A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this Karate Kid remake is a faithful adaptation of the original but because the central character is 12 instead of 16, the language and romance is appropriately scaled back, even though the violence is a bit more startling. There's not much cursing (a few uses of the word "ass") or sexuality (mild flirting and one chaste kiss), but there are a whole lot of fight scenes. The Chinese bullies are pretty merciless both off and on the mat. They're even willing to do some unethical moves to secure a championship. But when it comes down to it, this is a friendship story between old and young, East and West, and that's a fine message for young kids.
What's the story?
Twelve-year-old Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) moves with his widowed mother (Taraji P. Henson) from Detroit to Beijing, China, where he has to learn a new language, acclimate to a new school, and deal with a completely different culture. Early on, he shows an interest in Meiying, a pretty young violinist, but his flirtation brings him face-to-face with a crew of kung fu-practicing bullies who taunt Dre and beat him up pretty mercilessly at every possible turn. Like in the original, the bullies all take advanced martial arts at a scarily competitive kung fu studio led by Master Li (Rongguang Yu). Just when Dre's about to be attacked by six of the bullies, he's saved by his apartment complex's maintenance man, Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), who hesitantly agrees to train Dre for a kung fu competition where he'll face all of his nemeses. Their mentor-mentee relationship develops into strong friendship that helps both Dre and Mr. Han grow past their insecurity and pain.
Is it any good?
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.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how this is ultimately a fish-out-of-water story. How is Dre even more of an outsider than the original's Daniel? What are the cultural differences that make it difficult for Dre to fit in? Do outsiders always meet with bullying, or are there ways to make it easier to get along?
What do Dre and Mr. Han teach each other? Is it believable that an older man and a 12-year-old would become best friends?
While the first Karate Kid dealt with class, this one subtly deals with race and culture. How does Dre's different background affect his ability to fit in? Why? Did the movie challenge or reinforce any stereotypes? Kids: How do you treat people from different backgrounds or those who are new in town?
- In theaters: June 11, 2010
- On DVD or streaming: October 5, 2010
- Cast: Jackie Chan, Jaden Smith, Taraji P. Henson
- Director: Harald Zwart
- Studio: Columbia Pictures
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Sports and Martial Arts, Friendship, Misfits and Underdogs
- Run time: 132 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: bullying, martial arts action violence and mild language
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.