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The Karate Kid movie review

Filled with stereotypical characters and nods to 1984’s original film, the 2010 version of The Karate Kid (entitled The Kung Fu Kid internationally) opened Friday and while the kung fu was spectacular, the film is a bit of a mixed bag.

Jackie Chan plays the role of the teacher, Mr. Han, haunted by his own demons while Jaden Smith (the son of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith) tackles the role of the bullied Dre Parker, an American 12-year-old whose mother has been transferred to Beijing and who runs afoul of some kung fu bullies. The bullies hail from a kung fu school that is pure Cobra Kai from the original film, complete with the teacher that will stop at nothing to win and infuses his students with the “no weakness, no pain, no mercy” attitude.

Those who have seen the original know how the movie turns out, complete with the tournament, but rather than an American perspective – as was the case in 1984 – the whole Chinese take does bring some freshness to the story. Unfortunately, with few exceptions, the acting does not.

Smith, no stranger to acting (this is his third featured film part, and he has several television appearances) goes from believability and the typical almost-teen attitudes to forcing out dialogue. Chan has some typical moments, including his fight scene in which he stops a group of bullies from further beating on the young American.

The rest of the cast, though, including Taraji P. Henson as Dre’s mother, are mostly ineffective. Wenwen Han, as Dre’s school friend Meiying, is solid, but the rest of the cast play characters that lack depth.

This is an opportunity missed. The film had the lush backdrop of China to work with, and moved from karate to kung fu, opting to break away from some of the typical elements from the original motion picture only to slink back to familiar scenes. Instead of ‘wax on, wax off’ theater-goers were treated to ‘pick up your coat, hang up your coat.” And yep, you guessed it – all of the movements have applications with the art of kung fu. Much of the 2010 film’s conclusion was lifted from the 1984 film, giving this a grand predictability that was only punched up by the tourney action and stunts.

Just because the movie is a remake does not mean it needs to follow the original blindly along. It could have forged its own legacy. It does showcase sheer athleticism at times and channels the beauty of kung fu, and Smith can connect with the audience strongly at times, but those avenues take a few strange detours and break the spell.

The relationship between Chan and Smith is solid, and there are a few humorous moments, but for the most part the film just does not jump off the screen in the non-action sequences and the 140-minute run time starts to drag in places.

The movie may well appeal to families with tweens looking for a movie with some strong messages about not giving up and not succumbing to fear, but the action is, at times, a bit violent and unforgiving and likely not appropriate for young children.

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Michael Lafferty
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