The Karate Kid versus The Kung Fu Kid
When Hollywood remakes a film, the formula for acceptance and recognition is a virtual walk on a tightrope. Generally, the concept behind remaking a movie is staying true to the original storyline and theme of the film being remade. Perhaps someone should have informed Harald Zwart, the Director of the 2010 remake of The Karate Kid, that this balance in filmmaking is an intricate cog in the wheel of success. Mr. Zwart and his crew decided to work outside the parameters of this rule and mix things up a bit. A bad decision for those who appreciate cinema. The 2010 remake was co-produced between China and Hollywood, requiring a refinement in the story due to China footing the bill on most of the budget and about half of the filming taking place in China. Also, having a pre-chosen main character who is vastly different in age than the original main character required a story adaption as well. It is because of these changes to the storyline of The Karate Kid the 2010 remake loses the focus of the relationship theme that centered the original film.
The 2010 remake did manage to weave some of the intricate details of the 1984 version into its new storyline. The displacement theme stayed true for both main characters. Daniel moved from Newark, New Jersey to Los Angeles, California in the original film. His successor, Dre Parker, moves from Detroit, Michigan, to Beijing, China, in the remake. Also, both main characters also arrive in these new locations minus a father figure, which plays heavily into the backstory of their respective characters and their relationships with other characters. Another example is both the original and the remake keep their brainwashed bullies intact, Daniel having to deal with the Cobra Kai and their Gestapo-esque handler Johnny. Dre finds himself at odds with Cheng of the Fighting Dragons in the remake. The lack of a father figure for both main characters and the bullying to boot neatly add emphasis to the handyman role, who turns out to be the friend and mentor that brings balance to both main characters. In the original, Pat Morita played this role. The 2010 remake found Jackie Chan in this slot. The female interest aspect to the original storyline also follows over, though convoluted in the 2010 version due to the age changes of the main characters. Furthermore, both films end with our underdog hero winning out over all obstacles and tribulations in an overdramatic fight scene.
Where the 2010 remake begins to skew from the original film released in 1984 intersects in some places with the details that remained similar, while other additions to the story make no sense at all. The setting for the first Karate Kid is Los Angeles, whereas the remake takes place in Beijing, which entails its own storyline issue, as karate originates in Japan. No matter- the remake pushes on despite this story detail and young Dre learns Kung-Fu. Additionally, to accommodate the pre-chosen main character for the 2010 version, the director had to change the age of “the kid” to twelve, unlike the original character’s age of sixteen, relegating some of the carry-over aspects of the storyline, such as the relationship between the main character and the female love interest. Brian Eggert, in his review of the 2010 remake on the Deep Focus Review Webpage, sums this alteration up very nicely: “What’s more, Smith was an eleven-year old while shooting this film, though his character is twelve, but he looks about eight or nine. This presents a major problem when we are made to have our hearts swell when he kisses his violin-playing sweetheart (Wenwen Han), or engages in rather violent fights that look ridiculous because he and the other children in the film are so small” (Eggert, deepfocusreview.com). From viewing the original film, it is understood that the reason Daniel is singled out for bullying by Johnny and the Cobra Kai lies in Daniel’s pursuit of a relationship with Johnny’s ex-girlfriend, who so happens to be the movie’s female lead. This aspect of the story is not transferred to the 2010 remake, which was a critical error in judgment as it applies to the major theme of the original film. The change of the main character’s age coupled with the love interest tie to the bully took a major part of the original storyline away, completely changing the relationship angle of the film. Manipulating the age of the main character to accommodate Hollywood money made the relationship between the main character and the female lead questionable at best, downright unbelievable at worst.
The original Karate Kid found its lasting qualities within its emphasis on the relationships inside the film. This is exactly where the 2010 remake loses the center. In Brian Eggert’s review of the original Karate Kid on The Deep Focus Review Webpage, he summarizes this aspect as follows: “the audience is more concerned about Daniel gaining enough confidence to be with Ali, or Daniel honoring Miyagi with a fine performance in the tournament. These relationships are central to the story more than fighting. As Miyagi teaches, honor and balance in terms of the spirit and body are superior concepts to merely destroying everything in one’s path with a karate chop” (Eggert, deepfocusreview.com). One of the running themes of the 1984 Karate Kid was balance, in a mental and physical aspect. The word balance is not spoken in this context once in the 2010 version. Through Daniel’s relationship with Miyagi (Pat Morita), we learn more about life than we learn about self-defense. Moreover, the audience loses out on the remake in its relationship with the main character, who comes across as arrogant, and a bit crass. When Dre is bullied, one is less likely to feel the sympathy for his character due to his disposition. This is in direct contrast with Daniel, (portrayed by Ralph Macchio) who in 1984 scored an unforgettable place in the hearts of audiences with his vulnerability and with his ability to pull emotion from an audience scene per scene, as he needed in the original film.
Altering the original storyline of The Karate Kid forced the directors to put more emphasis on the fight scenes in the remake. Due to the lack of substance, as it relates to the relationship aspect of the 1984 version, the 2010 Karate Kid relies too heavily on violence, in direct conflict with the original story that downplayed violence for values and balance. By modifying the storyline to fit into a Hollywood agenda, the age change of the major character in the 2010 remake makes the better portion of the new film unconvincing, specifically in the love interest angle of the original film. Adults know a twelve-year-old does not understand the inner workings of a relationship that complex. The Karate Kid (2010) lost its credibility the most when it discontinued the ability for the main character to learn karate, hence the name The Karate Kid. They assumed no one would notice the main character was learning kung-fu, which is completely different than karate. Why not change the name to The Kung-Fu Kid? Agenda from movie producers would not allow it. These reasons make the 2010 remake fall very short of the intent of the original Karate Kid, that karate is only for self-defense, and Kung-Fu is for the remake, and for profit from brand recognition only.
Eggert, Brian. “Deep Focus Review – Movie Reviews – The Karate Kid (1984).” http://www.deepfocusreview.com/reviews/karatekid.asp. N.p., 06 June 2010. Web. 01 Nov. 2016.
Eggert, Brian. “Deep Focus Review – Movie Reviews – The Karate Kid (2010).” Deep Focus Review – Movie Reviews – The Karate Kid (2010). N.p., 11 June 2010. Web. 01 Nov. 2016.
The Karate Kid. Dir. John G. Avildsen. Perf. Ralph Macchio Noriyuki “Pat” Morita Elisabeth Shue. Columbia, 1984. DVD.
The Karate Kid (2010). Dir. Harald Zwart. Perf. Jaden Smith Jackie Chan. Columbia, 2010. DVD.