The Karate Kid (2010)
Boarding a plane for China and leaving all that is familiar behind, Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) follows his single mother (Taraji P. Henson) as she accepts an international job transfer. For Mrs. Parker, the whole experience seems an adventure, but the African-American youngster finds little to be excited about in their new environment. Although the language barrier ought to be his biggest challenge, it is only alluded to. (Conveniently for him and the audience, all of the characters he interacts with speak English.) The real problem proves to be his peers.
On his first day in Beijing the twelve-year-old accidentally catches the attention of a group of bullies while trying to impress a pretty violin player named Mei Ying (Wenwen Han). Angered by her curiosity with Dre’s braided locks, Cheng (Zhiheng Wang) and his buddies pick a fight with the boy, leaving him injured and lying on the pavement.
What the foreigner doesn’t know is his opponents are advanced kung fu students, taught by a man who preaches "No weakness. No pain. No mercy." And there is no way to avoid the gang (or Mei Ying) as they all attend the same school. When the next inevitable confrontation occurs, Dre is again disadvantaged in strength and numbers.
After Dre has been kicked, punched and pinned, Cheng prepares to beat him. Then the unexpected happens. Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), the aging custodian from Dre’s apartment complex, suddenly appears and scatters the mob with unique martial arts moves. Later he treats the victim’s wounds with some ancient medicine. Realizing the unassuming man possesses great knowledge and skill, Dre begs Mr. Han to be his mentor.
Initially Mr. Han is reluctant to coach the child, preferring to settle the issue by talking to the troublemakers’ martial arts instructor. However, when his attempts to make peace result instead in a challenge to participate in a kung fu tournament, Mr. Han agrees to take Dre as a pupil. Negotiating a truce until the day of the competition, he initiates a rather unusual training process for his young protégé.
The rest of the movie features bonding moments between the pair as they prepare for the showdown. These sparing sessions take place against a backdrop of China’s most beautiful places (like The Great Wall and The Forbidden City). Along the way, Mr. Han shares his wisdom, explaining kung fu is about self-discipline and self-defense—not uncontrolled revenge.
Very closely based on The Karate Kid from 1984, this remake takes itself very seriously, which may come as a surprise to viewers familiar with Jackie Chan’s other work. Only the scene where he first protects the underdog displays the sort of comedy that is his usual trademark. The rest of the production offers the classic martial artist and stuntman a chance to display his dramatic acting chops. He offers a very convincing performance. So does his junior co-star, Jaden Smith, who appears to have mastered many of the moves that comprise the action portion of the movie.
Likely more appropriate for teens than the under-ten crowd, this 2010 Karate Kid may still be accused of promoting a vigilante solution to schoolyard bullying. Yet it should also be praised for advocating friendship on either side of the generation gap, along with the importance of facing fears and respecting one’s elders. As the characters learn from one another, they also teach about true honor and dignity.