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The Karate Kid

John P. McCarthy
Source: Catholic News Service

Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith star in a scene from the movie "The Karate Kid."
The ambitious desire to modernize a classic has led to many a debacle, as has the aim of cashing in on a past financial success. Fortunately, misgivings about this update of 1984's popular "The Karate Kid" dissipate once it begins to unreel.

No doubt, the producers of 2010's "The Karate Kid" (Columbia) aren't standing on the shoulders of an artistic giant, and commercial considerations are never far from their minds (hence the hiring of teen sensation Justin Bieber to croon on the soundtrack). Yet the movie stirs and satisfies, exhibiting sufficient fealty to the original while improving on its production values.

Setting it in Beijing makes sense, as does casting Jaden Smith in the title role and international action star Jackie Chan as his unassuming mentor. Switching from karate, with its Japanese provenance, to kung fu is not an issue. Other embellishments on the timeless underdog story are likewise organic and positive.  The major flaw is a grandiose musical score, which telegraphs plot points and nearly overwhelms the film, thus accentuating its relatively long running time.

The new "Karate Kid" is also designed to showcase modern China, a function it fulfills by highlighting the architectural feats connected with the 2008 Olympics and through visits to the Forbidden City, a scenic mountain sanctuary, and the Great Wall.

Mostly because of chop-socky violence, it may be inappropriate for young moviegoers. But guardians should feel free to use their judgment about individual sensitivities, being aware that kids' attention may wander given the movie's length. Generic references to Eastern spirituality and the use of an ancient Chinese healing art are no cause for concern.

Like the original, this entertaining melodrama teaches valuable lessons regarding body and spirit. Director Harald Zwart stages the action sequences and quieter moments with sufficient adroitness. Whereas Pat Morita dominated the first version (receiving an Oscar nomination for his efforts), here Smith —son of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith—shines brightest thanks to his own charisma and Chan's restrained, caricature-free performance.

The film contains hard-hitting and occasionally cruel but not graphic martial arts violence, including a boy being struck across the face by an adult, the use of a crass term for the human posterior, some mild toilet humor, one instance of sexual innuendo, and an unnecessary kiss between pre-teens. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
John P. McCarthy is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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