If you grew up in the 80’s, you were probably familiar with The Karate Kid and the endless “wax on, wax off” jokes. The original was a defining moment in teen pop culture at that time. It was a career defining movie for both Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita. Its story formula would be repeated and echoed in many versions with varying success. It spurred a series of movies, The Karate Kid, Part II, The Karate Kid, Part III, and the last installment which tried to recapture the movie magic but failed, The Next Karate Kid.
It came about in a time when Martial Arts was still very limited in terms of exposure in the United States. The term “karate” was familiar to the general public and you rarely heard of any other forms of Martial Arts. The 80’s were a period where Martial Arts was starting to come forward once more and cleaning up their image from a rough and violent sport.
The movie helped to spur on a new interest in youths, especially teen and pre-teen boys, in Martial Arts. It was one of the first Martial Arts movies to hit mainstream movie goers and perhaps the first time the lead Martial Arts character was a non-Asian. The Karate Kid was a full blown Hollywood production, unlike the other Hong Kong influenced movies of the past decade from the likes of Bruce Lee.
The original The Karate Kid, defined much more than just the actual Martial Arts depicted. It opened the door for many movies to come and helped shape the views of Martial Arts for the next generation.
The 2010 remake, which can also be found under the title The Kung Fu Kid in other countries, attempts to update the 1984 version. Since 1984, the world has gotten a lot smaller and people are far more connected than ever before. Thus, no longer is a move to California big enough. In the 2010 version, the mother and son team move around the world to China, making the son, Dre, stand out even more as an outsider. On top of looking different, the language barrier makes it harder for Dre to fit in.
Since the original, Martial Arts has become far more recognized and understood by the general public. We’ve been dazzled by the Martial Arts prowess of movies such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Audiences expect sharper, stronger, and cleaner Martial Arts. And no longer is all Martial Arts simply called “karate”. The 2010 aims to not disappoint. Kung Fu, which is a traditional Chinese Martial Arts style, is predominant in this movie. The physical abilities that are developed in Dre are far more impressive than they had to be in Daniel. Overall, all the Martial Arts abilities within the movie were impressive and well developed among the actors.
The storyline itself is still pretty much the same. The new boy in town moves into a rundown “motel” and is sent off to find the repair man to fix a broken shower. The repair man turns out to be more than meets the eye and teaches the boy Martial Arts in order to defend himself against local bullies. There is a love interest in a girl who is somehow connected to this bully, but she takes sides with the new boy. In attempt to discipline the bully, the repair man goes to speak with the Martial Arts instructor and finds this man’s teachings to be the root of the problem. A challenge is issued. The new boy trains in the most unusual manners but eventually learns enough Martial Arts to compete and win in a tournament against the bullies.
There are differences as well. The “wax on, wax off” has now been replaced with “jacket on, jacket off”. Rather than borrow the car for a date, the car finds its way into the repair man’s living room and becomes the center piece as to why he is so lonely. The relationship between the new boy and the girl is far more innocent in this newer version than the original. As to be expected with Jackie Chan, a little more humor is placed into some of the Martial Arts. And finally, the scenery at the temple is breath-taking, especially the image of the snake-charming lady.
Jackie Chan does a wonderful job portraying Mr. Han, the role of the repair man/Martial Arts master. He breathes a very different life into the role from Pat Morita without taking away from the brilliance of the original. A few cute moments, such as the “fly catching” scene, even pay homage to the original.
Jaden Smith is an interesting choice for the part of Dre, the new boy. Jaden plays a younger character from the original Ralph Macchio’s Daniel. This youth, along with the acceptance of wire work technology, makes Dre far more physically impressive than Daniel. There are moments in the movie where you can even pick up hints of Will Smith from the “Prince of Bel Air” era or the expressive facial images of his mother, Jada Pinkett Smith.
This newer version of The Karate Kid will not have nearly as big an impact as the original but it still is a good update to the original.