Adventures & Insights

One man's adventures in the physical and intellectual worlds…

Comparative Cinema: The Karate Kid


No such thing as bad student. Only bad teacher.

This week’s Comparitive Cinema has been a challenging one. Much like the protagonists in these movies though I will not run from it.

The movies focus on a young boy who is relocated out of necessity and faces not only adjustment to a new environment but also the physical bullying of a group of boys at his school. He fortuitously ends up being trained by a martial arts master and learns more than simple self defense as he prepares to face his tormentors in a decisive competition.

The Karate Kid (1984)

Daniel Larusso is uprooted from his New Jersey home and moved to California. As an outsider at his new school, he makes an effort to fit in and things seem to be going well when he meets Ali Mills, a girl who seems to be returning his interest. Unfortunately, Ali’s ex-boyfriend is the leader of the school bullies and Daniel soon finds himself in their sights.

His troubles are compounded when he tries to fight back, only to learn that the bullies are students at the local karate school and are taught that mercy is for the weak by their malevolent master. Things go from bad to worse until one night he is saved from another beating at the hands of the bullies by Mr Miyagi, the maintenance man from his apartment block. Mr Miyagi accompanies Daniel to the karate dojo in an effort to stop the harassment and wind up arranging to face the bullies in the local karate tournament.

Through Mr Miyagi’s unorthodox but effective training style, Daniel learns that much like life, karate is not based solely on strength and power. As he practices techniques in preparation for the tournament, Daniel also finds himself learning more about life than he expected.

To me, The Karate Kid remains one of the great underdog/coming of age movies of the 80s; one that was arguably made classic by Pat Morita‘s performance as Mr Miyagi. There’s a lot to enjoy about this movie – the chemistry between the actors is great, the dialogue and action scenes have been very well done. Character development is solid and even the bad guys are memorable. While it may not be one of the best movies ever made, it certainly does an excellent job in providing an entertaining story about a guy who admits his fear and still stands up against the challenges presented to him. I don’t know anyone who can’t relate to that.

The Karate Kid (2010)

Um. Okay Christian, be objective.

I find it hard to say that the 2010 movie is actually a remake. The basics are there, sure – young boy, torn from his home, moves to a new place. Meets a nice girl, gets bullied and tries to stand up for himself. Rescued by a Kung Fu master (yeah, Kung Fu – let’s not get into the discussion about the movie title…) and finds himself training for a martial arts tournament. All the while he learns that like life, kung fu is a multi-faceted being that must be embraced rather than controlled. However, so much more has been changed that to me it seems rude to try to call it a remake of the original.

To be more specific: The protagonist is a boy named Dre who is forced to move to China when his mother accepts a job offer. Naturally, it’s a much more drastic change than that of the 1984 version and young Dre finds himself running up against the local Kung Fu students due to his interest in a girl whose family is close to the family of the main antagonist. Again, Dre soon finds himself outnumbered in a fight and is rescued by Mr Han (Jackie Chan), who begins teaching him Kung Fu in preparation for a face off against the bullies at the local tournament.

Even if we leave my personal opinions about what encompasses a remake out of the equation; the movie itself didn’t appeal to me at all. I found Jaden Smith unconvincing, even frustrating at times during the movie and initially Mr Han seemed like a bit of a weirdo – and not in a good way. I think that this movie was let down primarily by having Dre be such a young boy (aged 12) and it just left me shouting “for crying out loud, just have words with the other kid’s parents! There’s no need to take it to the tournament!”

Aside from that, the other actors did quite well. The locations were very interesting and the story marched along well enough. The only thing this modern Karate Kid made me feel was reasonably bored, mildly annoyed and interested in a trip to China. But I’ve always wanted to go to China anyway.

If you’re anything like me, I suggest that you give the 2010 version of The Karate Kid a miss. If you’re nothing like me, I suggest that you give the 2010 version of The Karate Kid a miss. You can’t go past the original in this instance – “Jacket on, jacket off” will never overpower “Wax on, wax off.” Miyagi and Larusso defeat Han and Dre. Tournament over.

Are there any movies you’d like to see me compare and contrast?

Add your suggestions in the comments!


6 responses to “Comparative Cinema: The Karate Kid

  1. Joe April 22, 2013 at 7:32 pm

    Hi Christian,

    I have to say I understand what you’re saying. Why is nearly every remake of a movie from my childhood universally disappointing? In fact, in my opinion almost every film made in the last 7 or 8 years tends to be of very low quality! Can someone please revive Hollywood, lol? I never saw the second Karate Kid nor do I wish to but the first one still holds alot of great memories from my childhood! Unfortunately, in 2013 quality pop-culture and entertainment are essentially dead!


  2. skippingstones October 7, 2011 at 10:29 pm

    Thanks for taking the bullet, buddy! I had no desire to see the new one, but I am glad you did the review because I was curious.

    I agree with you and Clay about the remakes, but they are daring to mess with Footloose and Dirty Dancing and I just heard there will be a new Red Dawn. What is this world coming to? I fear for the future systematic destruction of my youth.

    • Christian Emmett October 8, 2011 at 8:25 am

      If I can save one person from watching a terrible movie, it’s a price I’m more than happy to pay. 😉

      I’m seeing ads for the new Footloose now and have heard about Dirty Dancing but didn’t know about Red Dawn! I’ll have to follow this up!

      • skippingstones October 8, 2011 at 1:22 pm

        I just heard about that one very recently. I love the original, but I can’t watch it too often. I can’t put my finger on why, because there are lots of movies like it that don’t bother me at all, but that one just leaves me feeling very upset.

        And even though it made me a little mad when I heard about it (“how DARE they”), I’m pretty curious to see who would be in it and what they do with a more modern take on that story. I don’t have to like it, but I’m curious.

  3. educlaytion October 7, 2011 at 8:47 am

    Haha, I love the line about talking to the other kids parents. I refused to watch the new Karate Kid for a long time until one night I got curious enough to stream it off Netflix. The best thing the new movie did IMO was to not try to recreate Danny and Mr. Miyagi. At least they made new characters which allowed me to take some of the pressure off for messing with a film that I don’t think you can really mess with. It would be like trying to remake Breakfast Club or Back to the Future. You just don’t do certain things.

    • Christian Emmett October 7, 2011 at 8:57 am

      You have a good point Clay, it would have been so much worse if they’d tried to recreate Daniel and Mr Miyagi. Maybe my 80s brain couldn’t see the merit in the new version – I read a number of reviews and there was a fair amount of praise for it! I just couldn’t get into it myself.

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