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Does the new 'Karate Kid' do the original justice?

June 10, 2010 |  3:10 pm

Few modern movies resonated quite like the 1984 pop classic "The Karate Kid.” With an appealing underdog story and numerous quotable lines, the John Avildsen film shaped a generation with its cheesy but strangely affecting uplift.

Sony releases a new "Karate Kid" Friday, with Ralph Macchio’s Daniel replaced by Jaden Smith’s Dre, and Pat Morita’s Mr. Miyagi replaced by Jackie Chan’s Mr. Han, as the action is transplanted from Southern California to China. The film’s plot tracks closely with the original, as audiences will get a chance to experience a movie that both reinvents and pays homage to the original (and not just with the trailer’s nod to Miyagi’s fly-killing technique, which has Han using a fly swatter instead of chopsticks).

Here’s a handy guide (warning: plot spoilers below -- though if you saw the first one, you pretty much know how a lot of this turns out anyway) to how Harald Zwart’s new film handles the touchstone scenes.

The Moment: The young hero is saved by an older man who fights off a pack of bullies a fraction of his age, then becomes the hero’s mentor.

The Original: Miyagi hops a fence to karate-chop, scissor kick and otherwise torment the private parts of bully Johnny and his buddies. The bad guys are dressed in Halloween skeleton costumes.

The Remake: Han steps into an alley to fight off a group of Chinese schoolchildren who are bullying Dre and, after a series of defensive moves, has the children smacking into each other Three Stooges-style. The bad guys are dressed in orange schoolboy uniforms.


The Moment: The young hero participates in a seemingly menial but in fact life-altering training exercise.

The Original: Miyagi instructs Daniel to wax his car dozens of times ("wax on, wax off"), to the consternation of the student, in the interest of developing muscle memory.

The Remake: Han instructs Dre to pick up, put on and remove his jacket dozens of times ("jacket on, jacket off"), to the consternation of the student, in the interest of teaching him discipline and the importance of not leaving your jacket on the floor.

The Moment: The young student is made aware that his mentor has suffered a great tragedy.

The Original: There’s a Greatest Generation poignancy as Miyagi reveals that his wife and son died in a World War II internment camp after Miyagi had become a war hero fighting the Nazis. An ode to the power of vanquishing evil dictators.

The Remake: Geopolitics are gone, replaced by martial-arts psychology, as Han reveals that his wife and son were killed in a car accident that happened when Han lost his temper and became distracted. An ode to the power of defensive driving.

The Moment: The uplifting musical montage when the hero, and audience, first believe a major upset is possible.

The Original: Joe Esposito’s synth-driven "You’re the Best Around" (nothing, indeed, is ever going to keep you down) is played as Daniel defeats a round of minor opponents in a veritable commercial for the value of self-confidence.

The Remake: Fort Minor’s hip-hop anthem "Remember the Name" (this dude is, indeed, the truth) as Dre runs up and down the Great Wall of China in a veritable commercial for the Chinese tourism board.


The Moment: After seeing their romance being thwarted for no reason in particular, the young hero and his innocent girl-crush finally go on a date.

The Original: Daniel and the subject of his infatuation engage in the pinnacle of 1980s San Fernando Valley pleasure: They hit the Family Fun Center, playing mini-golf and arcade hockey and driving the bumper cars.

The Remake: Dre and the subject of his infatuation engage in the pinnacle of 2010 Beijing pleasure: They hit a Chinese cultural festival, watching images from an ancient folk tale projected on a silk screen.

The Moment: The sad false ending, when an injury looks to stop the hero just before he is about to upstage the villain.

Karate3 The Original: Lying on a doctor’s table in the first-aid room, Miyagi claps his hands, rubs a leg and mysteriously heals Daniel’s injury.

The Remake: Lying on a doctor’s table in the first-aid room, Han takes out some glass cups, lights a fire and mysteriously heals Dre’s injury.

The Moment: An unorthodox move cleverly planted midway through the movie saves the hero in a critical moment in the climactic fight.

The Original: Still hobbled by the leg injury, Daniel practices the crane kick, a move in which he stands on one leg, stretches out his arms like a bird and drop-kicks his opponent.

The Remake: Still hobbled by the leg injury, Dre practices an unnamed snake move, in which he is at such inner peace that his opponent is lulled, trance-like, into mirroring his movements. Then Dre does a flying somersault and knocks out his opponent.

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photos: Top and third photo: 'The Karate Kid' (1984). Second and fourth photo 'The Karate Kid' (2010). Credit: Sony Pictures

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