Any use of inappropriate cultural terms or conflation with the original movie is entirely intentional:
The Karate Kid (Jaden Smith) and his Mom (Taraji Henson) are leaving Detroit. Lest you think this is a single black mom/deadbeat dad scenario, we're told upfront that the Karate Kid's Dad is dead...period. Detroit is portrayed as a gray, dismal city full of shuttered storefronts. This is America in our continued state of joblessness, America in the 21st century, America on the decline. But China, where they're headed for Mom's work, is the land of opportunity, the land of now, the land on the up-and-up, or, as the Karate Kid's Mom puts it, "a magical new land," like unicorns live there or something.
The Karate Kid tries out his Mandarin on the Asian dude sitting across the aisle from him on the plane. "Dude, I'm from Detroit," the Asian dude says. Light laughs from the audience, which is mostly made up of families with tween children and some creepy older loners who probably wanted to be Daniel-san back in the day. My Hardass Asian Mom (HAM) approves of this joke: "Not all Chinese or Asian looking guy speaks Chinese, this is true."
Meanwhile: Where is my Bananarama remix???
When the Karate Kid and his Mom arrive at the airport, their lady driver is holding a sign for "Mrs. Packer." Mom corrects the lady driver, telling her the name's "Parker." Ah, Engrish!
After settling into their new flat and discovering that they don't have hot water, the Karate Kid goes looking for their super, who turns out to be Jackie Chan. Jackie Chan ignores the Kid and, instead, picks up a dead fly with his chopsticks, chucks it on the ground, and keeps eating his cup o' noodles with the same chopsticks. (Which my HAM says would totally happen in China although she told me not to write about it, so, of course, I had to write about it.) The Karate Kid leaves to check out the local park, where we meet his love interest, Meiying. Meiying, aka Mini-Tamlyn Tomita, has the jankiest hybrid haircut--a bob with pigtails--which is sorta cute if you're into mullets.
And what is Mini-Tamlyn doing in the park? Tuning her violin! And listening to Bach! NATURALLY.
AWKWARD MOMENT ALERT: Speaking of hair, Mini-Tamlyn asks to touch the Karate Kid's cornrows. Eep.
That's when the Chinese Billy Zabka comes over, all jealous, and tells Mini-Tamlyn that she should be...practicing the violin. OMG NERD!!! Then Chinese Billy Zabka beats the Kid's ass, upping his badass quotient considerably. At which point, my HAM takes off her glasses and covers her eyes.
The next day, the Karate Kid covers up his bruises with his mom's makeup. He looks like he knows what he's doing. Something tells me his real-life mama Jada's taught him a trick or two in this department and he may be a few years away from "guyliner," which means he may be a few years away from being a total Hollywood douche-nozzle. But for now, as much as I hate to admit it, he's kinda adorbs.
At school, the Karate Kid flirts with Mini-Tamlyn, despite the previous day's ass-beating. Even though you can practically smell Chinese Billy Zabka's RAGE COLOGNE coming around the corner.
AWKWARD MOMENT ALERT #2: She touches his hair again.
But, hey, at least the cultural exchange cuts both ways: Mini-Tamlyn then helps the Karate Kid use chopsticks at lunch. A plot point that my HAM finds unconvincing: "School cafeteria should have serving spoons. Chopsticks is not the only thing Chinese uses." (Yes, Hollywood, she is available for script fact-checking.) After all that, Chinese Billy Zabka comes over and throws the Karate Kid's lunch on the floor. Oh well, there was no way he was going to eat that without a fork anyway!
On another day, the Karate Kid and his Mom walk by a kung fu school, where the Karate Kid rushes in, hoping to pick up some mad skillz to battle Chinese Billy Zabka. Little does he know that he's walked into Chinese Billy Zabka's lair--aka the Cobra Kai Dojo 2.0, where his Sensei preaches, "No Weakness, No Pain, No Mercy." The Karate Kid runs out, dejected. His Mom doesn't get his reaction, but mine does: "Kids usually do not want tell parents what happened in school, sometimes they do not want to worry the parents and try to prove to the parents they can solve their own problem."
Meanwhile, I'm kinda inappropriately crushing on Chinese Billy Zabka's best friend, Liang (pictured), and thinking he's my Taylor Lautner?
AWKWARD MOMENT ALERT #3: Some Chinese kids at the kung fu school want to touch the Karate Kid's Mom's hair. OH GOD MAKE IT STOP.
One day after school, the Karate Kid decides to get back at Chinese Billy Zabka by throwing a drum of dirty water on him while he's hanging with the other Cobra Kai. The Cobra Kai give chase until they corner the Karate Kid in an alley and beat his ass. My HAM takes off her glasses again. Even when Jackie Chan appears out of nowhere to save the day, she's still got her eyes shut. At one point, Jackie ties up three guys with one jacket. Jackets, as it turns out, are very important in this movie.
Jackie takes the injured Karate Kid back to his house and uses, and I quote, "Ancient Chinese Healing" on him. Calgon, take me away! And then, I shit you not, fire comes out of Jackie's hands! FIRE. OUT. OF. HIS. HANDS. Maybe this is a magical land?
So WHERE ARE THE UNICORNS?
And WHERE IS MY BANANARAMA REMIX???
When the Karate Kid is better, an angry Jackie takes the Kid to the Cobra Kai Dojo. Jackie explains to the Karate Kid: "No such thing as bad students, only bad teachers." HUH?! Try using that excuse on your HAM when you bring home less than an A. Sorry, Jackie, I am not understand the words that are a-coming out of your mouth. Meanwhile, the Cobra Kai 2.0 Sensei turns out to be a real baaaaaaaad teacher. Or, in the words of my HAM: "What an asshole." Brava, Mama. Jackie makes a deal with the Asshole Sensei that if Sensei's boys will leave the Karate Kid alone, the Kid will enter this Open Kung Fu Tournament thingy.
Then, they train. Basically, Jackie makes the Kid take his jacket on and off for months. It's the new Wax On, Wax Off, only it's as tedious to watch as it looks to do, and it doesn't get anyone's car all nice and shiny. Jackie and the Kid then climb a mountain together, where they see a lady doing some kind of freaky-deaky mind-control martial arts on a cobra--as in, snake--on top of a cliff, a move that looks a whole helluva lot like the Crane from the original movie.
Oops, did I give away too much?
Back in Beijing, the Karate Kid and Mini-Tamlyn play hooky together, which involves them running all around the city with her violin. OMG IS EVERYONE IN THIS MOVIE A NERD??? But that almost makes her late for her big audition for the Beijing Academy of Music, which pisses off her parents, which makes them give the Karate Kid funny looks when they meet him. (Or is it because he's black? Hmm.) Anyway, my HAM thinks the ambiguity of Mini-Tamlyn's Hardass Asian Parents' disapproval makes Chinese people look bad (and by bad, she means, "racist"). Meanwhile, what's up with Mini-Tamlyn's white violin teacher only wearing PJ's all the time? It's just...creepy. After her audition, Mini-Tamlyn is forced by her parents to tell the Karate Kid: "We can no longer be friends. You are bad for my life." At which point I just want to hug him and say: Dude, don't take it personally. Asian parents NEVER like their children's friends, you know?
One night, Jackie Chan gets shit-faced on the bai jiu. We find out his wife and son were killed a few years back in a car accident and it was kinda his fault. DUDE. This is when the solution to all of these people's problems dawns on me. Jackie's wife and child are dead. The Karate Kid's dad is dead. Eff Karate...the Karate Kid's Mom and Jackie Chan should totally make out and get married!!! Instead, the Karate Kid and Jackie share a good cry together. Then another thing dawns on me: these two are horrible actors. Awkward tingles ensue as a result of witnessing bad fake crying. I turn to my HAM, who's holding her nose and sniffing. "Are you crying?" I ask her. She nods yes.
The kung fu tournament is almost upon us. The Karate Kid has been jacketing on and jacketing, er, off this whole time and he's gotten riiiiiiiiipped. But still, against Cobra Kai, he's totally effed. Before the tournament, Jackie tells the Kid that "Win or lose, doesn't matter." Again...HUH?! Did an Asian person just say that? My HAM isn't buying it either: "No, no, no, this is so un-Chinese. It matters every thing. Winning is so important to competition, crucial for survive and to have face!" Amen, Mama!
The Karate Kid has one thing to do before the Big Day, and that's apologize to Mini-Tamlyn's Hardass Asian Parents for being black. Kidding! Or not. Anyway, he apologizes for something, and Mini-Tamlyn's parents seem to get over
their racism it quickly, and promise that their daughter will be at the Kid's tournament to cheer him on.
And then, finally, the tournament is here! And even though we know what's going to happen...OH THE SUSPENSE. As a montage of fight scenes begins, my HAM covers her eyes over her glasses. Chinese Billy Zabka fights this punk with a bitchin' Mohawk who smooths his own hair instead of bowing at the beginning of each fight. Needless to say, Chinese Billy Zabka totally effs up Mohawk's shit. Then my Tween Boyfriend, Liang, has to go up against the Karate Kid, and his Sensei tells him to break the Kid's bones. Some time during that fight, my HAM's glasses come off and she leans back in her chair like she's the one who just got kicked in the face. My Tween Boyfriend does some illegal move on the Kid's leg, gets DQ'ed, and the Kid gets carted off the mat. Mini-Tamlyn and the Karate Kid's mom follow him and Jackie Chan into the locker room.
A doctor examines the Kid and tells him he's done, but that he brought honor to his family. The Karate Kid then asks the women-folk to leave. At which point, Jackie repeats the lie, "Win or lose, doesn't matter." OMG JACKIE I'M TAKING AWAY YOUR CHINESE CARD FOR THAT. Then he adds, "I cannot watch you get hurt anymore." Awww. But the Karate Kid wants back in. So Jackie does his Ancient Chinese Healing again, with a little less fire coming out of his hands this time.
There's only one fight left, and it's the Karate Kid versus--who else?--Chinese Billy Zabka. As soon as the fight starts, my HAM's glasses are off again. The Kid somehow gets things tied up at 2-2, at which point, the Evil Sensei tells Chinese Billy Zabka to break the Karate Kid's leg. "No mercy," he says. Now that right there, that shit's Chinese. I resist the urge to whoop. My HAM takes off her glasses, shuts her eyes and leans back in her chair again. Then Chinese Billy Zabka kicks the shit out of the Karate Kid's leg. My HAM's freaking out at this point, her face is in her hands. As the Kid writhes on the ground and tries to recover, my HAM twirls her glasses in her hand like she wants to put them back on, but she can't. She's in as much agony as the Kid. Even as he gets up, my mom can't look. The Karate Kid's crying from the pain, my HAM's massaging her chest like she's feeling his pain in the center of her ribs.
It's only when a gimpy Karate Kid busts out that Cobra mind control thingy, aka the Crane 2.0, that my HAM opens her eyes a little, and then finally, almost reluctantly, puts on her eyeglasses. Just in time to see the Karate Kid do an impossible backflip thingy into a kick right to Chinese Billy Zabka's face.
YAY AMERICA!!! AMERICA WINS!!! USA! USA! USA!
The Karate Kid's Mom and Jackie make out. (Actually, no.)
My Mom, despite spending half the movie with her eyes shut, gives the Karate Kid remake a thumbs-up. Her final analysis?
"At the end the Evil Master from Kung-fu school, no matter how dirty he wanted his student to do to win, his student lost, and He loss his face big time, but don't expect he will learn the lesson. He will never change I can guarantee it."
And my final analysis?
WHERE IS MY GOT DAM BANANARAMA REMIX???