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This 'Kid's a winner

Published June 15. 2010 05:00PM

"The Karate Kid" is emotionally-charged melodrama with a winning performance by Jaden Smith and a performance by Jackie Chan that should please fans.

The movie is not so much a remake of the John G. Avildsen ("Rocky") directed 1984 movie and 1986 and 1989 sequels starring Ralph Macchio as the "kid" and Noriyuki "Pat" Morita (who died in 2005) as his mentor. It's a new take on the theme of martial arts, or any sports activity, for that matter, in teaching respect, discipline, dedication, the work ethnic and moral values.

By the way, "The Next Karate Kid" (1994) starred Morita and Hilary Swank as his student.

Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) moves with his widowed mother, Sherry (Taraji P. Henson) from Detroit to China, where she was transferred to work at an automobile plant. Dre is beat up by Cheng (Zhenwei Wang), one of the bullies at a playground, after he befriends a female student and violin prodigy Meiying (Wenwen Han).

Dre's life at school is intolerable until he's saved from another beating by the apartment building maintenance man, Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), a martial arts expert.

The two confront the tough youths' martial arts master, Master Li (Rongguang Yu), whose ominous motto is "no weakness, no pain, no mercy." He orders his apprentices not to bother Dre if he agrees to enter a martial arts tournament. Thus is set up the student-mentor relationship between Mr. Han and Dre, leading to the climactic tournament.

Call it "Rocky Jr." Perhaps more accurate is the title of the international release version of the movie, which is "The Kung Fu Kid."

Jaden Smith has his father Will Smith's impish facial expressions and his mother Jada Pinkett Smith's small stature. He's only 11, so he may yet grow to his dad's height (6 ft., 2 in.).

At any rate, Jaden Smith cultivates a swagger and disdainful attitude for the role.

Jaden Smith is a good little actor, who starred opposite his dad in "The Pursuit of Happyness." His parents were smart to produce their son's first starring-role movie.

Jackie Chan ("Rush Hour") is muted and excellent, almost unrecognizable from the smiling and energetic visage we're accustomed to. Here, he shuffles with bowed-legged gait and has a mournful look most of the time.

Harald Zwart ("The Pink Panther 2," "Agent Cody Banks," "One Night at McCoole's") directs the screenplay by Christopher Murphey based on a story and original characters by Robert Mark Kamen.

The dialogue is nondescript, with a few exceptions, including this observation by Mr. Han of Dre: "You think only with your eyes, so you are easy to fool." and his admonition to him: "Your focus needs more focus."

"The Karate Kid" plays a little long. A music video style montage of Meiying and Dre could have been dropped, as could a dance sequence to Lady Gaga's "Pokerface." Some of Dre's instruction by Mr. Han could have been shortened.

There are lots of nice visual touches, thanks to director of photography Roger Pratt ("Harry Potter"), who captures the graceful beauty and clamorous congestion of modern China. A shadow-puppet play foreshadows Mr. Han's teaching of Dre. The martial arts sequences are terrific, convincing, and seemingly physically-bruising.

"The Karate Kid," MPAA Rated PG (Parental Guidance Suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children) for bullying, martial arts action violence and some mild language; Genre: Action, Drama, Family, Sports; Run time: 2 hrs., 11 min.; distributed by Columbia Pictures.

Credit Readers Anonymous: Jaden Smith duets with Justin Bieber on "Never Back Down" during "The Karate Kid" closing credits, which includes candid still photographs from the film set.

Box Office, June 11: "The Karate Kid" opened at No. 1 with a chop-socky $56 million, taking "The A-Team" to the mat, opening at No. 2, with a less than stellar $26 million.

3, "Shrek Forever After" lost its three-week stay at No. 1, $15.8 million, $210 million, four weeks; 4. "Get Him to the Greek," $10.1 million, $36.5 million, two weeks; 5. "Killers," $8.1 million, $30.6 million, two weeks: 6. "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time," $6.6 million, $72.3 million, three weeks; 7. "Marmaduke," $6 million, $22.2 million, two weeks; 8. "Sex and the City 2," $5.5 million, $84.7 million, three weeks; 9. "Iron Man 2," $4.5 million, $299.3 million, six weeks; 10. "Splice," $2.8 million, $13 million, two weeks

Unreel, June 18:

"Toy Story 3," MPAA Rated G: Grab those 3-D glasses, sit back and enjoy what will be another classic. Screenwriter Michael Arndt ("Little Miss Sunshine") takes a sentimental look at Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen) and the rest of gang from the toy box when they're donated to a day-care center after Andy departs for college. All together now: sing a chorus from "Puff the Magic Dragon."

"Jonah Hex," MPAA Rated PG-13: The science-fiction thriller based on the "Weird Western Tales" comic book stars Josh Brolin as a bounty hunter tracking down a terrorist (John Malkovich). Megan Fox, as Lilah, might hope the franchise takes off now that she's lost her "Transformers" ride.

Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes

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