Karate Kid Remake Will Be Refreshingly Karate-Free

Karate Kid Remake Will Be Refreshingly Karate-Free

The coming remake of The Karate Kid set to star Will Smith’s son Jaden will be less a remake and more a fucking travesty.

Mr. Miyagi vs. the Tanks

Word comes today (via Defamer) that the coming remake of The Karate Kid set to star Will Smith’s son Jaden will be less a remake and more–um–a fucking travesty.

It seems that due to the financial participation of the China Film Group, the film’s location will be moved from the San Fernando Valley to China, where a Chinese mentor will instruct young Jaden in the ways of a martial art other than karate. Will Smith is at pains to explain that this is in fact a good thing:

“Fortunately, karate is originally a Chinese art form, so that’s the area we’re playing around in.” (Ed. Note: Though karate was developed in Japan, it is based upon Kenpō, a Chinese fighting style.)

I’m not sure I’m willing to grant that adverb… “Fortunately” implies that we should somehow be glad that the source material needed slightly less lube before violation (or, rather, “playing around”). As if she deserves it for dressing in such a skimpy gi.

We’ve had some spirited debate on the site this week about the racial implications of a character like Mr. Miyagi who, for better or worse, became a kind of pop-culture mascot for American perception of its rising Asian population. Kidding aside, I can’t help but think that taking such a monumental change (can they even call it The Karate Kid anymore?) so lightly conceals the insidious racism that minimizes real differences in customs, history, and culture among Asian peoples because, after all, they all have slanty eyes.

In other words: “Those martial arts all look the same to me.”

10 Comments on “Karate Kid Remake Will Be Refreshingly Karate-Free”

  1. Alec Harkness #

    Even if it was to be relocated to Okinawa it would radically change the whole tone of the movie.

    Much of the Karate Kid is about the uniquely American high-school social power struggles: the geeky outcaste vs the band of jocks. The geeky outcaste finds solace in another outcaste, and ultimately find a source of power. Thus ultimately it is a validation of the American Dream(tm), and demonstrates that one man can go it alone and triumph.

    Relocate it out of the States, and most of this becomes meaningless.

    The China vs Japan debate is kinda a distraction. The Mr Miyagi character could just as easily be Chinese, or Korean, or Brazillian without more than cosmetic changes to the story. Instead of “The Karate Kid” it would become “The Kung-Fu Kid” or “The Capoeira Kid” or something.


  2. Gab #

    Alec, the “China vs Japan debate” is the _central problem_ with this. Saying karate actually *comes* from China because it’s based on Kenpō is completely dismissive of the fact that Chinese and Japanese cultures are completely different. It’s like saying the Model T car was really an Irish innovation because Henry Ford’s father was an Irish immigrant (or Belgian because his maternal grandparents were from Belgium). Except it’s worse. “All martial arts look the same to me,” as Wrather said, is synonymous with, “All Asians look the same to me.” It’s a passive form of racism.

    I’ll give you that the Miyagi character doesn’t have to be Japanese for the original idea, the American Dream, to work, so long as they changed the name of the fighting style being used in the title. But if that’s the case, they shouldn’t call it a remake. They’re already changing the main character and his origins, which in itself I think constitutes it being called something else like “reinterpretation” or some jazz. They could say it’s based on or inspired by _The Karate Kid_, yeah, but really. Remake?

    So, as you say, if the Mr. Miyagi character could be anybody, why do they insist on calling it a remake? Because they are stupid, insensitive, and out to make a profit. They don’t care about the integrity or dignity of the cultures they are blanketing as one: all they care about is fattening their wallets. And I’m really ashamed that Will Smith would actually defend the decision the way he did, claiming it’s “fortunate” because it’s “originally… Chinese.” He himself being a minority and *having dealt with racial stereotypes in his movies before*, he should know better.


  3. Alec Harkness #

    Perhaps I should have emphasised that I firmly agree that this “remake” will give travesties a bad name. It is plainly an exercise in greed-obsessed cultural arse-raping, and Will Smith’s comments display an ignorance so staggering it can only be due to contractual obligations.

    However, I stand by my original comment that all the Japanese culture of the original could be surgically removed and replaced by [insert culture here] and you’d be left with a different version of the same film. The specific culture was not central to the plot, although it was central to the flavour and arguably to its success.

    I do agree though that there is a tendency in Americans to reduce all the cultures and countries of the world down to American, Asian, Arabic and French. This film will do nothing to help.


  4. mlawski OTI Staff #

    @Alec Harkness: Hey, I call shenanigans on your comment! We Americans are also aware of British people, Mexicans, and Nazis.


  5. Swirthe #

    Taking a film where the location is fairly central to the script and moving it to a different country?
    Making a remake of a classic film with nothing to do with the original other than the title and characters’ names?
    Sacrificing the distinguishing features of beloved characters to allow big-name Hollywood stars to take the roles?

    Did someone say Italian Job?


  6. Jorbex #

    Regarding character names, I don’t think even those would be left intact, since Miyagi is a Japanese name, and Jaden Smith doesn’t exactly look like an Italian-American.

    And is anybody else bothered by the fact Jaden Smith will be eleven years old when filming begins? I can’t imagine the story working if Daniel LaRusso (or whatever they call him) isn’t a teenager.


  7. richrom #


    Your comment:

    “Because they are stupid, insensitive, and out to make a profit. They don?t care about the integrity or dignity of the cultures they are blanketing as one: all they care about is fattening their wallets.”

    Since when is Hollywood other???

    Big names, big title = big profit.

    Besides, I never really liked Danny. He was such a whiney brat – in all 3 movies. Never saw #4, so can’t comment on the social qualities of that film, nor how a female changed the flow and style of the picture.


  8. Daniel #

    Same(ish) story, different country…sounds more like Karate Kid II to me…

    Come on people, this is not going to be the same story at all. And thankfully, none of us will ever be forced to watch it. Is one more lousy movie in imdb.com really going to fry the system?!? Let it go, and let it die.


  9. Gab #

    Daniel, it isn’t just how it’s going to be “one more lousy movie.” It’s how racist it is to claim there’s no difference between Chinese and Japanese culture, which is essentially what the studio (and Smith) are doing by calling it a REMAKE, even though the main character isn’t going to be doing Karate and the culture he becomes involved with will be Chinese.

    And besides, you’re forgetting the name of the blog, dude.


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