Tweens should get a kick out of 'The Karate Kid'
Jaden Smith, left, and Jackie Chan star in ‘The Karate Kid.’

Jaden Smith brings charm, vulnerability and a mild chip on his shoulder to the role of Dre Parker in "The Karate Kid," a likable update of the 1980s "Karate Kid" films (all rated PG), which ought to appeal to kids 10 and older as a good school's-out diversion. The movie is long, but very involving. It establishes full-blooded characters and, since it was shot in China, it offers audiences a fascinating view of life in that country.

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Twelve-year-old Dre and his mom (Taraji P. Henson) move from Detroit to China for her job. In a local park, Dre makes friends with a pretty violin prodigy, Meiying (Wenwen Han). But a jealous bully (Zhenwei Wang) and his gang, all students of an unethical kung fu master, harass and beat up on Dre in the park and at school.

During one especially vicious attack, he's rescued from serious injury by the maintenance man from his apartment building, Mr. Han (Jackie Chan in a nice, understated performance), who demolishes the bully boys easily. It turns out he's a retired martial arts master. Dre begs Mr. Han to teach him. At first the boy doesn't understand the significance of the repetitive exercises Mr. Han makes him do. Will Dre be ready to face the bully in a kung-fu tournament?

The bottom line: The fight scenes often include more pure pounding than you'd expect in a teen martial arts film - an emphasis on the viciousness of the bullying. Add sound effects that make the hits sound gut-wrenching and some of the encounters are hard to watch - hence the 10-and-older recommendation. Dre's initial homesickness and especially the way he tries to hide from the bullies at school are themes and ideas that carry real emotional weight.

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