Dre moves to Beijing when his mum’s job at a car plant transfers to China. With dark looks and cornrow hair, he stands out like sore thumb. Hitting it off with attractive music student Meiying only brings down a shedload of pain as the bullies make a bee-line for him. Saving Dre from a beating, Mr Han (Chan) reluctantly agrees to teach him kung fu. But carrying scars of his own, Han’s an unconventional teacher. And he’s just signed Dre up for a head-on collision with the bullies at a martial arts tournament.
In the 80s version, the focus was on 'wax on, wax off' humour and plenty of romance. With some fighting thrown in. Karate Kid mark two is detailed, dramatic and downright enjoyable on many levels. Tapping into a post-Olympic vogue for things Chinese, and cashing in on Jackie Chan’s legendary status, there’s a fresh feel, given real depth through great cinematography. And, post-Bourne, the fight scenes have a bone-crunching intensity which doesn’t make light of violence. A co-production with the influential China Film Group, the film looks great, taking in the tourist spots of Beijing’s birds’ nest stadium, the Great Wall and other gorgeous backdrops. A cracking chase through winding backstreets is exhilarating and beautifully shot. Worthy of Bourne and Ong Bak.
Credible and nuanced, Jaden Smith (superstar Will Smith’s son) is fantastic. Even Chan was impressed with Smith’s athleticism and commitment. Having a twelve-year-old centre stage also means the romance is thankfully minimised - playing instead on Dre’s sweetly engaging chemistry with impressive newcomer Han Wenwen (as Meiying). Chan downplays as Han and broods with believably grumpy intensity. Riffing on his own trademark moves, he gets only one fight scene, literally tying his opponents in knots. The finale is suitably seat-gripping, even if it suffers from the common blight of frenetic editing.
Surprisingly, this is a film with depth, detail and drama aplenty. Funny, too. One to watch and watch again. Like Dre and his jacket in Mr Han’s training regime. Take it off, hang it up, put it on.