West Detroit kid Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) is a fish out of water when he emigrates to Beijing with his mother Sherry (Taraji P. Henson). Attempting to adjust to this new culture, Dre falls fouls of local bullies who use their martial arts skills to beat him up. Fortunately, Mr Han (Jackie Chan), the taciturn handyman who works in Dre's apartment building, intervenes and sees the gang off with some nifty kung fu moves of his own. Reluctantly agreeing to teach the boy how to defend himself, master and apprentice embark on a difficult but rewarding relationship. As Han uses strict methods of discipline to hammer home the fundamentals of kung fu, Dre slowly gets his emotionally repressed tutor to open up. With Dre all set to take on his nemesis in a major kung fu contest, however, the young man has much to learn before facing an enemy who will show him no mercy.
A rather loose remake of the Eighties' favourite, The Karate Kid doesn't even centre on the martial art in its title. That said, it does capture the spirit of the original film, and who better to take Mr Miyagi's place than Hong Kong cinema legend Jackie Chan? Giving one of the most heartfelt performances of his career, Chan is extremely strong as the somewhat haunted Han. Unfortunately, while Jaden Smith is undoubtedly talented, he's a little too precocious to feel much empathy for, lacking the endearing gawkiness that made Ralph Macchio so easy to root for.
That said, this is an enjoyably slick retelling of a solid coming-of-age story that's far enough removed from the original to avoid annoying diehard fans. The Chinese location is a particularly smart move that not only provides some stunning backdrops but works to increase a sense of the young protagonist's alienation. Apart from a daft gag involving a fly and chopsticks, The Karate Kid doesn't make too many nods to its 1984 progenitor, and is all the better for it.