Step 1: Believe. As eye-rolling and skeptical as I was when I heard they were remaking The Karate Kid, I have to admit the film does a nice job re-envisioning the ’80s cult classic, thanks in large part to the new Kid, Jaden Smith.
Step 2: Don’t change it too much. The best part of this new Karate Kid is how it switches things up yet at the same time keeps to the heart and soul of the original. Jaden plays Dre, whose single mother (Taraji P. Henson) moves him from Detroit to China for work. From there, the story elements are basically the same — Dre meets a cute girl, rubs the local bullies the wrong way, gets his ass kicked by their kung-fu moves, befriends the apartment maintenance man, Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), who teaches him karate, so Dre can prove himself and also learn some life lessons, and so on. It’s formulaic and a little long-winded, but the pay off is still worth it.
Step 3: Recognize talent, Part I. The young Jaden honestly has talent, pure and simple. Sure, he was so damn cute as a 5-year-old in his debut Pursuit of Happyness performance, playing opposite his famous movie star dad Will Smith, but even then you could tell the kid inherited the acting genes. Jaden has such a natural ease that every step he takes seems genuine. And man, can that kid work up those tears; it rips your heart out. I’m pretty sure another star is born, one that might even surpass his dad’s fame. Can’t wait to see what kind of heartthrob he’ll be when he grows up.
Step 4: Recognize talent, Part II: Chan, too, surprises you in Karate Kid. Of course, casting him in the iconic Mr. Miyagi role seems like a no brainer, and goes one better with Chan’s expert martial arts moves. I swear, watching Chan do what he does the very best is like watching Fred Astaire dance, using everything around him to help in the fight. Unfortunately, he is in more teacher mode than kung-fu mode in Kid, but he does get in one good scene. The surprising part is how far Chan digs in for the role, playing a man who has had a tragic past. He and Jaden have a nice rapport that goes a long way in the film. Henson and the rest of the supporting cast hold up, but the film belongs to these two.
Step 5: Use montages. Speaking of marital arts, the montage training scenes are just as much fun as the original, and Jaden also shows an amazing amount of skill and agility. Filming the entire movie in Beijing also lends itself to more authenticity, with gorgeous locales, lush mountain tops and the always spectacular Forbidden City. The film does tend to drag a bit at two and half hours, but all in all, it does the original proud — and then some.
Level of difficulty in watching The Karate Kid: Not too bad. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few more Karate Kids were in the works as we speak.