This was one of the movies I was looking forward to this summer. As a fan of the original, I am thrilled I have a six-year-old son who is into it, too.
This past Sunday, Ari and I joined his buddy Jude, and dad Will, to see the Karate Kid's latest reincarnation, this time with Jackie Chan as mentor and Jaden Smith as student. While it was slightly different from the original, it did not disappoint.
In this latest version of the Karate Kid, young Dre Parker (played by Jaden Smith) and his single mother (Taraji P. Henson), who works in auto manufacturing, leave their home in Detroit to move to Beijing. The film, which was actually taped in China, shows the culture shock Xiao -- which means "little" in Chinese -- Dre must endure, including not understanding the language, not able to freely pursue his love interest which would bring dishonor to her family, and being bullied by boys who actually know kung fu.
Like the original movie with Pat Morita as the teacher Mr. Miyagi, Jackie Chan plays a handyman named Mr. Han who saves Xiao Dre from an even more intense beating from the boys, and eventually, teaches Dre everything he knows about kung fu. Also, Mr. Han has a sad secret to share, very much like Mr. Miyagi, who lost his wife and son in a Japanese intern camp during World War II.
Mr. Han flashes glimpses of brilliance and affection, but I personally did not feel the warmth from him that I did from Mr. Miyagi. Later on, as I was mulling it over, I realized that it was because I am used to seeing Jackie Chan in comedies -- not in a serious role where he is crying and confiding in a young child. It's like watching Adam Sandler in a serious role.
Also, Xiao Dre is younger than Danielle LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) -- 12 as opposed to 16. In that sense, Xiao Dre came off younger and slightly more annoying to Mr. Han than Danielle LaRusso probably did to Mr. Miyagi.
Nonetheless, there are plenty of funny moments in this Karate Kid, and the kung fu moves were much more impressive than the karate moves in the original movie. I found myself joining the rest of the audience, clapping and hooting, as Xiao Dre did flips and impressive kung fu moves that make Danielle LaRusso's crane technique look like comedic parody.
Bottom line: Jaden Smith made this movie, and I can't imagine any young boy -- or his mom! -- not rooting for him, and wanting to enroll in kung fu lessons right then and there. I will end with what Xiao Ari told me yesterday morning over breakfast. "Mami, I am thinking we need to go again and take Ethan. He takes karate!"
There you go.