Early Buzz: Peter's Mixed Thoughts On The Karate Kid

When it was announced that Sony would be remaking The Karate Kid with Will Smith's son Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan as the Mr. Miyagi character, I was livid. Every once in a while on /Film we'll preclude our headline with "Worst Idea EVER:", which is kind of a running joke because we run 20-30 of these stories a year. The joke is that Hollywood loves bad ideas. But my mind began to change after I watched the trailers for the new film. Not just change, but totally reverse. It looked like a completely different movie just playing off the basic concepts of the 1980s film. Sure, I wish that they would release the film under the title "The Kung Fu Kid" but I was actually excited to see the film.

And see the film I did. Today at ShoWest I got a chance to see the film a few months early. Was it good? Was it terrible? I'm not quite sure. Even if I was able to write a review (which I'm not, though Sony is allowing reaction blogs) I'm not sure what I would say. If I had seen this movie today without ever having seen the original Karate Kid movie, I probably would have liked it quite a bit. It definitely isn't a bad movie.  But...

Here is my video blog with Steve from Collider, giving our thoughts on the film:

The parts that don't work are a sharp contrast to the original film:

  • The young Asian love interest is uninteresting, and there is little chemistry between her and Jaden: If you can't believe the love story, then why should you be invested? Elisabeth Shue's character in the original was the perfect love interest for a high school setting: she was the girl everyone wanted, she was sweet, not too unobtainable, a girl that brightened up the room.
  • The bad guys are boring: Not only do we not know any of their names in this film, but they lack the character that made Johnny and his cronies so great. Even their Kung Fu teacher is very two dimensional. I couldn't even tell you the name of their Kung Fu Dojo/Team if you paid me. The film hopes that we will hate them because they beat Jaden's character Dre up for almost no reason.
  • Jackie Chan is a Bad Dramatic Actor in English-Language Films: Pat Morita was nominated for a best supporting actor Academy Award for his performance in the first film. Jackie Chan tries to play quiet and brooding, but just looks like he's concentrating too hard. And while they do have a variation on Morita's drunk scene from the original movie, it is clear that Chan is not capable of displaying such emotion on command.
  • It feels long: I'm not sure if this is the final cut of the movie but it felt a good 10-15 minutes too long, and I heard that complaint from quite a few people leaving the screening.
  • It is too similar to the original: I felt at times I was just waiting for the next plot point from the original film to hit. I was hoping that moving the story to China would allow them to do something different, but the story for the most part remains the same, to a fault.
  • What does work:

  • The cinematography is amazing: This film looks very slick, the action is well choreographed, and the depiction of China is breathtaking.
  • It's funny, and much of it works: The relationship between Dre and his mother and Mr. Han is the core to this film and works for most of the scenes.
  • Jaden is actually a great actor: If you had asked me after The Day The Earth Stood Still if Jaden Smith would have a big career in Hollywood, I would have been skeptical. But his performance in this film makes me a believer. He even steals the drunk scene (mentioned before) from Chan, and is the reason the sequence works.
  • If I were a kid and had never seen the original film, I would have loved this a lot more.
  • This is just my very brief thoughts on the movie, and not a full review. I actually enjoyed it for the most part, but left the theater feeling both confused and disappointed.