In anticipation of the remake of The Karate Kid, I went back and watched the original for comparison purposes. While the 1984 movie does have some goofy parts and terrible music, I was reminded why I liked it so much back then.
The camaraderie between the student and his teacher was endearing, and that ending was epic: Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) and his "That's right, I'm a badass karate teacher!" look as the credits rolled, backed by Bill Conti's triumphant score, is an all-time-great finale.
The remake emulates that camaraderie, and has an epic ending of its own.
Jaden Smith, son of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, replaces the now-legendary Ralph Macchio—and Jaden Smith owns it in this movie. He's one ass-kicking little Will Smith clone.
In the original, Macchio's pretty-boy character was displaced from the East Coast to California. This time, Jaden Smith's short but cocky Dre Parker is shipped with his mom (Taraji P. Henson) all the way to China, where evil bullies besiege him.
Like Macchio, Smith does an excellent job of showing the pain and humiliation of getting one's ass kicked by nefarious peers. When Smith gets a shellacking for daring to talk to a pretty girl hanging out at the park (the adorable Wenwen Han), you really feel for the kid. I was feeling psychosomatic kicks to my kidneys (although that could've been the result of too much sweet tea).
Enter this film's version of Mr. Miyagi. Jackie Chan plays Mr. Han, the maintenance man—and Chan has never been more dramatically powerful in a movie. He has a scene in which he recounts a personal tragedy; it proves to be one of the more heartfelt moments in a movie this year. On top of that, he gets to throw a bunch of vicious kids around in a scene that isn't as strange as it sounds. (These kids are so athletically awesome that they could pose a serious physical threat to Mr. Han.)
Mr. Han, of course, agrees to teach Dre kung fu. Instead of "Wax on, wax off!" and "Paint the fence!" we get "Hang up jacket, throw it down, put it on!" This winds up being an equally cool tutorial trick. Before long, young Dre is doing 90-degree kicks and becoming a credible opponent for the bullies in the big kung fu tournament. All the while, Chan and Smith create an endearing bond.
It's during the tournament when it becomes evident that the fighting in this Karate Kid is a little more convincing than in the first incarnation. Smith actually looks intimidating in action. It's possible to buy a kid getting into tournament-ready shape after being trained by Chan, rather than Arnold from Happy Days. The kung fu choreography is much better here; there's none of that kicking-crane crap.
Smith not only has a physical similarity to his infamous pop, but he's also inherited Will's comic timing. When he says, "That's nasty!" after Mr. Han swats a fly, you know without a doubt that he is his father's son. Hearing him trade musical licks with Justin Bieber during the credits adds to the vibe.
The movie is nearly 2 1/2 hours long, and it uses its time well. I'm a fan of the original, but this one is better in many ways. While I was done with the Macchio version after the first installment—the sequels sucked!—the continuing story of Dre and Mr. Han seems appealing. Send them to America, send them to the moon—I don't care, just make some sequels, because Chan and Smith kick ass.