Similar to the original but given a slight modern makeover, Jaden Smith stars as Dre Parker, a twelve-year-old boy who moves to China with his mother (Taraji P. Henson). Continuously hassled by a gang of trained kids, Dre seeks the help of handyman Mr. Han (Jackie Chan) whose knowledge of deep kung-fu helps Dre defend himself and compete in the local fighting competition.
Previously starring in blockbusters such as the abysmal remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, Smith never particularly had enough room to flex his acting chops, let alone breathe. Whilst The Karate Kid limits his acting persona due to Ralph Macchio setting a non-permanent outline for which the character is based, Smith performs with gusto. Enthusiastic and moving sprightly throughout each scene, he fits almost perfectly - much like his father. Even when a blatant love interest is introduced, the subject isn't taken far enough to fall saccharine, but is charming and endearing enough to simply balance out what could potentially be targeted at a purely male-based audience.
Taking over from the late Pat Morita is screen legend Jackie Chan in a role that i, personally, haven't seen him play. Broken due to a past tragedy, Chan plays an isolated man which, in certain scenes, becomes deeply moving. Thankfully, young Dre plays as Mr. Han's silver lining, an almost saviour to a man whose life has continuously down-spiraled. Sincere and downright sweet, Chan and Smith have a chemistry which is honest and relatable.
Each training scene provides enough giggles and impressively choreographed kung-fu (not karate, unbelievably), culminating in an intense showdown between Shao Dre (a name credited by Mr. Han himself) and the lead bully, simultaneously awing and imprinting a trail of chills with the brilliantly quick-paced fighting and somewhat inspiring message of going the lengths of sticking up for yourself.
While some may argue that this modern remake doesn't compete with the original, it's fair to say that, while not perfect, it's not bad enough to have Pat Morita rolling in his grave.