How Bad Is: The Karate Kid (2010)?
We’ve tackled the original. We talked about the YouTube continuation. Now we ask: How bad was the 2010 reboot of The Karate Kid? The Answer: Boringly so.
The Next Karate Kid effectively killed the Pat Morita led Karate Kid franchise, but Hollywood doesn’t take no for an answer (ask any woman working there). Like a money hungry Doctor Frankenstein, it had Igor dig up the body in 2010. Jolting it’s corpse to life in hopes of a Chinese payday, it turned to China’s most bankable star:
Jaden Smith Jackie Chan. Could the clown prince of Kung-Fu put some hustle into this shambling remake? Nope.
Instead, we’re “treated” to a lifeless, boring, and shameless retread. The story beats are the same, but the chemistry is lacking. Every decision in this film seems made to check Marketability rather than Entertainment off the list. The end result is an overlong “Visit China” commercial. Which is odd, because they recut the movie especially for Chinese cinemas, so why was the US release still so pandering? We may never know, but we certainly won’t ever care.
The Karate Kid (2010)
Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) has his world turned upside down, when his mother (Taraji P. Henson) takes a job in Beijing. Uprooted from his life in Detroit, Dre has a hard time making friends, but an easy time making enemies. When a local bully disapproves of Dre’s burgeoning crush on talented violinist Meiying (Wenwen Han), his life becomes a constant battle. After losing one of said battles, Dre is rescued by Hong (Jackie Chan), a quiet, withdrawn maintenance man. When Hong attempts to intercede on Dre’s behalf with the bullies teacher, Dre is given an ultimatum: beat the bullies in an upcoming martial arts tournament and the harassment will stop. The catch: Dre doesn’t know how to fight, and he only has one month to convince the reluctant Mr. Hong to teach him Kung Fu.
What Went Right?
- The scenery is nice. This movie made the odd choice of pandering to China despite having the local Chinese kids bully Dre for absolutely no reason other than “he’s not Chinese”. So while the plot of the film seems intent on turning you off of moving to China, the visuals are desperately trying to show you how amazing the mix of old and new is in China. So at least the film is colorful.
It’s not lacking in the star-power department. The Karate Kid had Jackie Chan shortly after his star began to dim, and Taraji P. Henson just as hers began to ignite. Jaden Smith was more famous for who his father was, but he had buzz as well. None of these talents do much to mitigate the film, however. Taraji P. Henson exists pretty much as someone for Dre to yell his frustrations at, and Jackie Chan isn’t allowed to be exuberant or charming. I blame the writing and directing.
What Went Wrong?
- You guys realize the film is called The KARATE Kid, right? Yes, Karate got a lot of it’s early inspiration from Wushu. No, that doesn’t let the movie off the hook. Marketing-wise, it makes everyone involved look dumb and laughable that they rebooted a story about a boy learning a Japanese martial art as a film about a boy learning Chinese Kung Fu. Entertainment wise, Kung Fu works well when it taps into the grace and acrobatic awe of it’s flowing techniques. Even in the hands of masters, Kung Fu rarely comes across as badass and powerful (Bruce Lee doesn’t count. Jeet Kun Do pretty much existed to blow traditional Kung Fu up). And Jaden Smith is no master. Watching D-grade Wushu is boring.
- The plot is the exact same… except for when they change it… for the worse. The bullied new kid. The tournament gambit. The chores-as-training montage. It’s the same damn film they made in 1984, which means that you can pretty much compare it shot for shot with the original. And The Karate Kid 2010 fails miserably in direct comparison. The leads don’t have the same charm or chemistry. The plot, already a “Rocky-for-kids” retread, is boring the FOURTH time around (counting The Next Karate Kid).
Every substantive change is pretty much messing with the window dressing. Changing the locale to China is a head scratcher: for the whole Karate reason listed above, and the fact that it casts Chinese people as ultra-nationalistic, racist, violent bullies. Not a great look. When it’s white kids picking on white kids, you can just chalk it up to shit-head bullies. When it’s Chinese kids attacking a Black kid, it smells a whole lot different. And by that, I mean it stinks.
- Child’s play. It feels hypocritical pointing this out, but maybe they should have followed the original’s idea of The Karate Kid actually being The Karate Teen. Jaden Smith was at most 12 years old when this film was made, and the rest of the cast seem around the same age. Having the leads be this young robs the action of gravity, and makes the romance angle a touch creepy. Seeing as it is pretty much using the 1984 plot, seeing pre-teens go about what was intended as a teenage courtship doesn’t sit well.
The only thing this decision does right is to make the Kung Fu teacher seem like a proper villain. This psychopath is teaching the Cobra Kai motto (and yes, they lifted that too) of merciless violence to toddlers. Finally, something done well!
- The Soundtrack Sucks. C’mon man, at least give me something to groove to! Maybe Bill Conti and Yo-Yo Ma collaborating. Something….
How Bad Is It?
The Karate Kid is bad in that it was wholly unnecessary. It sticks way too closely to claim being original, and doesn’t update the franchise formula in good ways. The action is fairly ho-hum, with some parkour and Jackie Chan beating the snot out of little children being the sad standouts. It wastes the talent around it, and was definitely a road bump in Will Smith’s plans to make his son a household name. If you’ve got a story that everyone knows the ending of, you better have an electrifying cast to make me care. The Karate Kid does not have that, and the only emotion I felt was mild pity for Jackie Chan.