Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) enjoyed living in Detroit because all his friends were there, but now his father has died and his mother Sherry (Taraji P. Henson) is bringing him up on his own, she finds that she cannot get a job sufficient to support them and is forced to move to China: Beijing, to be exact. With this new position all set, she packs up and practically has to drag Dre onto the plane such is his reluctance, though once they arrive Sherry hopes he will be caught up in the excitement of embarking on a fresh start in a new country. But her son sticks out from the crowd here, and bullies are not far away...
This Karate Kid was notable for having not much to do with Japanese martial arts at all, as once they had Jackie Chan on board for Pat Morita's mentor Mr Miyagi role, it was obvious to make this a co-production between China and the United States. They kept the original title of the eighties cheese favourite, however, because it was recognisable in their target markets, but also because the makers of Kung Fu Panda had bought up a bunch of "Kung Fu" related titles, including The Kung Fu Kid, so Columbia were not able to secure the revamped name due to copyright issues. Not to worry, the karate name was explained away by having young Jaden try out a few of those moves for about a minute near the beginning.
Jaden being the son of Will Smith, which generated some resentment in the notion that daddy had bought a movie role for his boy as if it were a birthday present, but as far as justifiying his presence as a martial artist, Jaden could have kicked Ralph Macchio's twenty-four-year-old ass fairly easily on this evidence. As for the acting, well, he was twelve years old and gave the performance you'd expect, nothing to be ashamed of but nothing spectacular either. Actually - and perhaps predictably - it was Chan who stole the scenes; he had made it clear at this stage in his career he wanted to be a Chinese Robert De Niro, and while some were sceptical that he could make such a transition, this effort went some way as a statement of intent.
Dre finds his life falling apart when he is victimised by a bunch of local boys who can beat him up thanks to their teachings at the nearby kung fu school: janitor Mr Han (Chan) points out that these boys have a bad tutor Mr Li (Rongguang Yu) to make them use the skill in such a oppressive manner, just the beginning of a string of life lessons the film wanted to impart as if we were watching an adaptation of a self-help manual rather than an action flick. Among those were the importance of good friendship, not only between Dre and Mr Han, but between Dre and the girl who has taken a shine to him, Meiying (Wenwen Han), interrupted by her determined practicing of the violin (to show she's classy).
But Dre's existence is a misery until Mr Han teaches him the rules of kung fu, and if nothing else this Karate Kid demonstrated how difficult it was to admit you were being bullied, never mind take steps to deal with it. There is, as before, a tournament coming up that Dre is put forward by his new pal to compete in and thus prove himself no pushover, with Mr Han telling him it's the taking part that counts while Mr Li tells his students it's the taking apart that counts, but we're in little doubt the American has to win this bout to save face. In the meantime, how about a trip to the Great Wall and a bunch of training montages (you can take the story out of the eighties, but...) as the plot noodles about as if reluctant to admit that we have a tournament to get to at all. The results were a combination of the first two Karate Kid movies and a hefty dash of Rocky IV, with Communist China substituting for the Soviet Union, though thankfully we were spared any inspirational speeches to the crowd. As these things go, it was as good as could be expected. Music by James Horner.