Review by Throwback
It’s difficult to explain different eras to your kids. Sometimes, you can only get the most vague of impressions across to them. For example, I really can’t get a concrete picture in my head of what the late 60s through the 70s were like. My parents have told me lots of stories, but my brain fathoms it just enough to be appreciative that I wasn’t alive back then. Now is bad enough.
This is the problem I have when trying to explain to my children how awesome the 80s were. They can only see it in pieces when presented with specific examples for comparison and contrast. Empire Strikes Back vs. Phantom Menace. Raiders of the Lost Ark vs. That Fake Indiana Jones Production With Shia LaBeouf. And now, Karate Kid (1984) vs. Karate Kid (2010, PG). I will proceed assuming that most readers are familiar with the 1984 version. If you aren’t, that is very sad.
The basic plot of the 2010 feature is the same. There’s this kid who gets bullied by a bunch of guys who know kung fu, so he has to learn kung fu from this older guy in order to prove himself against his nemeses at a tournament.
Wait, did I say “kung fu”? No, I meant “karate,” right, because this is The Karate Kid after all.
Actually, I meant “kung fu” because there is no karate in this movie. Why is it called The Karate Kid then? Other than to piggyback on some 80s nostalgia, there is none. Maybe I’m being nit-picky, but this annoyed me.
Jaden Smith (son of Will Smith) is cast as Dre, the 12-year old American displaced to China by his mom’s job and later victim of Chinese juvenile oppression. The kid can act, and he didn’t even have to say “Aww, hell naw!” to do it. Instead of Pat Morita as Mr. Miyagi, we have Jackie Chan stepping in as Mr. Han, the mentor. Right away, the problems become evident.
Smith is accosted by his Chinese tormenters because of flirtations and a budding romance with a young Chinese girl. Holy smokes. Did anybody notice that these kids aren’t even teenagers? But they’re already having relationships and getting beaten up over them? If anything, this speaks volumes about the differences between 1984 and 2010. Jackie Chan, primarily known as an action star or comedic actor, is asked to carry the water on a role he’s just ill-suited for. Granted, Morita was in a similar boat back in the 80s. Maybe they thought Chan could make the transition and bring the same sort of weight and gravitas to the role. He couldn’t, and it was painfully obvious that he was trying to hard.
Part of Chan’s struggles probably came from the script, which wasn’t all that great and largely constructed around highlighting Smith. When Chan got his opportunities, he didn’t have much to work with. One scene, for example, described how Mr. Han became an alcoholic. Basically, he got in a fight with his wife, they had a car accident, and his family died. Contrast this to the counterpart scene in the 1984 version. Mr. Miyagi lost his family when they were sent to an internment camp while he was off fighting in WWII. The Chan scene was more about giving Smith a chance to “teach the teacher.” The Morita scene was about developing Mr. Miyagi. Chan didn’t have a chance.
This is what you get when you throw the guy who did Agent Cody Banks (Harold Zwart) into a project that is built on a classic. 1984 had some genuine beauty to it. This is more like the MTV version (and yeah, I know MTV was a product of the 80s; I never said the decade was perfect).
What made the movie most uncomfortable for me was the above-mentioned age differential for the characters. Whether it was young boyfriend/girlfriend skipping out on school or pre-teen beatings delivered by other pre-teens, the whole thing was unnerving. Take everything the evil sensei did in the teenaged context in the original Karate Kid. Now, make the actor Chinese. It was all pretty much the same stuff. The romantic subtext was altogether inappropriate. Catholic parents should stick to the original.
It’s not like the content is overly graphic. The kids aren’t full-on making out, though there is a kiss. Nobody pulls anyone’s heart out. There are a few profanities, but thankfully, nothing terribly severe. The kids are just too young for this kind of portrayal, and I couldn’t get past that.
Ultimately, there is a good movie here. It was just made back in 1984. There is absolutely no reason for anyone to watch the 2010 Karate Kid. It would be akin to eating a tortilla when the entire burrito is available. All the positives can be found in the original, with most of the negatives (mild profanity, etc) overlapping or completely eliminated (kids too young).
Half a tiara