Karate Kid

Year: 2010
Studio: Columbia
Director: Harald Zwart
Producer: Jada Pinkett Smith/Will Smith
Writer: Christopher Murphey/Robert Mark Kamen
Cast: Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan

Jackie Chan's got to be one of the last actors you'd expect a great dramatic performance from, but there's a scene where he sits in a smashed car crying for his dead wife and son that stands up against Hollywood's best.

He spends the year fixing it, and every year on the anniversary of the accident that claimed their lives he smashes it to commemorate them, getting drunk and sitting in it, filled with regret. It was a kind of corny idea to give his character of Mr Han a level of depth Mr Miyagi never had in the original, but Chan nails it and makes you believe every second.

It's just one surprise among many in this very enjoyable retread when I wouldn't have believed anything could add to the original. Daniel-san is now pre-teen Dre (Smith), who moves to China with his mother after a job transfer and finds himself on the wrong side of local bullies. Mr Han is the quietly cantankerous maintenance man in his apartment block, and when he saves Dre from his pursuers one day, Dre begs Mr Han to teach him Kung Fu so he can defend himself.

It could have been little more than a glitzy, sarcastic pistache of the hallmarks that made the original so memorable (wax on, wax off, etc), and while the premise makes such icons as the unconventional training methods unavoidable, it treats them with reverence instead of making a T-shirt slogan out of them. The result is that by the time we arrive at the big tournament where Dre has to face off with his enemies, you're really with him.

I expected Smith to fumble being on screen almost the whole time, but despite a few stumbles he holds his own, and something – maybe his age – gives him a sweet vulnerability that draws you in. I might never have thought of Chan in the Kenobi-like teacher role, but director Zwart makes great use of what he does best, including surprising us with raw sadness.

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