The Karate Kid (2010) is a remake of the 1984 Ralph Macchio/Pat Morita classic. For some reason (probably marketing-related), the producers decided to keep the name “Karate Kid” instead of altering it to the more appropriate “Kung Fu Kid”, a name fans have been calling it on the interwebs. For martial arts purists, “The Karate Kid” is inaccurate, because this movie is about kung fu, not karate. In China, this film is presented under the more accurate name “Kung Fu Dream”. To avoid confusion, I will refer to this version as “Kung Fu Kid” in this review.
The Karate Kid was made during the 80’s, at the height of Japan’s economic dominance. With China’s rapidly growing influence and prominence in world affairs, it is only natural that more and more films these days are about China. Though the names and places are changed, the film sticks very closely to the original Karate Kid story arc. This is both good and bad. Fans of the original will be pleased that the 2010 version is so faithful in spirit and tone to the source material. But because of this, we get very few surprises with the main story progression. If you’ve seen the 1984 Karate Kid, you’ll know how this film ends. However, I did not mind this at all. I enjoyed Kung Fu Kid tremendously and found all the changes and similarities refreshing after having seen so many awful attempts at “East meets West” kung fu films and bad remakes. This is a heartwarming family-friendly movie about love and friendship that seems to have been done with loving care and devotion on all sides. It also provides us a rare glimpse into daily Chinese urban life that, outside of films made by Chinese filmmakers, Americans rarely get to see.
Story: Again, we have a single mom raising a boy. She moves a great distance in search of better job opportunities. Here, instead of moving from Raseda, NJ to LA, it’s a bigger leap from Detroit to Beijing. In the original, Daniel is a high-schooler. Here, he is Dre, a middle school student (played by 12 year old Jaden Smith). The change is important. Maybe it’s to market the film better to younger audiences, but it introduces a new dynamic to the film and changes the story quite a lot. He is still terrorized by bullies, but a 12-year old’s problems and concerns are a lot different than a 16 year old’s. Jackie Chan plays the part of Dre’s teacher perfectly, Mr. Han. He is friend, surrogate father, and teacher, just as Mr. Miyagi was. Again, we have a man grieving from a deep personal tragedy and profound loss. I found that this was handled very well in the story and the change in details perfectly incorporated into the story.
All the iconic Karate Kid moments are here, including the famous chopstick fly-catching bit. I won’t spoil the surprise, but you’ll laugh when you see it. As mentioned earlier, we get to see a part of Chinese life that is rare to see in American-made films. We see some fantastically intimate scenes of daily Chinese life and schooling in Beijing, a city that is both ancient and super modern at the same time. In the background of the famed Beijing Aquatic Center (Watercube) and Olympic Stadium (Bird’s Nest), we have centuries-old traditional Chinese houses. We also see some of China’s magnificent natural landscape as well as visit a Buddhist monastery where monks practice kung fu.
To sum up, I was worried about this remake, but after having seen it, my fears were misplaced. The film is very enjoyable and wholesome and it is clear that the filmmakers have a lot of respect for the source material, the acting, as well the art of kung fu. There are many small changes made to bring this story into China and the 21st Century, but all of them done very well and naturally. It is an homage to the original and stands up as its own film. Highly