The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Petting the Pony

What's With All the Hate..?

I've picked up an unusual amount of negative fan chatter about the new "Karate Kid" movie. And don't quite understand it. I mean, I loved the original as much as anyone, but Macchio, while probably a little better actor than Jaden Smith, was like 29 by the time he did the third one (hardly a "Kid") and blew chunks in terms of technique and athleticism. Pat Morita was wonderful, but does anyone really think he's better than Jackie Chan, even as an actor? And we won't even go into the difference in physical ability.

I can only see a few things:

1) Confusion about the title. Clearly, although the film takes place in China, it is a bald remake of the original. The title is marketing. But complaints seem to assume that the title as the exact same MEANING as the title of the original. This strikes me as displaying a lack of flexible thought. Whereas the original title referred to "a kid who learns karate over the course of the film," in this case the title refers to a kid who practiced karate in the U.S. and is mocked for it in his new home. It is a disparaging term like "oooh! A karate kid!"

2) Perception that Jaden cannot act. He did a terrific job in "Pursuit of Happyness." Not so good in "Day the Earth Stood Still." But then...NOBODY did a good job in that movie. I blame the director.

3) Anger about nepotism. Seems invalid--in every profession, parents help their children into the business. No difference here.

4) Anger about the race of the character changing. Well...I've actually seen a lot of that, white guys pissed that movies are being remade with formerly white characters portrayed by black actors. While I think this is invalid, and doubt they complain when Joel Gray, Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee, or whoever play Asians (for instance), I can understand the panic a little, and have a touch of sympathy. Did they complain as much when Hillary Swank played a "Karate Kid"? Or do they perceive race as being the most important characteristic of an actor? They often say "well, what if a white actor played Shaft?" Hardly the same, when he is very clearly defined as a "black private dick." Replacing Sidney Poitier with a white actor in a remake of "In the Heat of the Night" would be absurd. Replacing Poitier in a remake of "Shoot To Kill"--not so much. Where in "Karate Kid" was his race important to the film? Replace Tom Cruise with

Chiwetel Ejiofor in "Mission Impossible" and why not? Replace Cruise with Jamie Foxx in "Valkyrie" and Houston, we have a problem. If it doesn't change the cultural dynamics, I see no problem.

And one thing's for sure: the martial arts will be WAY better. Are there reasons I'm missing?


"I've been on a pony ride. I'm no longer excited by the smell of ponies."

I said this to Tananarive last night when she inquired why I'm not more excited by the possibility of Blair Underwood filming promotional scenes for "From Capetown With Love." Well, until this week I wasn't convinced it would happen. Not that everyone has the best intent, it's just that when it comes to Hollywood stuff, there are 99 "maybes" for every 1 "yes." I refuse to let my emotions go back on that roller-coaster ride.

But yesterday we met with Blair in his office, and actually talked through the scenes. It looks like they've scored a location, and found the actors. It looks as if he wants a fight scene, and I have some ideas that will allow him to look good with minimal rehearsal time. We meet on Friday to block this stuff out more clearly. Looks like he's going to Kempo me (easier to make look good than Silat) and kick me into a swimming pool. Hope it's warm, but as long as I only have to do one take, who cares? So...I'm petting the pony, and might even try to mount. But I refuse to get excited, just yet.

Oh, what the hell, I'm excited, damn it. Once more into the breach, dear friends...


Travis said...

I hadn't picked up on the negative "Karate Kid" commentary. Of course I've largely immunized myself from most media sources.

As an MA guy I was shocked and stunned that they put "Karate" in China but understood the marketing behind it and that most of the movie going audience could care less, if they even realize the disconnect.

As with all remakes I have a hope that it is good and a fear that it won't be. Objectively, it should be good but they are messing with success which is always dangerous. Remake a bad movie, nowhere to go but up. Remake a good movie and you might go down and you have the traditional hard-liners to battle as well. I'm hopeful.

I suppose it's clear by now that I really liked the original "Karate Kid".

coxcrow said...

They're remaking Death At A Funeral and the trailers for the new seem just as hilarious as the old.

As you mentioned if race isn't particularly integral to the plot then the color hardly seems important. Good acting is good acting.

On the other hand they've tapped Idris Elba to play the Norse god Heimdall in the new Thor movie. That strikes me as rather bizarre. Elba is a decent actor but Norse?

Christian Lindke said...

I am totally excited about the new "Karate Kid" film. I had some problems empathizing with Daniel in the original, and this one looks like it lacks any of the criticisms I had of that character. I should note that I really like the second movie in the series and that I think the rest (3 and 4), especially the Hilary Swank film, are total throwaways.

Sure, using "Karate" to describe Kung Fu has a kind of 60s Ugly Americanism to it, and Kung Fu Kid would probably have been as good a title -- except for the whole cache based on the original thing. Given the new story, and the double meaning of Kung Fu, it might even have been a better title.

I think Jaden is fine as an actor and I too blame the director, and the screenplay, for his lack of performance in "Day the Earth Stood Still."

As for nepotism, I just ask the following. Should Will Smith work actively to prevent Jaden from having access to the people he knows in the industry to make sure that Jaden doesn't have a head start over other child actors? That would be absurd. What parent would want to actively work against his/her child's success?

What is the variable most likely to indicate that a child will become a professional baseball player? That his father played professional baseball.

This is due to a combination of factors. First, an understanding of the industry at levels that a newcomer lacks. Second, access to skill development programs run by highly competent individuals. Third, the time to devote to the child's development of a skill set. Fourth, access to agents etc.

These are good things. We may feel some sour grapes when we see that Jaden's access is easier than the vast majority of people who want to start an acting career. But we must always remember that Jaden will have to be a financial draw, or deeply respected actor, if he is going to work into adulthood. His talent/or lack thereof will out.

Don't even get me going on how much the white guys as Asians thing bothers me.

Scott said...

Ah, yes; Heimdall, the whitest of the gods.

Steven Barnes said...

I have zero idea what they're thinking about with Elba as a Norse god. Seems bizarre.
As I noted, they are NOT calling Kung Fu "Karate." The title references a derogatory nickname for the "kid," because he studied karate in the U.S. It would be like calling a Texan student "Cowboy" even if he's in New York. Doesn't literally mean he's herding cows along Broadway.

Christian Lindke said...

So...your understanding is that the "Karate Kid" reference is a parallel to the "Japanese Fist" references one often sees in classic Hong Kong martial arts films?

That actually ads an interesting, and traditional, authenticity to the narrative of the Jaden/Chan movie. If Jaden begins as a "Karate Kid," and thus a practitioner of the "Japanese Fist," who becomes transformed by a master who has abandoned jiang hu by learning "Chinese Fist" in a traditional manner -- in contrast to the modern system of the other kids -- this film falls much better into traditional kung fu archetypes than the original film.

Your interpretation, which may be based on seeing more trailers/having more info than I have, has made me even more excited about the film.

Anonymous said...

"I have zero idea what they're thinking about with Elba as a Norse god. Seems bizarre..."

Imagine how much it'll piss off certain Wagner fans! ;)

Anonymous said...

More good stuff that would piss off certain Wagner fans: