Surprisingly, this remake is not only incredibly faithful to the original (except for the protagonist's age, the setting, and the style of martial art), but also incredibly entertaining. Viewers are sure to clap and hoot throughout many, many scenes. What makes the kung fu reimagining work is the stellar performances by Smith, who channels his father Will's intensity and charm, and Chan, who finally seems in his element and gets to show some dramatic acting skills. They may not have some of the humorous exchanges (or lines) that made Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita so lovable, but their friendship is believable and strong enough to carry the story.
The movie, even with its unncessarily long run time of nearly two and a half hours, proves that Smith is a natural-born entertainer, which isn't surprising considering he's basically Hollywood royalty. He may have initially gotten the part because of his parents, but he's funny, at ease, and can even nail tween angst. The rapport between Smith and Henson as mother-and-son is realistic, and his flirtation with Meiying is adorable. The antagonists are perfectly played (at last, Asian boys aren't portrayed as geeky!), and Master Li is a slick, Chinese version of John Kreese's "No mercy!"-spewing Sensei. While it's unlikely that Chan's "take off the jacket/put it up" bit will become the cultural touchstone that "wax on!/wax off!" was, the spirit of the original -- the triumph of a multi-generational, multi-cultural friendship -- makes this underdog story hard to resist.