x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

The Karate Kid

A cheerful enough remake of the 1980s martial arts classic, relocated from Japan to China.

***

Director: Harald Zwart

Starring: Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan

In this straight-up remake of the 1980s teenage martial arts classic starring Ralph Maccio and Pat Morita, we see Jaden Smith (son of Will) play Dre, an African-American boy doing battle with the bullies with some nifty combat skills taught him by his reclusive teacher, Dr Han (Jackie Chan in Morita's Mr Miyagi role). This time, the action has moved to Beijing, where Dre's mother, Sherry, has been relocated for work. The story is a family-friendly one about the underdog triumphing, and Smith, a slightly built 12-year-old, is a good choice to portray that (his Chinese opponents are all twice his size). Whether he is the right person to carry an entire film, though, is a different matter. Like the robotic dance moves his character loves to show off, Smith's performance is unnervingly wooden. This might not matter much in a smaller role, but becomes irritating when he leads almost every scene. Chan, on the other hand, is forced to act his socks off (relatively speaking) as a modern-day Mr Miyagi haunted by his tragic past. Performances aside, there is still plenty to enjoy, including some slick fight sequences against the backdrop of ancient and modern China (the Great Wall and the Birdcage stadium both make appearances). The setting comes with complications, though: karate is a Japanese discipline, so Dre is in fact learning kung fu. Shouldn't that merit a change of title? Then again, as Sherry perceptively remarks at one point: "Kung fu, karate, what's the difference?"