Remakes and reboots are nothing new to the Hollywood ‘think tank’ studio machine. If it had an audience once, let’s avoid original ideas all together and do the Heimlich Maneuver in an attempt to breathe fresh life into an old film or dormant franchise.
But now it’s not even like a film needs a five, or ten, or twenty year shelf life before the remake talks begin. Neils Arden Oplev’s 2009 acclaimed European thriller The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is in line for an English language remake, David Fincher set to direct.
Jesus Christ! Dragon Tattoo came out last year… last year! There are plenty of screenwriters out there with great spec scripts, but it looks like the thing to do now is toss anything original in the trash and start writing a remake of Gilligan’s Island… oh, wait, Brad Copeland is already penning that script.
So what’s the lesson here? Recycle, recycle, recycle. God forbid there is value to an authentic idea. Oh no! That would be a sinister mistake. What about marketing, retail, Happy Meal toys?
Currently, there are 75 movie or TV remakes and reboots in the works, and coming off the box office success of remakes like The Karate Kid, this is no surprise. Get ready for a plethora of other 80’s Hollywood hits to jump on the bandwagon in the next few years: Fletch, Footloose, Conan, and Red Dawn, to name a few.
Okay, so now that I got all that off my chest, let’s talk about karate… no, I’m sorry, I mean “kung fu”. You see, this is how screenwriter Christopher Murphey and Director Harald Zwart make their tweaks from the original. In the original 1984 The Karate Kid, a handyman teaches a bullied kid karate, but in the 2010 remake, a handyman teaches a bullied kid kung fu. See! Check it out! Kung fu is totally different from karate. Totally!
Oh yeah, and the chopstick scene. In the original Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) catches a fly with chopsticks. But in the remake, Mr. Han (Jackie Chan) splats the bugger with a fly swatter. Don’t you see… that’s different… and super funny.
And there are more differences too. In the original, Daniel Larusso (Ralph Macchio) moves to palm-fringed roads and blue skies of Los Angeles when his mother gets a new job, but in the remake… get this, Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) moves to China – CHINA! – when his mother is transferred. Don’t you see? A different location, a different world – a refreshing take. That’s completely cutting edge.
Okay, all sarcasm and kung fu aside, director Harald Zwart (The Pink Panther 2) is not reinventing the wheel here. With the exception of a change in location (we get to see Smith and Chan train on The Great Wall) the remake follows the original playbook, beat by beat.
Now, I was a boy of the 80’s – 9 years old when Morita mentored Macchio in 1984, and yes, Macchio was a whinny little twerp, but we loved him despite of that. Those California Rich kid karate bullies were picking on him, and he clearly didn’t deserve it. But what made the original so great was what Ralph Macchio brought to the role of Daniel LaRusso. He was sincere and genuine in his desire to learn to the art of karate, and he had the right stuff: the eye of the tiger.
Jaden Smith, however, lacks that heart and fighting spirit of a kid who really wants to compete with honor. Smith is clearly a talented actor, who brought personality and attitude to the role of Dre Parker, and even though it’s clear that he has some respectable acting chops, he was still horribly miscast in the film.
Smith is eleven years old, playing the 12 year old kid, but the visual truth is that Smith looks no older than nine or ten and has the voice of a 7 year old girl. He’s the smallest kid in the entire film, and it’s hard to take his love interest, Meiying (Wenwen Han), seriously, especially when they move in for the horribly telegraphed kiss. Yuck! It was like watching a much older sister lock lips with her younger brother. Excuse me, but I think I just threw up a little bit in my mouth. Barf. Yack. Gag.
In the original, Mr. Miyagi, the role made famous by the late, great Pat Morita was really the epoxy of the film – what kid didn’t repeat the infamous line: “Wax on. Wax off.” Unlike Mr. Miyagi, however, who carried himself with power and self-respect, Chan shuffles around like a dirty unwashed cripple, trying desperately too hard to hide the fact that he’s a kung fu master.
But despite all of this, The Karate Kid does deliver emotionally between Smith and Chan, and some of the minor tweaks are actually improvements from the original.
In the 1984 film, Miyagi was styling with all those classic cars, and Larusso definitely scored when Miyagi takes him to the end of the line and simply says, “Choose.” In this newest version (I’m sure there will be more in years to come), the car element is still there, but instead of the mentee waxing on and off, it’s the mentor fixing up the old car.
Mr. Han’s car is a symbol of a very dark thing that happened to him in the past, and after he smashes it to hell in a drunken rage (Mr. Miyagi never hit the bottle as hard as Mr. Han does), the car itself becomes a much deeper connection between Dre and Mr. Han, and the young pupil uses this opportunity to teach the master a life lesson as well. This was a nice moment, and the emotional climax of the film.
Of course we get to see some vintage Jackie Chan martial arts moves when he beats up a group of bullies chasing little Dre, using the bullies themselves as weapons in such a way that these boys end up slapping, kicking, and punching themselves into a stupor. The choreography was really the star of that scene, but the creativity of the action is hard not to appreciate.
And lastly, I enjoyed the change in location to China. It was wonderful to see the atmosphere and cinematic beauty in many of the outdoor locations. Give me the Great Wall over a California beach any day.
But as a whole, the new definitely does not stack up to the old. The Karate Kid is just a Chinese replica of the original, minus a few nuts and bolts here and there.
Trust me, if Dre Parker stepped on the mat against Daniel LaRusso, it would be a nothing less than a slaughter, LaRusso mopping the floor with the new kid on the block.