The Karate Kid

Release Date: June 11, 2010

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57/190 Max Braden It is what it is, but there's some decent action here.

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With nearly two and a half years transpiring since news first surfaced regarding this project, there have been title changes and debunkings of title changes, casting rumors and backtrackings on said rumors. Now at long last, things appear to be officially moving forward. To those of you eagerly awaiting a reboot of another film franchise from the 1980s, ladies and gentlemen, your time has come:

The Karate Kid is a go!

And while the name remains the same, the characters, locales, ethnicities and most of the plot have been as worked over as Daniel LaRusso before Mr. Miyagi got a hold of him and taught him how a philosophy founded on "wax-on and wax-off" could ultimately lead to unleashing some major whup-ass on your tormentors.

A quarter century ago, the original Karate Kid was the definition of a sleeper hit, featuring no big names but ultimately winding up as one of the five biggest U.S. hits of 1984, grossing $90 million at the time. Director John G. Avildsen, whose love for the "root for the underdog fighter" storyline showed up time and again in his career (he also did Rocky and Rocky V and The Power of One) got a second wind with this success. Ralph Macchio briefly graduated from character actor status to leading man. Pat Morita - who had worked on TV shows running the spectrum from The Courtship of Eddie’s Father to Magnum P.I. - snagged an Oscar nomination and insured that he would not be best remembered just for playing Arnold on Happy Days. The Karate Kid Part II improved on the success of its predecessor with a final domestic tally of $115 million. Part III (in 1989) significantly underwhelmed financially, however (just under $39 million) and had 1994's The Next Karate Kid not starred a future Oscar winner (that would be Hilary Swank, kids), it’s debatable that installment would even rate as a trivia question, grossing only $8 million and more or less sinking into the pop culture swamp.

While the series was a success and one of the more memorable touchstones of its decade, reworking it ultimately seems like neither a great idea nor a horrible idea. I think it deserves a half-hearted Daria-esque shrug and a ho-hum "Meh". Much grumbling has already arisen concerning the lead casting of Jaden Smith, child actor, star of The Pursuit of Happyness and last year’s The Day the Earth Stood Still remake, and – oh yes – the son of Will Smith, who coincidentally is the executive producer on the project. While Macchio was a youthful 20-something playing a teen character, Jaden is all of 11 and most likely will not be playing older.

Jaden plays Dre, child of a single mother, who is offered a job transfer to Beijing, China as the only alternative to becoming unemployed after a round of layoffs at her work. Dre winds up getting thrashed on by bullies at his middle school until his building’s maintenance worker Mr. Han sees his bruises, figures out what’s up and offers to teach him some slick moves.

And who will be mentoring Smith the younger? Martial arts legend Jackie Chan. I remember back in the ‘80s and ‘90s when the only way to see a Chan film here in the States would be if you secured a bootleg video from a really cool friend of a friend or if you were lucky enough to live near a repertory theater that programmed really hardcore kung fu and martial arts features. Considering a lot of what he has done since the mid '90s, I kind of wish that was still the case.

On a closing note, the title bandied about frequently for this relaunching was Kung Fu Kid, which would apparently fit in more with the style on display in the film, but wouldn’t fit so much with the attempt to tie in with the original series. (Brett Beach/BOP)

Vital statistics for The Karate Kid
Main Cast Jackie Chan, Jaden Smith
Supporting Cast Taraji P. Henson
Director Harald Zwart
Screenwriter Chris Murphy, Steven Conrad
Distributor Columbia Pictures (Sony)
Official Site
Rating PG
Talent in red has entry in The Big Picture



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