I was 11 years old when The Karate Kid was released in 1984, and it was probably one of the most significant movies of my youth...right up there with Star Wars, Raiders of The Lost Ark, Stand By Me, and Back to the Future (see below). When you factor in a classic coming-of-age story, my insane crush on Elisabeth Shue, and what, at the time, was my uncanny resemblance to a 1984 Ralph Macchio...it was bound to be a hit. I was even The Karate Kid for Halloween one year, complete with handmade Okinawan headband. (Damn, I wish I had a scanner)
So when I first heard a couple of years ago that there was going to be a remake, I was not impressed. And then I heard that Will Smith was producing it as a vehicle for his son to star in it, with Jackie Chan as Mr. Miyagi. I say it that way because in the initial report I heard, they were intending to stay true to the characters as well as the story, with Jaden Smith being a black "Daniel LaRusso", and Chan being Mr. Miyagi. Thank God they ditched that idea.
I was skeptical to say the least. I mean, my experience of the movie was filled with visions of the Skeleton-clad Cobra Kai chasing a shower-costumed Daniel through the night; of Daniel trying to basically eat Ali's face on that first kiss in front of the water-slide; of Daniel driving his new 1950 yellow Chevrolet yelling "Banzai!"; of Billy Zabka's hair always looking like it just came directly out of a can of Pringles; of Sensei Kreese instructing Johnny to "sweep the leg" as that little rat Tommy yelled "Get him a body bag! Yeah!"
How can you remake those sorts of classic moments?
And also factor in that the final scene in the movie is without a doubt one of the most uplifting endings you will ever see. Seriously, watch it again at the end of this post.
A couple of years ago, I watched it with my son Lucas, who was 6 years old at the time, and he absolutely loved it. That led to a purchase of the box set (all 4 movies, including The Next Karate Kid with Hilary Swank), and a new generation of fan.
So when Lucas and I saw the trailer for the remake a few months ago, I have to admit, I was intrigued. It looked entertaining, and the fact that my son turned to me wide-eyed and said excitedly, "Dad! We HAVE to go see that!" carried a lot of weight.
We saw it last week, and I'm quite surprised to say that I loved it. If you haven't seen the original, this movie could stand on its own as a coming-of-age tale for a new generation of kids, and it was something that parents could enjoy as well...a good old fashioned 'clap at the end' sort of movie. (Remember when people still used to clap at the end of a movie?)
And if you are familiar with the original, the remake will keep you happy too, with knowing nods to the 1984 film, and a sense of staying true to key elements of the story and script. Sure, there's no traditional "Wax on, Wax off", but there's a lot you will catch...camera shots, references, lines, and the Chinese Sensei even has the same damn hair as Kreese!
The one thing I was not a fan of at all was how brutal the scenes were in terms of fighting. Yes, I understand it's a movie based on a form of physical combat, but the scenes outside of the tournament setting were alarmingly violent. It's one thing to see teenagers in 1984 beating each other up in a PG-rated fight, but the characters in this version were around 12 years old, and I didn't enjoy seeing the brutality of the fighting.
All in all, a very impressive remake, and a huge hit with my son. He asked me on the way out which one I liked better, the old one or the new one...and there's really no contest. As great as it was, the original Karate Kid will always hold a special spot for me.