 06/11/10 CT)

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