The movie starts off in Detroit, as Dre (Jaden Smith) and his mother are packing and getting ready to leave. The camera pans up a doorframe where Dre has measured his height as he grew up and writes in significant events in his life. As we see the different events, one of them is that his father died some time before. The last one is him writing, “moving to China.”
They say their goodbyes and get in the taxi to the airport. On the plane, mom is teaching herself Chinese and asks him if he remembers what he’s learned. Dre tells her he doesn’t remember anything and his mom makes him ask the Chinese guy in the aisle what his name is in Chinese. The guy says, “Dude, I’m from Detroit.”
They get to their new apartment in China and settle in. Dre’s mom asks him to go find the maintenance guy, Mr. Han, to fix their hot water in the shower. Dre goes to look for him, meets Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), and asks him to come by and fix the shower. This is the scene from the previews where Han tries to catch a fly with chopsticks, ends up swatting the fly with a fly swatter and picks the fly up with his chopsticks to throw away, then eats his noodles again, disgusting Dre.
Dre goes to the park where he plays basketball and meets a cute girl, Meiying, who is playing a violin. This draws the attention of Weng and his bully friends. At first they harass Meiying, but when Dre intervenes, Weng spectacularly beats Dre up with athletic kung fu moves. He gives Dre a black eye.
The next morning is the first day of school. He hides his black eye from his mom by putting mascara on it but his mom notices when they get to school. Dre has a bad day with the bullies harassing him and knocking his lunch tray all over him.
The next day Dre is watching a DVD of karate instruction and practicing the moves badly when Han comes to fix the shower but it wasn’t broken; Dre’s mom just didn’t know how to use the energy saving heater switch for the shower. Dre’s mom comes home and she notices that Dre left his jacket on the ground yet again (he does this all the time). She orders him to pick it up and he mocks her by making faces when she walks away. Dre turns and notices that Han is watching him do this with a disapproving look and Dre looks a little ashamed.
Dre is back at school hiding from the bullies by finding out of the way places to hide. In the process of doing this he watches Meiying practicing in an auditorium with her instructor chewing her out for not playing the music correctly. Dre and Meiying have a moment when the teacher leaves and begin to get closer.
Later, Dre and his mom are shopping in the neighborhood when they come across a huge kung fu training school. In the courtyard are what look like a hundred students in red uniforms practicing. It’s quite impressive. In one of the buildings beside the classroom are more advanced students in black uniforms. We see Master Li, a very ominous looking dude who is very harsh with his students. Suddenly Dre spots Weng in the class, smiling at him, and he quickly backs away and runs from the classroom.
When they get back near their apartment, Dre’s mom asks him what’s the matter with him. Dre finally breaks down and says, “Here is what’s wrong. I hate this place!” He rants for a little bit about how he misses Detroit and a week here feels like a year. He goes back to the apartment, and we notice that Han has overheard the entire conversation.
The next day at school the class goes to the Forbidden City. On the bus home the bullies nearly start beating on Dre again but the principal stops them. After school, Dre has to keep hiding as the bullies walk home. He is hiding behind a car while they stop for a moment talking. Dre spies a bucket of really nasty rainwater that looks slimy and dirty. We see the six bullies talking when suddenly; the bucket of slimy water is thrown all over them. They look to see Dre running and they give chase through the neighborhood. They finally corner Dre near his apartment in a little courtyard and proceed to place a beat down of epic proportions on Dre. Dre gets, like, one good blow on Weng but this only makes him madder.
He looks like he’s going to kill Dre when one of the bullies says, “that’s enough, Weng.” Weng shrugs him off saying, “Don’t you remember what we’re taught? No mercy!” The other bully looks unhappy as Weng goes to punch Dre even though he’s nearly unconscious. His fist lashes out, and is caught by Mr. Han. Han proceeds to conduct a very funny fight scene where he mainly uses the bullies against each other by making them swing and miss him and hit each other. Very well choreographed fight scene.
Afterwards, Han takes Dre to his apartment and uses Chinese folk medicine to heal his ribs. He uses a flaming cotton ball looking thing and transfers the flame to his hands and presses it on Dre’s chest. It’s cool looking. Dre asks Han to help him learn Kung Fu, but Han says no. Han tells him he should talk to the bullies to get them to stop; that fighting won’t solve problem. Dre asks him to go with him but Han says no. As Dre starts to leave Han has a change of heart and goes with him to the Kung Fu studio.
This scene is very similar to the original Karate Kid, with Master Li being a complete jerk to his own students, slapping them around when they don’t finish their opponent when they have the chance. One of the students tells Master Li that Han is the one that beat them up. Han tells him one on one is good, six on one is no fair. Master Li tells Weng to get ready to fight Dre one on one. Dre, who understands none of the Chinese language, has no clue that Han is accidentally setting him up to fight Weng right then and there. Han finally sees the poster for a tournament and suggests that Dre will be there to fight. Master Li agrees to make his students stop harassing Dre at school, but promises if Dre does not show up, they will make Dre suffer. On the way out, Han tells Dre the good news that he won’t be bullied anymore, and that he’ll train him to do kung fu. Dre is skeptical that it is a good plan but agrees.
Later, Dre his mom and Han go to a festival that is like Valentine’s Day. Dre meets up with Meiying and they have a kissy moment where Dre promises to go to her violin recital that may give her a chance to be admitted to a prestigious music school if she’ll go to his tournament. They pinky swear to go.
Dre’s training starts with Han telling him that he must practice taking his jacket off, throwing it on the ground, picking it up, hanging it on a peg, and then putting the jacket on. This is to be repeated over and over, without any kung fu instruction. This goes on for quite a few days. At one point Dre complains, but Han mocks his attitude and makes it clear (at least to Dre) that this is punishment for the day in his apartment when he made a face at his mom when she made him pick his jacket up. Dre says he gets it and that he’s sorry for disrespecting his mom. Han continues to make him do the exercise. In the meantime we see Han fixing up an old car in his living room. It makes the audience think that we’re going to see “wax on, wax off” soon, but we never do; Han is the only one who works on the car.
Sometime later, Dre is complaining again about the jacket exercise when Han says, take your jacket off. Dre does but Han makes him toss the jacket aside and tells him to do the exercise again, this time without the jacket. It dawns on Dre that all of the jacket moves were Han’s way of training him to do real moves, and there is a great sequence where Han makes attacks, and Dre is able to fend them off because of the moves he’s been doing thousands of times in repetition.
We move to some better training montages where Han takes Dre by train to a kung fu training monastery up on the top of a mountain. We see an awesome scene of a woman Kung Fu expert who is in a weird stance facing a cobra who’s hood is up. The cobra is swaying side to side, as is the woman. Dre tells Han later it was cool that she was mimicking the cobra’s movements side to side, but Han tells him the woman was making the snake move, not the other way around. Something about her stillness. They train some more and Dre gets to be awesome with his moves and stances. Much more impressive than the original Karate Kid. They go to the Great Wall of China for some training that is also very well filmed.
There’s some drama as Dre pulls Meiying away from her practice to spend a day with him having fun. She gets a call that her audition has been moved up in time and she has to race out of breath back to the auditorium to play. Her parents are mad at Dre and ban her from being friends any more with him.
One night, Dre goes to Han’s house and finds him completely drunk and smashing the car up that he’s been fixing up all movie long. It’s June 8, he says. There’s a picture of a child younger than Dre and a beautiful woman. We find out that Han was driving with his family and got into a car crash that killed his wife and son. He’s been wracked with guilt ever since and every year fixes up a car and trashes it on the anniversary of their deaths. There is a touching moment where Dre makes Han get out of the car and train with him. Earlier in the movie when Dre was leaving the house he nonchalantly says “I love you” to Mr. Han and Han had an odd look on his face. We realize that Han has shut himself off from the world because of his tragedy. We also now know that he has been coming more and more out of his shell because of Dre and now feels like a father to the boy. He tells Dre that he has learned much from Dre and we now know that they are almost like father and son.
Dre goes to apologize to Meiying’s father for messing up her audition with Han’s help. Her father forgives Dre and says that Meiying can go to his tournament.
At the tournament, Dre has a good run. The bad guys keep winning their matches as does Dre. It follows the original movie with Dre meeting another of the bullies in the semis and the bully is given the order to break Dre's leg. The kid goes medieval on his leg and is disqualified, but if Dre cannot get back in the ring in two minutes he will forfeit the championship match. Han does his flame cotton ball thing on Dre’s leg and he limps into the ring for the final match.
Weng and Dre trade blows back and forth. Pretty spectacular moves, actually. At one point there is a break in the action and Master Li tells Weng to break Dre's leg. Weng is reluctant to do something so cruel but Li berates him for his weakness. Weng puts the move on Dre that crunches his leg pretty bad.
Dre is lying on the mat, writhing in pain. He finally musters the strength to get up. He goes into the stance that the lady kung fu master did with the cobra earlier, with Dre crouching down on his good leg and stretching out his bad leg straight so all his weight is on his good leg. His arms stretch out in both directions in a Kung Fu pose. Then Dre starts staring intently at Weng, moving his head slowly from side to side. Weng, puzzled, starts moving his own head side to side without realizing that he’s mimicking Dre. It’s really funny because this is what the cobra did. Finally, Weng shrugs it off and charges Dre, who does this ridiculously cool jump in the air with a forward somersault and kicking Weng in the face with his good leg for the final point to win the tournament.
Weng takes the trophy from the presenter to give to Dre himself, respecting Dre’s ability to come back from all he suffered. All the bullies line up as well behind Weng and, in unison, bow to Dre as well, while Master Li looks on in outrage.
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