The most successful difference between the 1984 underdog story and this remake is the new Chinese setting. The lead character’s need to embrace traditional kung fu (not karate) to defeat his bullying adversaries is made more meaningful when set in a China that seems to favor autocratic instruction over the peaceful ancient ways. The Chinese culture also permeates through the script, modifying scenes and details from the original to fit this new version. Even if the footage of famous locations become a little gratuitous by the end, the setting contributes enough narrative changes that the switch from American to China does not feel like a gimmick meant to justify the remake.

The rest of the movie is much less successful at revitalizing the story. The new “Karate Kid” succumbs to using current filmmaking trends (quick cuts, handheld cameras, etc.) for its fighting and training scenes. The use of medium shots makes the action scenes more comprehensible than the fights in recent movies like “Prince of Persia,” but the fast cutting looks systematic in comparison to the deliberate long takes in the original film. Perhaps the worst component is the casting of Jaden Smith as the titular student. While the character is supposed to be defenseless and unappreciative anyway, Smith just comes across as whiny and uncharismatic. He might have performed better if he were older and a more developed actor, but his current level of expertise is not quite enough to carry a film.

“The Karate Kid” remains entertaining thanks to its likable story, its location change and a memorable performance by Jackie Chan as the teacher, but the flashier style and inexperienced lead render the film less effective than the more tranquil original.

Initially Published in The Coastland Times


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