The Karate Kid borrows from the storyline of the original 1984 Karate Kid, although to be accurate, the title should have been changed. This version takes place in China, and the martial art learned is Kung Fu. (In fact, the international title is The Kung Fu Kid.)
Most of the drama in this version stems from dislocation. Twelve-year-old Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) relocates with his mother (Taraji P. Henson) from Detroit to China. Early on, the movie reveals that Dre's dad has died and his mother works for an unnamed car manufacturer, small details that orient the storyline in the present day and explain why Dre's mom doesn't think there is anything to escape to back in the United States.
As played by Smith-clearly a rising young star-Dre is a kid who has turned big talk and quick familiarity into self-defense, the type of personality perhaps uniquely common to America. China, however, is quickly established as a hostile environment for Dre when he incites violence on his very first day at the playground. The bullies in Karate Kid are vicious, particularly Cheng (Zhenwei Wang), a boy who takes his Kung Fu master's "No weakness, no mercy" mantra seriously. The martial arts violence in this PG movie is pervasive and could distress a younger audience.
Dre responds to the bullies by fighting back: first with empty bravery and then with the help of apartment maintenance man Mr. Han (Jackie Chan). Mr. Han promises Cheng's ruthless teacher that Dre will fight in a Kung Fu tournament, thus becoming his coach.
Though not as memorable as the original Karate Kid, this version follows the same formula for an underdog athlete movie and models the same message. Mr. Han teaches Dre how to "live" Kung Fu, a lesson that inspires respect and consideration for those around him. And in the climactic scenes of the tournament, Dre learns that winning means overcoming his own fear.