Director: Harald Zwart Release date: 28/07/10 Link: IMDB The Karate Kid is billed as a remake of the 1984 film of the same name, but it could more honestly be described as an unofficial sequel. Like 1994’s The Next Karate Kid, it has its own original characters operating within the framework of the familiar Karate Kid formula. Indeed, our new protagonist, Dre (Jaden Smith), is actually learning kung fu, which, when you think about it, makes the title seem a bit bloody stupid. Semantic arguments about the title aside, here’s what’s interesting about this version of The Karate Kid: it’s significantly better than the original, and not just because the original wasn’t that great. This is a damn good film. Bit heavy on the cheese, maybe, but other than that it’s solid. Dre’s mother (Taraji P. Henson) gets transferred from her job in Detroit to Beijing. Pretty much the first thing Dre does in Beijing is develop an instant crush on an impossibly cute Chinese girl called Meiying (Wenwen Han). His attempts to talk to her are going quite well, until jealous other bloke Cheng (Zhenwei Wang) steps in and, in the grand tradition of insecure schoolboy bullies the world over, beats the everliving snot out of him. It doesn’t stop there, though. Cheng and his friends, all of whom have been trained in Kung Fu by a Very Bad Man, keep up with the bullying, until hotel maintenance man Mr Han (Jackie Chan, man) steps in during a particularly grisly incident and saves his arse. Mr Han then confronts the boys’ teacher, Master Li (Rongguang Yu), and a deal is struck: Mr Han will train Dre for an upcoming kung fu tournament, and in the meantime, the boys will leave him alone to train. No doubt you’ll have a fairly definite idea how it all pans out from there, even if you haven’t seen the original, and you’re assumptions are probably about right. Surprise is not The Karate Kid’s strongest asset, but nor, to be fair, is it the point. It’s a fun movie, and it somehow manages, despite its in-built predictability, to be utterly engrossing. The main reason it works so well is that, thanks to a well-rounded script and some very good performances, the characters are absolutely believable. It’s hard to watch Jaden Smith’s take on Dre and not be reminded that this is Will Smith’s son – during the lighter moments, his is a startlingly accurate impression of his dad’s perfectly-honed “overconfident but likeable” persona – but Dre himself comes across as just a normal, everyday kid, going through a particularly tough time. His relationship with his mother is a loving, but understandably strained one, beautifully played by both actors. Meiying, a character who could easily have ended up more of an archetype than a person, is revealed as the film goes on to be an interesting, complex character, also going through a difficult transition period from adolescent to adult. Their relationship is built as much on loyalty as love. But it’s Mr Han who really brings the film to life. Mr Han is a lonely, somewhat tragic figure whose decision to take Dre under his wing marks a dramatic turning point for both of them. The film’s one great surprise is just how great Jackie Chan is in this role; his is a subtle, beautiful portrayal of a man who’s held true to his principles, even after everything life has thrown at him. Shame on me – I almost forgot to mention the kung fu. Just like the original (or Rocky, or Whip It, or any other good sports movie you care to name), The Karate Kid is as much about people and personal journeys as it is about the action. But the whole thing would fall apart if the kung fu wasn’t convincing. As such, I’m happy to report that it’s top notch stuff; there’s a real speed and fluidity to the movement, and a real feeling of impact when blows connect – when somebody gets hit, it very definitely hurts. When I was a kid, I really loved the original Karate Kid, but then I saw it as an adult and realised, with some degree of sadness, that it wasn’t very good. Well, there’s a new generation out there who are going to fall in love with this sequel/remake, and the great thing for them is that when they get to my age and see it again, they’ll still love it. The lucky little bastards. Photobucket