Three Stars – Wholesome
“The Karate Kid” is such a familiar story that even resetting it in exotic China with the charming son of Will Smith playing the lead is still too predictable. But that is not to say that it is not a wonderful story of courage, friendship, young love and family, presented in a way that moves the viewer and reinforces the values that are worthy of emulation. For that reason, we recommend it.
Directed by Harald Swart (The Pink Panther 2) and using the screenplay by Christopher Murphey, the original story by Robert Mark Kamen is updated by the author. The lead in this version is a young man (Jaden Smith) who lost his father and accompanies his mother, Sherry Parker (Taraji P. Henson), when her job moves her to China.
Dre Parker is acting out. Like most young men who find it hard to express their grief at twelve years of age, Dre expresses his pain in actions. He is not in the new country a day before he finds himself in a playground brawl in which he is obviously outmatched. He does not realize that Cheng (Zhenwei Wang) is a star student in the brutal dojo of Master Li (Rongguang Yu). This initial feud grows over time, not only because of the anger of Cheng but also due to the brashness of Dre.
Fueling this feud is the attraction both young men feel for the alluring Meiying (Han Wenwen). A gifted violinist, Meiying befriends Dre and this brings out Cheng’s jealousy. But one of the strengths of this remake is that the love relationship of the “karate kid” is more complex.
The central relationship explored, of course, is the one in which Dre receives training from Mr. Han (Jackie Chan). Using the larger culture and religious beliefs of the Chinese people, Han helps Dre understand that Kung Fu is a way of life that gives peace rather than a skill that leads to war. But, when necessary, the skills are used to defend ourselves and get up once an opponent, or life itself, knocks us down. This proves to be a lesson that not only Dre must learn, but Han must relearn as well.
Familiar or not, The Karate Kid is a classic tale of a young man who comes of age in a dangerous world where he must learn to defend himself without giving in to the evil that he is fighting. That is a lesson we all need to learn.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. The loss of a father often causes a young man to behave in a hyper-masculine way. Why do you think this is true?
2. The attempt by Dre’s mother to find her way as a single-mother causes her to be willing to allow Mr. Han a great deal of access to her son. Do you think that would be wise in the real world?
3. The Chinese government supported the filming in their country. Do you believe it gave a good image of Chinese life? Why or why not?