Believe me, no one is more surprised about this than I am.
Anyone who knows me knows that my favorite movies as a kid were STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and RETURN OF THE JEDI. But it’s a lesser-known fact that my favorite non-Star Wars film was none other than the original KARATE KID. There was a period of my young life during which I would rent THE KARATE KID (along with whatever classic “Best of the WWF” volumes I hadn’t seen yet… but I digress) from the video store every week. I memorized the movie inside and out and to this day keep it on a pedestal that few movies will ever reach.
So needless to say, when I heard that they were encroaching on sacred ground and making a full-fledged remake, I was pissed. When I heard that it would star Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan, I scoffed. And when I heard that it would be called THE KARATE KID even though it’s about kung fu instead of karate, I denounced its existence to anyone who would listen, became certain that it was a disaster waiting to happen and vowed to never watch it under any circumstances.
Well, guess what: My morbid curiosity got the best of me and I saw THE KARATE KID remake the other night. And wouldn’t you know it… not only is it NOT a travesty, but it’s actually not half bad. I still think it’s completely pointless and unnecessary, as it’s practically a shot-by-shot remake of the original, following the exact same story arc, hitting the same plot points and even borrowing many of the same visuals and exact lines of dialogue. But rather than seeming like a cheap rehash, it’s made with devout, almost slavish respect for the source material, and it works surprisingly well.
It helps that Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan work well together as fish-out-of-water Dre and maintenance man/kung fu master Mr. Han. Granted, Jaden isn’t nearly as “2010-cool” as Ralph Macchio was “1984-cool,” if you follow my meaning, and Chan doesn’t inspire anywhere near the sense of awe that Morita did… but they’re a believable pair. I also found Dre’s relationship with Meiying, his cute Chinese love interest, to be sufficiently heartwarming (though you just can’t beat Elisabeth Shue) and the bad kung fu kids, while nowhere near as awesome as the Cobra Kai, definitely gave Dre bigger beatings than Daniel ever endured. The training sequences plodded a bit (in fact, the whole movie, at 2 1/2 hours, was way too long), but the final tournament was intense and the audience got WAY into it, clapping and cheering Dre along. In the end, I left the theatre entertained and impressed.
But rest assured, the remake will never replace the original, and I really hope that any parents who have taken their kids to see it will follow it up with the original as soon as possible. The biggest problem with the remake is that there isn’t really a single iconic moment and absolutely no memorable dialogue. People have been quoting, “Wax on, wax off” for years… but I guarantee that no one is going to remember, “Put on jacket, take off jacket” a month from now. Dre & Mr. Han training on top of the Great Wall of China is a cool visual, but it’s nothing like Daniel practicing the Crane Kick in the sunset. The remake is enjoyable and even thrilling at times, but it contains absolutely nothing that will stand the test of time in the way that the original has done for over 25 years.
Should they have bothered to make THE KARATE KID, version 2010? Probably not. And they certainly shouldn’t have called it THE KARATE KID, which is just retarded. But is it worth seeing? I think so, just once, for the sake of completion. Enjoy it in the moment, and then go home and watch the original and cheer for Daniel-San and Mr. Miyagi all over again and forget the remake exists. BANZAI!!!