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Starring: Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan, Taraji P. Henson
Writer: Christopher Murphey
Director: Harald Zwart
Distributor: Columbia Pictures

The Karate Kid, the 1984 original, isn't particularly a good movie. There, I said it. While I can respect the nostalgia factor and people loving it because it was a part of their youth, I personally cannot stand it or its three sequels (yes, The Next Karate Kid counts). I am not on board with the crane kick. It's because of this that I was on the fence even giving its remake a watch, but boredom can do a lot to someone; as can low expectations apparently, because I actually enjoyed this Karate Kid a lot more than I thought I was going to.

Jaden Smith stars as Dre, a 12 year old boy who is forced to move to China when his mother Sherry (Taraji P. Henson) is relocated for work (she works for a car factory...supposedly anyway since she never mentions it again or is shown actually doing any work there). Dre is obviously freaked out and is attempting to jive with the culture and with the fact that Spongebob Squarepants is now only shown in Chinese. While at the park, he meets Meiying (Wenwen Han), a violin prodigy who smiles a lot and speaks in broken English. Being that he is a (12 year old) man, he wants to impress her by showing off his sweet dance moves. That raises the ire of Cheng (Zhenwei Wang), a local bully and kung fu expert. He and his friends proceed to beat him up for talking to Cheng's sort of (12 year old) woman.

During another beat down from Cheng and his dastardly kung fu pals, Dre is saved by Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), the maintenance man at his apartment complex who is also well versed in kung fu. Mr. Han takes Dre over to Cheng's dojo, where instead of quelling the issue, he makes it worse; the sensei wants them to fight, but instead Mr. Han enters Dre in a martial arts tournament featuring the people from the dojo. Dre is scared about this, but Mr. Han takes him under his wing to teach him the art of kung fu, while Dre also teaches him an art...the art of friendship (awwww).

China helped finance this movie (at least that's what I gather by their name being in the credits), and their money was put to good use; The Karate Kid showcases all the cool looking parts of the country like a good travel video should. The Great Wall, the Forbidden City, it's all there and it leads to some interesting and cool visuals, all the while sweeping that pesky Communism thing under the rug.

Excellent shots of China aside, The Karate Kid is on the whole a pretty good movie. Jaden Smith shows some acting ability in his first leading role, mixing in some drama with that sense of humor that is reminiscent of his father. Jackie Chan finally gets a good role, and he is perfect as Mr. Han. It's sad to see he has aged to the point of where he can play such a role, but he nails it out of the park. He not only gets to show off his skills once again, but he also manages to, well, act. Unlike the original 1984 film, this Karate Kid delves more into Mr. Han's backstory and there's a particularly emotional scene where Chan really delivers, making you wonder why he does crap like The Spy Next Door rather than something more serious. Although it's not there in full, Jackie Chan has brought some credibility back to his career.

If there is one thing I have learned from watching this, is that I am staying away from packs of 12 year old kung fu brats because they are mean. Cheng is no replacement for Johnny Lawrence (one of the few things I liked about the original...maybe I should watch it again), but what he lacks in speaking ability he makes up for in attitude and martial arts. You believe that the guy is completely crazy, and he freaked me out a couple of times when he was beating the hell out of Jaden and others unfortunate enough to get in his path.

The kung fu scenes are not as many as you would think, but when they are there, they are excellently choreographed and exciting. The tournament in particular had me on the edge of my seat, and I enjoyed the training montages with Jaden and Chan. They are done well enough to where you actually buy he knows kung fu...although not enough to the point of being able to hold his own in a tournament with people who have been training all of their lives.

There are some low points to The Karate Kid as well. Taraji P. Henson's role is to yell at Dre to pick up his jacket, squeal at all the awesome Chinese culture, and cheer her son on during the tournament. That's pretty much it. She's kind of useless to the whole thing. The movie itself also runs waaaaay too long, and if some scenes had been shaved, it would have made for a better viewing experience. Because it's so long, it drags
and gets boring in spots (especially when Meiying's dad decides he doesn't want his daughter to hang with Dre...it starts abruptly and then ends just as abruptly, making it a gigantic waste of time). Also, I get it Jaden Smith, you can dance. I didn't need to see it twice. Once sufficed.

The Karate Kid is good for what it is, and I can see why it made so much in its opening weekend. The action is good, the visuals are great, and the acting is pretty top notch considering that it really didn't need to be. Jackie Chan gets a good role once again, and Jaden Smith proves that he may actually grow into a decent actor someday. It is hampered however by some plot issues (a character shows up to be Dre's best friend...then disappears for the rest of the movie) and overstocking leading to a longer running time then it should have had. Still, no talking animals and I'm always happy when a live-action film aimed towards kids (violence and swears and all) actually succeeds. If you love the original, forget it and give this one a chance, especially if you have kids.

Final Verdict:
C+




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