One of the most difficult things to do in film is to remake an original and actually have the newer version be as good or better. Well guess what? The latest incarnation of The Karate Kid, starring Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan—and opens nationwide tonight—has pulled it off.
It’s true that we’ve seen quite a few remakes as of late that didn’t quite live up to their hype. One recent example of this phenomenon was the release of this year’s Death At A Funeral a remake of the 2007 film of the same name. The predominately black reboot which starred Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence was made for $21 million and grossed only $42 million domestically. And when reports surfaced that the 1985 cult classic, The Last Dragon is set to be remade—it’s made some movie fans wonder why can’t we leave the oldies but goodies alone?
The positive thing to point out about the aforementioned titles is that the casts, decision makers and settings are slowly but surely becoming more diverse. Jerry Weintraub who served as a producer on all of The Karate Kid movies prior to this “remake” does the same for the latest version. However, this time he’s joined by both Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith who are producers on the film. Furthermore, the lead characters in the new version are African-American and Chinese.
But the question remains: Positive strides aside which one is better the original or the new take? Let’s look at both.
No one could “replace” the original 1984 duo of the late Pat Morita playing “Mr. Miyagi” and Ralph Macchio as “Daniel-san.” There was a palpable bond between them that could be felt throughout the film. It was a relationship that went beyond mentor and mentee, instead they became something akin to surrogate father and son. Who can forget the phrase, “wax on, wax off?” And I’ll bet that one too many of us who grew up in the 80s hit the dirt while trying to mimic the tournament winning move of the original film better known as “the crane”.
However the true gem of the original was the genius of Pat Morita’s portrayal of Mr. Miyagi. Hollywood definitely concurred with the creative brilliance of his performance as he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor as well as a Golden Globe. I’ll go out on a limb and say that the latest version might not receive the same recognition in the acting categories although the performances by both Chan and Smith were quite good.
So yes, the original Karate Kid can never be replaced but the newer version did reveal some pleasant surprises and consistency which was refreshing.
What you get in both versions is that a kid is taken out of his element, he gets bullied, a surrogate father figure steps in and at the end the kid triumphs over adversity. However, the 2010 version made some noteworthy changes.
Besides race there is the factor of age. Whereas Macchio’s “Daniel Larusso” was clearly an older teen, Jaden Smith’s “Dre Parker” is only 12-years-old. Now that could have been problematic with the amount of fighting in the film. However, the violence is never too extreme (the film is rated PG) as Dre is anchored by his mother “Sherry” who is played by Taraji P. Henson. She’s onscreen for only a third of the film but you see her enough to know that she’s an influence in Dre’s life.
Both versions of the film rely on the relationship between the surrogate father and son. Jackie Chan is very believable as the moody and melancholic “Mr. Han” who eventually decides to help Smith’s Dre. Whereas in the original Pat Morita stole the spotlight, Jaden Smith steals the show in the 2010 version. Smith, already a seasoned actor at the age of 11, shows us that he’s got the chops and if he continues on this trajectory will become quite the box office draw.
What’s very different in this version is the action, and by different I mean it is oh so good. In the original you felt bad for Macchio’s character when the tough guys would come after him. In the newer version you’ll wince in your seat and secretly pray the updated nemesis named “Cheng” aptly played by Zhenwei Wang will stop his merciless beatings of Smith’s character. But let me be clear, Dre comes back with a vengeance in this remake that completely blows away the crane technique from the original. Smith definitely delivers on the action. Additionally, while Chan’s character takes a more dramatic turn, those wanting a good old Jackie Chan action sequence will not be disappointed.
Although the ending may seem obvious, I guarantee you will literally catch yourself rooting for the good guy, forgetting for just a moment the original ending. While the original can’t be replaced, the remake stands on its own and gives the audience a reason to stand up and cheer.