If you'd told me I'd be lapping up a film from the director of Pink Panther 2, Harald Zwart,??I'd probably have raised a sceptical eyebrow. Yet, I have to say I found Zwart's The Karate Kid hugely entertaining and as good as, if not better, than the original 1984 film. Yes, comparisons are inevitable if you are of an age to remember Mr Miyagi and 'Daniel-San'.
Following his mother's job relocation, young Dre Parker (Jaden Smith
) finds he has to build a new life in Beijing. An encounter with a girl in a recreational area leads to a fight with local boys, who soundly beat him with their kung-fu. While being pursued by the group yet again, Dre finds that the unassuming apartment block maintenance man, Mr Han (Jackie Chan
), rescues him with a masterful use of the martial art. Mr Han's plea to the gang's kung-fu teacher to discipline his pupils backfires, and Dre must face all of them in an upcoming martial arts tournament. Now, he just needs someone to teach him kung fu. Who could that be?
Jaden Smith is convincing in the lead role, both as a child actor and an athlete capable of performing kung-fu, having clearly undergone training for the role. The romance with a local girl seems a little cursory, if only to set-up the conflict between Dre and his opponents, but it's adequate to provide another dimension??to the story.
Jackie Chan's 'Mr Han' is the veiled engine of this story, providing the wisdom to help the boy through his trial, while also showing flaws of his own. Chan shows an ability to perform as more than the kung-fu clown of old, presenting a quiet, gentle man tormented by a previous loss. Mr Han has a comedic pathos where Mr Miyagi had stoic mysticism.
The emotional core of the film??can be found??in the training scenes, where the muted and patient Mr Han trains his unknowing, impatient pupil. I found myself getting a bit misty-eyed (I know, bear with me here) watching the scene where Dre suddenly realises with open-mouthed wonder that??the apparently tedious task he has been repeating for days, has actually prepared him for basic kung-fu defence moves. Yes, it's cheesy. Yes, I loved it.
The alternative to the famous 'wax on, wax off' training routine is elegantly simple,??echoing??Chan's comedy clothing-twisting, kung-fu move of choice. I'll let you discover it for yourself.
There are teasing hints of the older film that an older audience will recognise, but the filmmakers are wise enough to steer away from these glances at the predecessor. Aside from some unnecessary tourist shots of the Beijing Olympic stadium and Great Wall of China, the result is a freshness to a familiar story that ensures this is not quite a carbon copy remake.