Controversies Over ‘The Karate Kid’


Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan get a big YES for their work on this film, but at least three controversies swirl over this re-make of the 1984 Macchio version of “The Karate Kid.”

First of all, the casting director, Poping Auyeung, flopped when it came to casting the Asians. Though Taraji P. Henson, the mom, is really sweet – the rest of this cast and the script are not up to the caliber of the film or its stars.

Auyeung is noted as a Canadian casting director who has been working from China for the last five years casting English-speaking Asians for international film and TV roles. How much she had to do with casting Smith’s girlfriend and the blond boy who could speak Chinese is not known, but these uncomfortable choices lent an unprofessional quality to the production.

Sometimes there are competing interests in casting, and in order to showcase one lead the director wants to make sure there is no competition from the minor players. But there was no need for anxiety in this area. Smith handles this film all by himself just fine. But he must only play opposite the best so that the quality of the total film can shine forth. When he was in a scene with Jackie Chan there was magic! Casting him against kids who obviously feel awkward delivering lines only lets the audience notice that the script just isn’t too good.

Though credit is given for the story to Robert Kamen, who wrote the original version, Christopher Murphey wrote this weak screenplay. There are so many loose ends. How does a an American mom from Detroit get transferred to Beijing to work in an auto factory? What car company does this? If kung fu is not about having no mercy, then why does the Asian (he doesn’t look Chinese) teach his boys that way? Does the girl make the violin selection or not?

Besides the blatant casting gaffes and mundane script, there is the title problem.

Why call the film “Karate Kid”? Couldn’t they come up with some other name since the production neither used the same script nor karate?

“Karate Kid Goes Fung Fu,” “Karate Kid Re-Play,” “Karate Kid – Chinese Version.” Or how about putting Ralph Macchio in it and having him pass a torch, calling Smith the “Kung-Fu Kid?”

Karate was developed on Okinawa and, along with judo, is a proud Japanese tradition. Kung fu, of course, is a national Chinese martial art. Accusations of cultural insensitivity, ignorance, bias and even racism have been leveled against the film for the confusing title designation.

Jerry Weintraub, the producer of the Macchio versions, did not want to do this film. Will Smith came to him with the idea as a great project to cement his son as a star. However, using his famously instinctive good sense, Weintraub declined. So Smith sent his people to Weintraub’s every day for months until Weintraub relented. But then Weintraub insisted, despite Smith’s idea to call it “Kung Fu Kid,” to keep the original name, because he saw it as a brand – a recognizable marketing ploy.

However, one compromise was made. Weintraub allowed “Kung Fu Kid” as the film title in the People’s Republic of China, Japan and South Korean.

Was it a mistake not to give it that name everywhere?

The Chinese scenery was majestic, the acting of Smith and Chan was superb and the conveyance of the message brought tears to my eyes, but the script, casting of the other kids and film title were unfortunate.

Production Credits

Director: Harald Zwart
Producers: Jerry Weintraub, Will and Jada Pinkett Smith
Cast: Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan, Taraji P. Henson, Zhenwei Wang, Yu Rongguang, Wen Wen Han
Story: Robert Mark Kamen
Screenplay: Christopher Murphey
Casting: Poping Auyeung

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1 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. 1

    Yes, it is formulaic, but we knew that. Any story line this simplistic is going to have holes, weak spots and loose ends. Enough said.

    Now, what matters here? What matters is that from the opening scene of Jaden Smith in a full screen profile, I was blown out by the sheer power of Jaden Smith’s screen presence. For an actor of his age and experience, I was completely drawn in. The script didn’t matter. I just wanted to see more of what he could do!

    As for Jackie Chan, I loved his role here. So often we see him as a one side, martial arts gifted funny man. Watching him in this role was great. He brought something to the film that I’ve never seen in him before, but had the suspicion that it existed. Watching Jackie Chan in this role is much like watching Adam Sandler in Reign Over Me; another movie that is well worth seeing.

    Yes, Karate Kid may have missed the mark in a number of ways, but is well worth the time to watch if you can suspend judgment long enough to watch the delivery of Smith and Chan.