When it comes to remakes, only two criteria matter. One, is it good in its own right? Two, is it as good as the original? Here’s the verdict on the Karate Kid, released in much of the world later this week. Okay. Is it good? Yes, the bullied-victim-turns-champ tale is entertaining, well-acted by its two stars, precocious Jaden Smith and thankfully less hammy than usual Jackie Chan.
Is it as good as the 1984 original that starred Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita? Answer, for me, not quite.
It follows the narrative path of the original remarkably closely, so no criticism on that front. But it looks quite different because of the new setting. The original, New Jersey boy transplanted to LA now becomes Detroit boy checks out Beijing. Plaudits again because there is no downside to this location switch. The China Tourist Board will be happy beneficiaries.
So my only reservation, and it’s a small one, lies in the chemistry between awkward youth, Smith and mild-mannered maintenance man/martial arts expert, Chan. Its somehow just not as inspiring and natural as the original pairing.
Of course, Pat Morita pulled an Oscar Nomination for his performance. Chan won’t emulate that, but his subdued performance secures the credibility of the character without inspiring quite the same affection. As for Jaden Smith, only eleven when this was being filmed, he is comfortable on camera and eminently watchable. He will have a big future in movies, no doubt.
Yes, I missed just some of the emotional Macchio/Morita spark. That said, its intended new audience, not necessarily equipped with the same reference points, will hugely enjoy the plot and the eventual triumph of the young hero. So, overall, it’s a welcome for a Hollywood remake. Now, there’s an original concept.
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