The Karate Kid
by Elaine Hegwood Bowen
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The Karate Kid was such a delightful film, even though I had to watch Will and Jada Smith’s son get clobbered a couple of times before he came into his own with his Kung Fu. I really liked the entire hook that Jaden Smith, or Dre in the movie, and his mom, played by Taraji P Henson, left Detroit in a leap of faith and moved clear across the ocean to China.
Taraji (Sherry Parker) worked in the auto industry, her job dried up there and she did the next logical thing—take the job that was offered to her. Now I’d like to imagine that I would have made that same decision, but maybe not just to another state in the country but certainly to an entire new continent. But the decision didn’t come without trials at least for Dre.
I recall hearing Jada during an interview saying that it was hard for her to watch her son play the Kung Fu neophyte (and I know the movie is called the Karate Kid, a remake of the first one that seems generations ago, now). I’m sure it was for Jada, because it was hard for me to watch. But the move to China created opportunities and dreams for the Parkers, and it’s a good thing that Dre ran into veteran martial artist-actor Jackie Chan, who plays the maintenance man, Mr. Han.
Dre was constantly being bullied by his fellow classmates, particularly since he had his eyes on a cute girl who played the violin. The girl’s buddies thought they were protecting her honor. The fights got so bad that Dre would hide behind motor vehicles and run through town, just to get around bumping into these guys after school.
After a while, however, he’s saved by Han, and he learns that Han knows his stuff. He asks Han to teach him Kung Fu, and while Han is resistant at first, he takes Dre on—first teaching him discipline and respect. Of course, Dre couldn’t figure out how picking up, putting on and placing his jacket on a makeshift coat rack had anything to do with martial arts. But it all soon became crystal clear, and Dre excelled in his classes and his martial arts abilities. It was beautiful watching the Chinese customs, where the elderly gathered in the street to exercise and where you could see young man after young man gathered for Kung Fu lessons.
Eventually Han took Dre to where Kung Fu classes where being given, and he makes a deal with the instructor that in exchange for the bullies laying off of Dre, Dre would fight them in an upcoming open Kung Fu competition.
As it turns out, Dre is more than primed for the competition, even though it wasn’t an easy endeavor. But through it all, and even movie goers could see, he learned much while under Han’s tutelage. And I’m sure the experience of making the movie was a great learning tool for young Jaden, also.
Elaine Hegwood Bowen is an editor, writer and film critic in Chicago.
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