10. The Karate Kid (2010)
One of those remakes of a popular classic that makes you wonder who it’s for and why they bothered, The Karate Kid is that rare and exotic movie with an answer: it was selected and carefully assembled as a vehicle for Will Smith’s son Jaden to ride all the way to stardom.
As a manufactured prop to propel Fresh Prince II, the film actually works really well: Jaden Smith is a surprisingly nuanced actor, and with Taraji P. Henson and Jackie Chan playing his mother and martial arts mentor, respectively, he’s got solid support behind him.
The problem? Well, there are two. First, the 2010 film follows the plot and major narrative beats of the 1984 original: new kid comes to town, attracts the attention of bullies who know martial arts, and receives training to defend himself, going on to take on and best his enemies in a martial arts tournament.
That’s not a problem in and of itself - it’s a remake, after all - but here Jaden Smith is eleven years old, as are his kiddie love interest and his quick-tempered kung fu rival for her affections.
The original sailed close enough to the wind in depicting teen on teen violence, especially with near-psychotic Kobra Kai villain Kreese intimidating and pummelling his students into becoming merciless bullies. Here, it’s Master Li, but the principle remains the same - and the kids in question are actual kids, pre-teens, not teenagers.
A plot sparked by a love triangle between little kids is inappropriate, to say the least. When Chan defends Smith from his nemesis and his friends, he’s beating up a group of little kids. When Smith’s character has his leg broken at the climax of the tournament, it’s a twelve-year-old breaking the leg of a twelve-year-old.
The other issue? It’s a fairly significant one: there’s no karate in this version of The Karate Kid. The original movie’s hero moves from east to west coast and learns karate from his Japanese mentor, as it’s a Japanese martial art. Here, the hero moves to Beijing from Detroit and is taught a variation of kung fu, a Chinese discipline.
Apparently, the film was only called The Karate Kid in the western world to riff on the fondness people still feel for the original film - in China, the title was Kung Fu Dream, and in Japan and Korea, simply Best Kid. That’s some cynical marketing bullsh*t, right there.