Now some of you might disagree with me on this, but I think that Will Smith’s not-so-bright idea to remake The Karate Kid with himself as producer, his completely untalented son as the titular karate kid, and Jackie “Sure I”ll do another stupid movie for the West” Chan as Mr. Miyagi, or the Chinese equivalent, is perhaps the worst remake idea of all time. Before I get into my reasons, let’s first hear what Ralph Macchio himself has to say on the subject:
It’s sad that Will Smith, who has all the money in the world but is fast becoming over-exposed and artistically bankrupt, thinks this is a viable idea. The original Karate Kid film hit in 1984 and was a huge success, relying on the wonderful relationship between Macchio’s Daniel and the late Pat Morita’s Mr. Miyagi (who earned an Academy Award nomination for his role) to attract audiences. Whereas Jaden Smith’s character of Dre is described as a “skateboarding video game buff” who is accosted by bullies in China, Daniel was not an outcast or a recluse of any kind. Producer Will Smith and the writers seem content with using good ol’ fashioned xenophobia as an impetus for violent action. The more egotistical members of the Cobra Kai karate dojo did not bully Daniel because he was an Italian American, but because he came between Johnny, the leader of the group, and his ex-girlfriend Ali (played by William Zabka and Elisabeth Shue respectively) after relocating to the San Fernando Valley from New Jersey. Daniel’s attempt to make friends is the type of circumstance that a lot of young people can relate to, and it relies less on formulaic culture shock and more on developing very real characters through identifiable situations. Some may bash me for criticizing a movie that is still in the earliest stages of development, but this is contemporary Hollywood we’re talking about here. It’s not like we’re clueless as to how the movie-making machine works. Just as Will Smith’s horrendous retelling of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend and the complete distortion of the original’s intent, I know that this new Karate Kid remake (tentatively titled The Kung Fu Kid, but what else could they call it in the end?) will be an overly sensational, event-driven film with little character depth beyond obvious pandering dialogue such as “just be yourself,” “never give up,” and “don’t worry Jaden, they don’t hate you because you’re different, it’s really because you’re a horrible actor.” Okay, maybe that last bit of dialogue is going too far, but you get the idea.
An examination of what The Karate Kid did right is by nature a prediction of everything that The Kung Fu Kid will do wrong. Again, this is based on the more current Hollywood model:
- The use of relative unknowns ensured a more intimate, personal film very much along the lines of Rocky, as opposed to the nepotism going on in the star-studded remake.
- Karate was defined as a sport for self-defense, never attack. For the most part, the film upheld this ideal; Daniel’s goal is not to pummel his opposition, but to essentially stand up for himself and show the film’s other karate practitioners what the sport is all about. Again, as the film’s antagonism was never based on xenophobia, Johnny’s change of heart and the ending itself feels natural, not expected.
- Mr. Miyagi was a well-defined character. While he borders on caricature, his compelling back story as a Japanese American and his role as a father figure to Daniel are indicative of a respectful portrayal of an Asian figure and the culture which he represents.
- Joe Esposito!!
Now surely The Karate Kid is no Citizen Kane, but it does not have to be for this remake to be a really bad idea. And this is quite different from taking a Japanese horror film and mucking it up for the sake of Sarah Michelle Gellar’s dying career (which is a bad idea as well). Instead, what we have here is The Forbidden Kingdom syndrome. A terrible movie if there ever was one, The Forbidden Kingdom saw an American as the savior of ancient China to the point where he upstaged two of the biggest action stars in the world. And that’s really no different than what The Kung Fu Kid will ultimately be, without the ancient China part of course. Jaden Smith’s character will go to China with his single mom, he’ll get routinely beat down by local bullies, he’ll learn kung fu from Jackie Chan, he’ll gain self-confidence and self-respect, but most importantly he’ll beat the Chinese bullies at their native martial art – the underlying message being that the United States never settles for second place. Give me a break. And nevermind that The Karate Kid was already remade as Never Back Down.