Here's another brilliant move from Hollywood. I can hear the executives now... "Let's take a beloved classic and update it for today's audiences!" "That sounds great! What modern classic do we rape this time?""Hmm, let's see what's in our vault..."
Meanwhile, somewhere in the opulent hills of Bel Air, Will Smith is talking to his son: "Jaden, you've been a good boy this year, what would you like for your birthday?" "Well dad, I'd really like my own starring role." "Hmmm, I think we can arrange for that."
Will Smith promptly gets on the phone with his agent and inquires about a forthcoming kids movie for young Jaden. The agent tells him that Sony is looking to reboot The Karate Kid. "That's perfect!" Smith says. "Does your son know karate?" "No, that's what special effects are for!"
Cut to: Several months later, Will, Jada, Jerry Weintraub and some Columbia Executives are sitting around a vast boardroom table on the Sony lot, brainstorming how to shoehorn a black kid into a karate movie. One of the execs offers up an idea: "I say we get a world renowned martial artist to play Mr. Myagi." Another one counters: "Yeah, Jackie Chan! Everybody loves Jackie Chan! Let's put Jackie Chan in it"
Will Smith responds "But Jackie Chan is Chinese. not Japanese." "So?" "Well, I don't think Jackie Chan will do a movie called the Karate Kid when he doesn't study karate." "Yes, he'll do anything after The Spy Next Door." "But it's kung fu, it's different..." "Oh, I've got a brilliant idea, let's shoot it in China! It'll be dirt cheap!" "But, Karate Kid..."
The rest of the executives vote to shoot it in China and cast Jackie Chan. Will looks over at Jada with a puppy dog frown. She wears the pants on this one: "Shoot it in China. Cast Jackie Chan... don't you want your son to love you?" Will says "Okay, but we can't call it the Karate Kid"
The executives are puzzled. "Why not?" they ask. "Because they don't teach karate in China!" "But, I've seen all of Bruce Lee's movies, and..." "It's called kung fu!" "They call karate kung fu in China?" "NO!" "Whatever, let's just call it the Karate Kid, that way all the stupid people that pay to see our movies will instantly recognize it as part of a franchise, and therefore will feel more comfortable paying to see this particular movie, because it's familiar to them, not some new scary movie they've never heard of."
Will caves. "Okay, fine... but who are we going to get to direct it?" "Well, the guy that did The Pink Panther 2 isn't busy, and kids like him..."
And the rest, as they say, is history.
What can I really say about The Karate Kid? It's a pound for pound facsimile of the original, except for the fact that the main character is a black kid from Detroit who moves to China and studies kung fu on the Great Wall. Definitely a step beyond the Valley. Also, the bad guys aren't white rich kids taught by a meathead douchebag, but Chinese drones who haven't distilled their martial art to focus on all the wrong things, like blind competition and kicking wimpy kids' asses.
Gone as well is the classic "Wax on, wax off" routine made famous by Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita. Instead, we get a trying exercise with a jacket. Like everything else in the movie, it just doesn't have the right ring to it.
Jaden does well with the leading role, and does look like he knows what he's doing in the dojo, making all the breathtaking flyovers of ancient Chinese relics in the obligatory training montages less of a distraction from bad martial arts. His girlfriend is appropriately cute, and the bad kid is smug enough to make it fun when he inevitably gets the crap kicked out of him.
Jackie Chan is pretty good as Mr. Han, but let's be honest, it's just nice to see him playing something other than a stooge, where he can actually engage in some real martial arts, even though he's mostly beating on 10 year-olds. Keep your eyes peeled for Han's emotional moment, ruined by director Harald Zwart's inept handling of such content, turned into an unintentional laugh. At least it's entertaining?
All in all, there's nothing new here, except China. And boy do you get an eyeful. It's almost as if the Chinese government mandated a certain percentage of the film's runtime focus on the country's tourist attraction locales instead of plot and character development. The result is a barely bearable 90 minute movie padded out to a full 2 hours.
If you're a fan of Will Smith, maybe it's worth a look if you're so curious as to what his progeny is up to. If you've never seen the original Karate Kid, well, go rent it and save a few bucks. If you've never been to China and want a good preview of what you can expect before spending thousands to book a plane ticket and accommodations, then The Karate Kid is definitely recommended.
I'll award it two and a half stars, because, at the end of the day, it is a beat for beat duplicate of the original... just not as good.