The Karate Kid or 1000 words on how Jackie Chan is not Pat Morita

June 17, 2010

The 80s were a far simpler time. To make a great movie, you just needed a nemesis and a path to beat said nemesis through a montage. Ralph Macchio went to Pat Morita and asked him to teach him karate because he was getting beat up over a girl. That’s all we needed. Factor in some wax on wax off, painting the fence, and Martin Kove as the sensei of the Cobra Kai and you’ve got one amazing movie about underdogs. Oh, and Elisabeth Shue before the hooker thing.

What more could it need? Well a sequel was in order of course. In the arena of sequels that are better than the original movie, The Karate Kid II certainly stepped up. We got a new location, new backstory characters, and stirring vocals from Peter Cetera. Perfect in every way. Let us forget that Karate Kid III and the Next Karate Kid even existed. Or at least remember them in an ironic Razzie sense- highs and lows for sure.

So what made Hollywood think that we needed a remake? Much less a remake starring Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan?

I love the Karate Kid. I watched it over and over as a kid until my bootlegged copy ran thin. Along with my constant Labyrinth and Clue watching, I grew to love Mr. Miyagi and Daniel Larusso every time they put Cobra Kai in their place. So, perhaps I am entering into this review a tad biased. In all honesty, I was excited to see it. I figured that Hollywood wouldn’t be creative enough to really mess with the story (a la The Stepford Wives) and we would just end up with a watered down version of the original. Little did I know that the director’s next project is RollerCoaster Tycoon. That should have tipped me off.

There’s nothing wrong with this new version of the Karate Kid per se. Just a lot of little things that end up making it irritating. Jaden and his mom, played by Taraji Henson, move to Beijing for her job. Out of all the casting fails I expected, Henson wasn’t one of them. Throughout the entire movie I felt like she was playing a cleaned up version of Shug from Hustle & Flow. Shug managed to get her act together, clean up, get her kid back, and somehow get a job in China. She plays the idiot mom the entire time with continuous wide eyes and a wardrobe that looks like it was bought from the tourist shops in Chinatown; 3 for $10 silk dresses.

Jaden can’t even make it one day before he finds the girl he’s supposed to be interested in and gets beat up by the school kung fu bullies. Point of order- Jaden’s character is 12. In sixth grade, the boys didn’t want to be seen with the girls, much less kiss them. Hilarity ensues where by Jaden continuously gets his ass handed to him until Mr Miyagi steps in.

Jackie Chan plays the wise karate sensei as bitter and angry. Pat Morita- while not explaining to Daniel san why he was painting the fence- always kept his cool. Karate is only for defense after all. Chan is far more disturbing in his emotional responses. We learn that his wife and child were killed in a car accident and he keeps her car in his living room, repairing it year after year.

In the 80s, Daniel Larusso had nothing to teach Mr. Miyagi. He was the student and he learned from the teacher. They became friends and you could see the joy it gave Mr. Miyagi. In this version, Jaden is a smart ass who has the wise moments and educates us all on the power of not giving up. Oh and his dad is dead, so that makes him wise too.

Then there is the kung fu. I assume that the writers went with kung fu over karate because its more cinematic. Karate involves short, straight motions while with kung fu you can have a kid can flip over another kid’s head and drag him to the mat with his pinkie toes after training for six weeks. Problem is, the movie is called the KARATE KID. Internationally, it is titled “The Kung Fu Kid” so, much like the metric system, the rest of the world gets the easier to understand information.

The kids that Jaden ends up fighting come right out of Crouching Tiger. I didn’t see any wires, but there was enough Matrix slow-mo to stuff an eggroll. So let’s see…Chinese kids have been training in kung fu their entire lives. Jaden works six weeks and is able to defeat them in a tournament with minimal injury. Sounds about right. We still have an angry opposing sensei but without the fun military background and steroid use. Our nemesis has a constant serial killer stare with none of Johnny Lawrence’s privileged background as an explanation. And finally, the faux Cobra Kai all jump ship and respect Jackie Chan as the superior mentor at the end. Karate can be so fickle.

In the end, we can sum it up with this order: 2,1,new,4,3. Star Wars fans have similar rankings with our Jar Jar Binks being Hillary Swank. Go see it, roll your eyes every time Jaden says something wise, and rock out to the Justin Bieber song during the credits. You’ll probably regret that you did but its summer and there isn’t anything good in theaters till Eclipse comes out.