Combat Sports Movie Review: The Karate Kid (2010)

Last year’s remake of The Karate Kid was a significantly bigger production than most of the films subject to the Combat Sports Movie Review. However, the movie buff is well aware that The Karate Kid has actually been remade every year since No Retreat, No Surrender was released. The 2010 version was just the first to decide to use the same title. So, this installment of Combat Sports Movie Review is for the jaded soul that decided to wait until this week, when the movie was released on Netflix Instant, to consider watching it.

First and foremost, again unlike most of the Combat Sports Movie Review subjects, The Karate Kid is worth watching. The film is a big budget production that does most things very well. The only real sticking point in the movie is that it was good, but could have been great if it had just shown a little more restraint.

The plot of the film really needs no explanation. It’s The Karate Kid. Replace the Italian family from New Jersey with a black family from Detroit. Then replace California with China, karate with generic kung fu, and make all the kids 3 years younger. The rest of the plot is the usual fare.

The Karate Kid is a pretty movie. The visual direction is where the film truly shines. In the first 30 minutes it becomes readily apparent that all of China was created explicitly for the use of establishing shots. The only issue with The Karate Kid’s beautiful take on the scenery is that, like everything good about the film, it’s overdone.

The Karate Kid has nearly two and a half hour running time, most of which being establishing shots and elaborate tours of the environment. Towards the end of the movie it feels like China keeps interrupting the plot to show off, and what would otherwise be masterfully done shooting becomes a little tiresome.

The acting from the two main characters is good for any film and unmatched in martial arts movies targeted towards children. Jaden Smith, who plays the titular kid of karate, manages to make the character feel both very natural and charming: A far cry from the whiny Daniel-san of old that got most martial artists rooting for Cobra Kai. Smith is smooth and clever to the point where the audience can understand why the female lead prefers him to the handsome, athletic bully that throws him regular beatings.

Jackie Chan, who plays the Miyagi ersatz Mr. Han, fills the role of straight man in the duo for the first time in his career. And he does it very well. One particular scene showcases his ability in a deeply emotional and moving way, but once again runs in to the film’s overarching issue of going too long and becoming too explicit until the sequence no longer has the same impact.

The supporting cast are less impressive, but still do their job. The bully villain has virtually no time spent on his motivation or personality. But, the audience knows he’s the generic bully MacGuffin. The kid sounds mean, has a great Bolo Yeung face and that’s all he really needs. The only substandard performance in the film is from Taraji Henson, who plays Smith’s mother. She’s dry toast not really worth mentioning if she had a smaller part.

The action sequences were dull and uninspired, which is normally a major failing for combat sports movies. In The Karate Kid these sequences make up such a small part of the film that poor action is a forgivable sin. But, boring fight scenes in a movie with Jackie Chan will be shocker to most fans.

The fault of the action comes from the fact that it’s a kids movie with younger actors in it. The producers, quite logically, didn’t want to depict their child actors as being bloody or particularly damaged. This kid-friendly desire results in a series of fights throughout the film, including a full contact tournament with strikes to the head of a grounded opponent and no pads, that don’t so much as leave a mark or bloody a nose on anyone.

The tournament depicted in the film would turn even the most hardened athlete into chopped meat by their third match, yet these 12-14 year old children haven’t even messed up their hair. Lack of damage combined with the relative no-sell that most of the actors use to depict getting hit makes for a “who cares” feeling towards the violence in the movie.

All things considered, this film probably didn’t need to be made as The Karate Kid. Some of the references to the original were a little forced and the overall quality of the film might have been buoyed by the freedom that comes with a different title. But where the film succeeds, it succeeds more than most. The Karate Kid is certainly a better choice for children than Surf Ninjas and an establishing shot, when done right, no can defense.

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