this version of the 1984 masterpiece is no comparison to the original. they follow the broad outlines of the script, but mix it up enough that it’s not an exact replica of the original. the two biggest changes are that this one takes place in china and that the protagonist is 12 instead of 15 or 16. actually jayden smith is 11, but we can stretch a year for the sake of the film. to me, the age change is a big deal. the original had all the elements of a fish out of water mixed with the teenage angst that a mid-teen experiences – wanting to get the girl (at 12 jayden smith wants to get the girl, but he’s really not sure why yet – it just didn’t have the believability to me), wanting to establish yourself as an adult, pushing the boundaries as teenagers do, trouble with parents, etc. a lot happens between the ages of 12 and 16 and this film completely loses that dynamic my casting a younger kid.
from a direction standpoint this one also falls short (to varying degrees) in every major scene. the one scene where this version did a close to original quality job is the one where morita/chan gets drunk and tells macchio/smith about his sad past. chan does a good job here and they changed the life tragedy from a dead wife to a dead wife and son so it adds some resonance to the chan/smith relationship. however, that scene is as close as they get to touching the greatness of the original. other key scenes like the finale are flat by comparison. there’s a common scene where macchio/smith plays a prank on his bullies and runs away. eventually he is caught, cornered and beat up. morita/chan comes to his rescue and that’s how their relationship begins. in the original this scene takes place during a costume party at night and the bad guys are wearing skeleton outfits. macchio sees morita save him, but he’s too dazed to fully process it. it’s a great, moody scene. the remade version of this scene is trash by comparison. it’s just a slightly humorous ass-kicking delivered by chan.
and this where the remake really strays from the original – it’s too much of a jokey kids film. it goes more for laughs and cuteness than it does for truth and teenage angst. it’s a light-hearted version of the same story. the villains here aren’t nearly as bad as they are in the original. the original has an ex-marine from vietnam brainwashing his pupils to become killers. in this one it’s just some mean guy. there’s just so many more layers to the original than there is here. and that’s odd because this one is 15 minutes longer so you’d think they could add more to the characters in that time.
other deficiencies of this version: soundtrack was weak by comparison; original had a japanese sensei, this one is chinese so it’s kung-fu, not karate; the mother-son dynamic isn’t as well developed; jayden smith was fine for the character here, but the character in this version just isn’t as troubled as he should be; the last kick move was ridiculous (i.e., it was impossible). oh, and one of the production companies was some chinese company that very well may have been there just to make the film show china in a positive light. would like some more reporting on that one.
the training scenes weren’t nearly as cool as those in the original. in this one the wax on, wax off that we all know is take off your jacket, now put it back on. not as good as a quip and not as educational. sure, his mom likes that he knows how to hang up his coat rather than leaving it by the front door, but he’s not learning how to paint a house or sand a deck. one of the cool things for me in watching the original, and maybe this is just because i was a handyman in the making, was seeing daniel-san improve morita’s house and property with all his hardwork. the added benefit of all that hard work was that he could translate those movements to karate. this is a metaphor for life in a way. in the remake it’s just turned into a joke and there’s no visual reward for his hard work.
bottom line: fine enough for the 5-11 set, but it’s not a teenage or adult film like the original is. they turned one of the best coming-of-age/sports films of all-time into just another kid’s movie because will and jada smith wanted to get their kid some more work and another payday. as a kids movie it gets a B- as a remake of an already amazing film it gets a D-.Watched in theater