There’s something about great action films that can bring people to their feet. Usually, like in the case of John McClane in the Die Hard series or Harrison Ford in his many adventures as Indiana Jones, we’re rooting for adults as they take on the greater evil, however every now and then a film can successfully take a child actor and make him just as amazingly awesome. Most of the time though, it’s more of a colossal miss than a hit. Thankfully, the 2010 update of the classic The Karate Kid is an amazing hit in my book, and proves to be one of my favorite films in the theater. Back in the original film we had Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita in the lead roles of mentor and student, now, almost 30 years later, we have Will Smith’s extremely talented son and the undisputed king of American martial arts films, Jackie Chan in the same positions. Jaden Smith, who has had parts in the seriously great tear jerker “The Pursuit of Happyness” and a few smaller parts in films like “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, completely surprised me in this movie. The kid has that fierce determination on screen, that really agile sense of humor, and that same incredible charisma and screen presence that his father has, and it’s amazing to see that acting talent pass on to him and be clear at such a young age, being as the kid’s only 12 and helps make this film so great. Jackie Chan, as many others has said, is perfect in the film as Mr. Han, the new Mr. Miagi of sorts that trains the young lad after he’s called out by a group of bullies in his family’s new home in China, and after a series of events are forced to train for the big kung-fu tournament coming up. Everyone in the film aside from Smith and Chan all do great with the parts that they have, the lead bully/villain is appropriately evil, the side characters are funny when they need to be, the only real problem that exists is the Mom, who, aside from being the mom, has no real purpose in the story other than to be annoying. The film is also really really gorgeous. The shooting crew somehow got the privilege to actually shoot in China, and they take full advantage of it. The schools in the film are beautiful, the characters take numerous trips to amazing festivals, there’s a montage in the film where two characters go “sight-seeing” for a day in China that’s really beautiful, and all the training montages set in Han’s dojo, in “Dragon Water Mountain” and even on the Great Wall itself all look incredible. Going into the movie all I really asked of it was to be a solid martial arts film. I’m a huge fan of action films, and especially martial arts if the designers can get a really good feel for shooting action, and that takes extra skill when it comes to getting that all hand to hand. Thankfully, The Karate Kid goes for gold and doesn’t settle for being a crappily shot action film, the stunts and hand-to-hand martial arts they do get on camera in the film are stunning. There’s a particular scene in the film where we are introduced to Jackie Chan’s character’s martial arts skills that’s really just breathtaking in how the camera does occasionally switch perspective, but does it in a way that keeps you in the action and keeps you in the moment. In the scene I mentioned the bullies are chasing Smith through a couple of alleys and over a number of obstacles, and for probably the first time this summer I felt fear and tension for the character, rooting for him to keep running, and all the shots that the camera does get of the bullies barrelling over walls, climbing on fences and running along rooftops and walls is all done in an amazing “parkour” sense that looks really really good. Heck, these shots just don’t look good, they have some serious talent behind them, the kind of talent that makes these stunts so memorable and creative, and when it came down to it, fun to watch. Jackie Chan’s proceeding defense against the children also is performed beautifully as he dismantles their defenses without even hitting them. All of the fight scenes and training montages are shot just in the way that looks great and that other films neglect with their “quick-blurry-shot” style, and lead up to the final climax that is just as exciting, well-performed, and well-paced as it should be. In case you didn’t get the message, this film has some of the best action scenes of the summer, ones with unbelievable stunts, ones that will keep you interested, a great feel, and some great talent shooting them. If there’s one thing that can be said to really compliment the film it’s that it’s a great tri-fecta of a genre, and it works it all out well. The film has a great sense of humor, never forgetting to be lighthearted in moments of serious training, breaking the tension sometimes with some of Jackie Chan’s great comedic timing. As I said, the film has great action, but the film never forgets to have a dramatic heart. It gives us a reason to care about the lead protagonist, it eventually gives us a really really effective and emotional payoff to Mr. Han’s quiet and bitter nature, and it remembers to give us some sort of layer of meat to the characters so that they’re not just cut outs. There was some point about 3/4-way through the film when Smith is just kicking tail as a kung-fu hero, and it all of a sudden hit me that an hour ago he was just this wimpy whiny kid, and it proves that this film really does have a great sense of progression. It has one of my favorite elements of a film, in that it can tell a really long and winding story and it not feel overburdened, but feel like I’ve witnessed an epic tale from start to finish. The new adaptation of The Karate Kid isn’t a film I can just recommend, it’s a film I can stand up and applaud for by the time the credits roll. If there’s any complaint I could have is that it’s a tad bit too Disney-ish in the way it candy coats a bit too many things, and that’s a very light nitpick. If that’s all I can complain about when it comes to a film, then I’ve witnessed something great. The Karate Kid goes above and beyond its kid audience with so much substance in most importantly its sense of action (makes sense given the title), and has to be one of my favorites of the Summer so far.
5 out of 5