Dir: Harald Zwart. US. 2009. 140 mins
Teens in California become pre-teens in China in this East-meets-West update, starring Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan, of 1984 charmer The Karate Kid. While the original appealed to a wide enough demographic to become a substantial summer hit and spawn three sequels, the polite, rather mechanical, remake looks likely to draw a younger-skewing - and maybe smaller - family audience.
When it rolls out internationally later in the summer it will at least have an immediate entree into China and other parts of Asia.
The Sony release could find it tough to compete in the crowded domestic marketplace, though Smith’s megastar father Will can probably provide a PR boost. But when it rolls out internationally later in the summer it will at least have an immediate entree into China and other parts of Asia.
Directed by Dutch-born Harald Zwart (Agent Cody Banks), the remake follows the outline of the original - and a number of individual scenes - pretty closely. The big changes are that the title character is a 12-year-old black kid from Detroit rather than a 17-year-old white from New Jersey and the city to which he relocates with his single mum is Beijing instead of Los Angeles.
After clashing with some local bullies and falling for violin-protégé school friend Meiying (Han), Smith’s Dre starts training with grumpy janitor Mr Han (Chan) for a showdown at a big kung fu tournament (the change of location apparently required the change of martial art).
Making the hero five years younger tampers with the story’s emotional dynamics. Dre seems too young to be in any real danger, or to really bond with his unlikely teacher. And there’s no sexual tension between him and his love interest.
The move to China should have offered some real culture-clash potential, but with its travelogue shots of the Forbidden City and the Great Wall and its diplomatic tone the film sometimes feels more like a cultural exchange project than a piece of entertainment.
Smith, who did a good job opposite his father in The Pursuit of Happyness, looks younger than his character and gives an uneven performance. Chan doesn’t find enough pathos or humour in the older character.
Productions companies: Columbia Pictures, Overbrook Entertainment, China Film Group Corporation
Worldwide distribution: Sony Pictures Entertainment
Producers: Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, James Lassiter, Ken Stovitz, Jerry Weintraub
Executive producers: Dany Wolf, Susan Ekins, Han San Ping
Screenplay: Christopher Murphey
Cinematography: Roger Pratt
Production designer: Francois Seguin
Editor: Joel Negron
Music: James Horner
Main cast: Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan, Taraji P Henson, Wenwen Han