This classic film was remade this year with Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith. The 1984 version starring the recently deceased Pat Morita was one of my favorite movies when I was young. It’s about a boy that grows up without a father. In the first movie, his mother picks him up out of Philadelphia and moves him to LA, while in the second movie she moves him from Detroit to Beijing. It almost doesn’t matter where they came from and where they ended up. What’s important here is the journey to manhood that this boy Dre Parker experiences.
Jackie Chan brilliantly portrays the same character we see in 1984 – moderately depressed, burdened, intelligent, and loving. He skillfully plays Mr. Han, the wounded hero who takes interest in a young boy who’s all alone in a new place – a boy who’s picked on by bullies who just want him to suffer. And of course there’s a heroine (aside from a steadfastly committed mother). She is Han Wen Wen in the second movie and Elizabeth Shue in first movie, a slightly older girl with some maternal qualities who takes interest in this pre-pubescent 12 year old boy.
Karate Kid is about a coming of age with a starkly portrayed, childlike character of a boy. He’s thin, small, and waiflike. His potential girlfriend is more developed so when he earns her love, it is the sweetest of victories.
But this movie is about bonding, like the bonding you saw in an Officer and a Gentleman with Richard Gere. This older man, Mr. Han, teaches a struggling boy the discipline of martial arts. Jaden Smith’s character, Dre, grows, overcomes several obstacles, and in the final scene defeats the bullies who in turn honor Mr. Han as the true teacher and realize their own disgrace. This is about good and evil, but its essence comes from a boy who finds a father figure in the end.