Starring: Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan, Taraji P. Henson, Wenwen Han, Rongguang Yu
Director: Harald Zwart
Writer(s): Christopher Murphey, Robert Mark Kamen
Cinematography: Roger Pratt
Original Score: James Horner
Running Time: 140 Mins.
Check out that running time, 140 minutes for a family film, bloated by many films standards but to sustain a story (a remake no less) that concerns a the titular kid learning to do kung-fu (not actually karate inexplicably) in order to gain respect from the bullies who are the current bane of his life. all helmed by a director, Harald Zwart, whose last film was The Pink Panther 2, hardly inspires confidence does it … but before you walk away sighing know this, The Karate Kid (2010) is actually a very good film and against all (low) expectations manages to be one of the summer’s and almost certainly the years, most enjoyable films.
Taking only a loose plot from the original Karate Kid around which to hang its reimagined tale, which means basically that all that remains is the kid learning kung fu to get the girl and beat the bullies, the running time would suggest a bloated number of sub-plots, not true, what we have is an in-depth story revolving around Dre (Jaden Smith, very much channeling his father in the best possible way) learning both the skills and life lessons from Mr. Han (Jackie Chan, for once given the chance to act as well as kick-ass) while trying to get the girl and accept his new life in China with his mother (Taraji P. Henson).
The build up to Dre and Han actually getting down to some kung fu is leisurely but never dull, it allows us to get to know Dre and come to really feel for his plight, Smith is as likeable as his parentage would suggest, and some of the expressions and mannerisms are like watching Will Smith had he been acting 30 years ago. But simple comparison is not nearly flattery enough, Jaden is a talent in his own right proving to be believable and avoid the annoying cute kid pitfall’s all at once, he has swagger but not enough to seem cocky, and there is a frailty there that makes his plight as believable as you could expect, something which you couldnt never really say of Ralph Macchio who never really convinced as a “kid”, let alone anything else.
But the Yin to Smith’s Yang is Chan as Mr. Han, filling Mr. Miyagi’s iconic shoes in spirit if not in name, Chan is quite frankly a joy to watch, and save for one scene is spared comic fight scenes in favour of actual acting, something that I can say I’ve never seen before. Portraying the wise master would have been easy enough but there are layers in his acting you would never expect, a troubled man with a troubled past is cliché rule-book 101 but it is handled deftly and when the reveal comes out there is a scene that really deserves to go down as one of the years best, demonstrating the fragility of Chan and the maturity (that is never precocious) of Smith.
The final, and perhaps most surprising, leg of this tripod of success is Zwart, the direction (witness the sweeping shots of China married with the iconic shadow kung-fu scenes) and pacing are spot on, and while some may claim the finale is rushed I would argue that the film is less about the final fight and more the lessons learnt along the way and the journey there. That said the fight scenes, which as plentiful enough without seeming shoe-horned in, pack a real punch (helped along from a great sound mix) you feel Dre’s pain every time he gets knocked down, and there is a sense of danger there that was never really present in the 1980’s version.
The Karate Kid 2010 should have stuck with it’s original name, The Kung Fu Kid, for this is a much better film than its predecessor, full of heart and genuine performances, deserving of a stand-alone status, in fact a Harald Zwart sequel is a more than welcome prospect this time around…