THE KARATE KID
The remake madness continues. Mr. Miyagi is now played by Jackie Chan. Ralph Macchio has been usurped by Will Smith’s son.
On paper, it sounds like a joke. The “jacket on, jacket off” routine I read about that replaced “wax on, wax off” seemed like a cruel sex gag riffing on the first movie with the sexual maturity I’d expect from a middle school teenager. But I watched it, and I don’t even recall hearing Jackie say “jacket on, jacket off.” He said, “take the jacket off. Put it on the ground. Pick the jacket up.” Whew. Disaster averted.
Sometimes that’s what seeing one of these remakes feels like. You come in bracing for a hurricane, an absolute disaster. Then you leave having not only weathered the storm, but actually enjoyed it? What is going on?
In the final analysis, the original Karate Kid films were not considered classics. The crane kick got made fun of endlessly when I was growing up. That means its target audience even thought it was lame. So there was room to improve upon it. How would they even find the right “final blow” that impresses everybody in this cynical day and age? First of all, I’m glad they attempted to top it. They could have sidestepped it altogether, or pulled the rug out with some humor, which is how they got around Miyagi’s fly catching method; this time Chan gets his fly with a swatter and picks up its dead body with the chopsticks.
The seed of the remake tree was planted to grow money. Simple. However sometimes a film like Karate Kid has such a good idea in its root that when it grows up to be a big tree that’s green with money it can be nice to look at. I don’t know where I’m going with this metaphor. Let’s see…we’ve been watching trees like this grow from the ground, hoping to produce something really nice, not just money, but entertainment that’s satisfying for children and adults. And I think this is a great and unique example of that.
My title is not just about the price of admission. It is about my admission that not all remakes suck nuts. Sometimes, there comes along a rare film that improves on the original, retains its important story elements and seems like a worthy successor to the original. I still don’t think Chan will ever have the charm of someone like Pat Morita (at least in that role) since Pat brought so much of himself to it.I don’t think Smith’s son has the same charm of someone like Ralph Macchio, although he is about half his age in this and asked to do even more dramatically than his older Italian counterpart. The violence is harder, the dramatic beats are bigger. And the crane kick has been replaced with something bolder and even more importantly–bad ass. This is everything a remake should be. When they talk about going above the original I’ll always remember this as one of the first remakes that succeeded in the task.