The Karate Kid

I have a new plan. A cunning plan, even. I'm going to start watching and reviewing every TV show or movie from the 1980's that was ever considered financially successful and/or a cult classic. Then, when someone gets around to remaking, say, Airplane! or Night Court for the big screen, all I have to do is change the actors' names and maybe a few other details, and my review will be all set! It'll be a huge timesaver, sort of like the way newspapers keep updated obituaries ready for celebrities.

In this case, that would have been especially useful. All I would have had to do was swap out names and change all references to California over to China, and that would've been it, really. I never saw the first Karate Kid. To me, the name always conjurs up the DC superhero Karate Kid, from the Legion of Super-Heroes, and incidentally DC graciously gave their permission for them to use the name, just like they did the first time. But I figured I knew enough about it from spoofs and various other references I've seen over the years to muddle through this flick better than the A-Team, at least. I've seen maybe five or ten minutes of the A-Team series. I must have watched some eighties stuff, but apparently all the wrong stuff.

Anyway, as you know, Jaden Smith is the Karate Kid, aka Dre Parker. He's a kid from Detroit, being raised by single mom Sherry (Taraji P. Henson), who works for a car company and was just transferred to their branch in China. She's learning Chinese and thinks everything in China is wonderful, from the Forbidden City to the ice cream. Dre, being twelve, is doubtful about all this wonderfulness; and as soon as he meets school bully Cheng (Zhenwei Wang), he knows there's nothing wonderful about this place. Well, except for violinist Meiying (Wenwen Han), a pretty girl at his school who can play Chopin's Nocturne in C# Minor like you wouldn't believe. She's absolutely adorable and a very good actress, especially considering she doesn't seem to have any other acting credits yet, but she's simultaneously too old to wear those short, little-girl dresses and too young to dance like that to Lady Gaga songs.

Cheng also likes Meiying, of course, and this doesn't bode well for our young hero. She practices constantly -- during recess, during lunch (though I'm not sure how she works that), and if her father has anything to say about it, she probably practices in her sleep, too. She needs to get into the Beijing Academy of Music or else, it seems. But somehow, between her practices and Dre's dodging of Cheng and his cronies, they manage to find time to spend together. But Cheng's only getting angrier, and Dre can't hide forever. When the bullies finally corner him -- and really, it's bad enough that Cheng knows kung fu; the fact that he also has his friends hold Dre down is just ridiculous -- Dre goes down hard.

Enter Mr. Han! Jackie Chan saves the day, as he so often does. Mr. Han is the maintenance man at Dre's apartment building, so when Dre sees him beating up all the young thugs -- without actually punching them -- he's naturally a little confused. And though Mr. Han is glad enough to patch Dre up afterwards, he's a little more reluctant to go along with any of the kid's other plans. When Dre finally talks him into going to see the guy who teaches Cheng and his crew kung fu, it's supposedly to make peace. But Master Li (Rongguang Yu, who had a small part in another Jackie Chan flick, Shanghai Noon, and seems to be wearing a really bad toupee here, but I think it's just an odd hairstyle) is having none of it. His motto is to show "No weakness! No pain! No mercy!", and as you can see, peace doesn't really fit in there. So somehow, Jackie ends up promising that Dre will fight in the upcoming tournament if the bullies agree to leave him alone until then.

From there, you can draw an absolutely straight line to the end of the movie, with barely a hint of a subplot and certainly nothing like a surprise twist. But you know, it was still kind of fun to watch. Our hero trains on top of the Great Wall. Jackie brings him up to a temple atop a mountain to show him the famed Dragon Well. We find out why Mr. Han has a car in his living room. Though except for the setting and some other details, it's really the exact same movie they made in 1984, according to what I read in the wiki synopsis. I mean, obviously they can't make Jackie Chan a WWII vet like Pat Morita was, but otherwise it's quite faithful to the original. I was sort of expecting more of a reboot, as filmmakers seem to love to do these days, but I guess there's only so much you can do with an underdog-makes-good in the world of martial arts story.

I guess I'll go with three out of five. That seems a little wrong somehow, because that's what I gave Splice, and while they probably were about equally well-done, I wouldn't mind watching this again someday, and I'm pretty sure I won't bother with Splice. But three it is -- I think I might just be weird about what I might like to watch again. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go add Beetlejuice to my Netflix queue and start working on my dream cast for the reboot of Hogan's Heroes.

Dre at the tournament during his final match.


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