Adopting the 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' mantra, the movie's structure closely adheres to the 1984 original. The most noticeable change is the transportation of the location to China, as recently widowed Sherry Parker (Henson) takes along her mischievous 12-year-old son Dre (Smith) for her new job. Before long, poor Dre is being hassled by the violent school bullies and it's up to reluctant handyman Mr. Han (Chan) to come to his aid. There's also a touching pre-pubescent romance subplot thrown into the mix too, but the real heart-trembler lies in a junior kung-fu tournament upon which a great deal hinges.
As you'd expect, plenty of Crocodile Dundee style fish-out-of-water humour is derived from the culture clash of a young American on Oriental turf. This functions as jovial window-dressing to the main emotional crux of the movie - the relationship between Dre and the Miyagi-like figure of Mr. Han. The successful combination of youthful exuberance and elder weariness stems from Smith's refreshingly smug-free confidence and Chan's brilliantly understated and stoic turn as a man haunted by a past tragedy. The foregrounding of their psychological layers occasionally causes the pacing to sag, but the pay-off is a guaranteed crowdpleaser and worth the emotional investment.
Both actors also handle the action sequences exquisitely, with director Harald Zwart not afraid to incorporate some camerawork reminiscent of the Bourne franchise to pump extra thrills into the chase and fight sequences. The script also works well in making the baddies suitably hissable, but without rendering them mere one-dimensional ciphers.
The 2010 remake of The Karate Kid ultimately succeeds in retaining the best elements of the original, such as Mr. Miyagi’s memorable 'wax on, wax off' fight training programme, while giving them a clever spin for a modern audience. Thrilling action, well-timed humour and a strong moral heart help to justify the slightly overlong length of the movie. By the time a certain iconic one-legged fighting stance is adopted by Dre, it'll be hard to suppress the excitement and elation. Bring on the sequels...
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