So, I just got out of the newest remake of "The Karate Kid," starring Jaden Smith, who until Saturday, I only knew as Will Smith's cocky, self-righteously complacent, 12-year-old son.
I have to tell you I was really conflicted when getting ready to see this movie, because I knew it would have things in it that I both love -- and find really, really annoying.
On one hand, I love "The Karate Kid" series, because it was one of those movies that defined childhood in the 1980s. I can't remember running into one kid on the playground who didn't attempt a "crane kick," at least once after seeing the original, 1984 version of the movie, starring Ralph Macchio as "Daniel-san" and Pat Morita as the wise "Mr. Miyagi."
Kids attempting to "crane kick" bullies was probably the number one cause of playground beat downs in the 1980s. However, the movie inspired a generation of young people to learn martial arts, encouraged millions to sing Peter Cetera's "Glory of Love" at karaoke, and inspired people, like me, to actually live and work in Japan to see what the country is like from an insider's perspective.
On the other hand, I had negative opinions of Jaden Smith from the get-go of this new Karate Kid adventure.
My negative opinions of Jaden Smith first developed after an interview he and the Smith family did on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" a few years ago. For somebody who was barely out of diapers, he just came off like a smug jerk with an unearned since of accomplishment.
However, I stopped hating Jaden Smith after I saw the new Karate Kid movie, not because I don't think he's spoiled, but because the young Smith finally has something that he can, and should be, proud of.
The new movie creates a very intimate portrait of China, very different from the usual bird's-eye views of the Shanghai skyline, or Tiananmen Square. This movie shows what Beijing looks like on the ground, gives people an idea of how normal Chinese people spend their time, and doesn't fall into the trap of making Asians all look the same.
Like many action movies, there are some obvious plot holes. The movie never truly addresses how the father of Dre Parker (played by Smith) died, or how his mother, Sherry Parker (played by Taraji P. Henson) is in China in the first place. Dre briefly mentions that his mother works for "the car company," but there isn't one frame of the movie that shows her at work, or even going to work.
When Dre touches down in China, he is immediately greeted by Harry (played by Luke Carberry), who gives him all of this great advice, and then completely disappears until almost the last frame of the movie when Dre is facing the school-yard bully in a kung fu showdown.
However, the martial arts aspect of the new movie is much more on point. Having Jackie Chan play "Mr. Han," a sort of new "Mr. Miyagi," definitely adds flair to the original teacher-student concept, and Chan's influence is felt in the movie's fight choreography. The fight scenes are crisp, impressive, and the young students perform stunts that would be difficult for many trained adults to pull off convincingly.
The thing I like most about the new movie is that it accomplishes what the original movie was able to do in terms of introducing a new culture, but it does so in a way that feels more genuine. Whether Smith continues to make good movies is yet to be seen, but this one, at least, is worth the price of admission.
Joel Hall covers government and politics for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.