Karate Kid opens June 11th and whether you remember the original 1984 movie of the same name or not, you’ll walk away with a satisfying experience, if not for the predicable ending, then for the China Travelogue that serves as it’s setting. I visited China in 1992 and the country today is light years ahead in development since then. We see images of the Olympic Village in Beijing, but 12 year old Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) sees only the unfamiliar as he tries to settle in to his new neighborhood and school. His single mother Sherry (Taraji P. Henson) has been transferred from her Detroit car company job and her son Dre has a rough go with the bullies of the block who don’t take kindly to Dre flirting with cute Ying, a violin prodigy who befriends him. The bullying scenes are difficult to watch as the bad boy Chen has some serious Kung Fu moves.
This sets up the role of maintenance man Mr Han (Jackie Chan) as protector and instructor to Dre as he prepares to lose his fear and defend himself in the predictable Kung Fu tournament finale.
There are some funny and tender moments as we watch the relationship develop between teacher and student, and the secrets of Mr. Han’s past are revealed. Jackie Chan puts in his finest film acting to date and Jaden Smith (Will Smith and wife Jada Pinkett-Smith produce the film and were no doubt there to protect their son from a broken neck) Makes an entirely believable transition from sullen pre-teen, to newly confident Kung Fu Champ.
Director Harald Zwart brings excitement to the training and tournament scenes, utilizing the spectacular Li River Valley and other landmark Chinese locations along the way, even selling the idea of Mr. Han’s “ancient Chinese secret” healing art.
You’ll leave the theater wondering how Jaden convinces us so thoroughly that he is indeed a young Kung Fu talent. The film is rated PG, good summer fare for the family. On the old GPA scale I’d give it a 3.4.