Jasin Boland/Columbia Pictures
The Karate Kid.
Jackie Chan, left, stars as Mr. Han with Jaden Smith as Dre Parker in Columbia Pictures'
Last week’s box office success of The Karate Kid says less about its stars and more about the need for the karate film genre to make a comeback as family entertainment. A film like Karate Kid — the original and the current remake — offer import life-lessons to kids. Namely, that we live in a world of bullies who often have to be restrained by force, that anything worth doing is worth doing well, and that perseverance can be its own reward. There's another element here— a warm exchange of cultures in play in Kid that is not intentional, overly schmaltzy or After School Special-ish.
Don't get me wrong — Will Smith's Overbrook Entertainment machine, plus his son, plus one of the most successful action heroes on Earth isn't the worst formula for success I've ever seen. Karate movies have long contained fights precipitated by men — and women — protecting a family name, avenging a relative, or combat in the name of preserving dignity and pride. Karate films have real heroes you can root for and a nobility at their base that give them universal appeal. In the time before Rambo, karate films offered something gun-toters John Wayne and Charles Bronson did not — conflict resolution that didn't always involve killing someone. Black Belt Jones took on the mafia, but they mostly got up to serve time and possibly fight another day. Sure, we can argue that films with violence of any kind (and, as was the case in Enter The Dragon, sexual overtones and nudity) aren't good for children. But in 2010, they see kids selling phlegm on the Cartoon Network. They belch and fart, for God’s sake.
Six in one hand? T’yeah, whatever.
The original Kid was popular but got panned in the canon of karate films as “John Hughes goes Kung Fu” and that's a fair criticism, I think. It’s an odd—and oddly natural — mash-up that works two more times before losing steam because, well, no one really wants to see a little girl fight. But the update brings something more to the table without hitting you over the head with it: A boy meets a man who imparts wisdom upon him, both practical and spiritual, that no one else could. What story could be better than that? And it’s so great that the child protagonist breaks out of his prescribed ideas about life to discover new things. And so wonderful that our children can see something of themselves onscreen and have a complete movie experience that doesn't involve anti-social behavior, M-16s or gang-related deaths.
The best karate films were lessons — the kind of lessons we could use in the world today.
Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist for TheRoot.com, an author and a regular contributor to "Tell Me More."