I’ve mentioned a couple of times here that the first movie I ever “owned” on VHS was an edited-for-TV version of The Karate Kid, which my sister and I must have watched at least twenty times, to the point that the tape itself was completely degraded (in fact, I’d argue that I’ve seen the film more often, though less recently, than legendary KK-watcher and ESPN Sports Guy, Bill Simmons). I’m not terribly proud of this fact about myself, but as a child of the 1980s trapped in suburbia, my options were somewhat limited, and as a sports-meets-coming-of-age movie, it’s not half-bad. So, I greeted the news of a remake featuring Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith with mild derision.
It sounded like a bad idea, an unnecessary and silly remake, but nothing that would occlude my memories of the original film. On principle, I’m not necessarily opposed to the idea of remakes or reimaginings of older cultural texts, whether adaptations of novels or plays, so why be so protective of an older movie? Plus, it’s not as if I felt the need to defend the Macchio-Morita version. It satisfied some vague repetition compulsion when I was a teenager, but I no longer want to revisit it, so when I found out about the trailer for the remake (via a Fayetteville Observer blog), I watched it more out of a sense of curiosity than anything else.
And although I still find the remake completely unnecessary, I found the trailer oddly intriguing. like many popular remakes, the new film borrows heavily from the older one: the kid moves far from home to a “foreign” environment (more on that in a minute), he gets bullied by a gang of karate thugs, and his mentor teaches him karate using a variety of unorthodox methods. Many of the shots–the Kid riding away from his old ‘hood looking out the window of a car, a high-angle shot of the mentor’s garden–directly echo the original film. But the context is a little off. Instead of moving to LA and getting bullied by a bunch of WASPy jerks, Jaden moves to China instead, perhaps suggesting the film has its eyes trained on international markets. But although the film has a professional polish, part of me felt as if I was watching a “sweded” version of Karate Kid, rather than a Hollywood remake, as if someone who half-remembered the original film took some of the more memorable scenes and threw them together and made up the rest. Mocking the “wax on-wax off” scenes in the original with new moves (“take off jacket”) was mildly funny, but the rest seems like an extremely expensive fan production, albeit one trained toward launching one career and reviving another.
I still have almost no interest in seeing the remake, but seeing the uncanny echoes of the original in the trailer had the obvious effect of reminding me about my childhood pleasure at watching the original while also illustrating just how much things have changed since the original came out, twenty-five or so years ago.