If you were still growing up in or around 1984, like me you might still carry a torch for John G. Avildsen's The Karate Kid. It's hard enough to create one lasting tale of an underdog in such a dime-a-dozen genre, let alone the rarity of creating two of the best ever, along with Rocky. (Although David Anspaugh did a pretty nice job with Hoosiers and Rudy too.) The formula is almost always a done deal and we know it is going to end with a big game and a victory for our heroes. Remaking that formula with an already existing property seems doubly pointless and some of you, like me, wish you could join in the protest of remakes starting with one from the director of The Pink Panther 2. Even if you possess a mild curiosity towards the 2010 edition of The Karate Kid, you may as well save your money because you have already seen it. In fact, it might be the closest scene-for-scene remake to come along since Gus Van Sant's Psycho - and I've got 15 ways to prove it.
THE FORGOTTEN FRIEND
Remember Daniel LaRusso's first friend when he got to California? The guy he introduced himself to with a kicked door to the face? Freddie was his name. He invited Daniel to the beach, played sand soccer and was poised to be his new best buddy in the world. That is, until, Freddie's pals were none too impressed at the new guy getting his ass kicked and he walked away in shame. Jaden Smith's Dre Parker also makes a quick friend with, lucky him, the only caucasian in China that speaks English. This little blond moppet plays basketball with him, watches his new American friend take a beating and then we never hear from him again. Until he is seen in the stands at the end next to Dre's mom. Just like Freddie did, showing up for Daniel's tournament and then on the mat congratulating his victory as if he were Amanda Wyss in Better Off Dead, ready to be his friend again. On behalf of the LaRussos and bandwagon fans everywhere, F-off Freddie!
THE GIRL WHO LAUNCHED A THOUSAND KICKS
Daniel LaRusso got his first glimpse at Ali Mills in a striped-purple bikini. Dre Parker meets his more demure paramour, Meiying, studying in the park. She is only 12 after all and not prone to incite the same feelings as a then 20-something Elisabeth Shue. Dre is certainly more interested in her than basketball. Unfortunately for him, just as Ali had recently broken up with bike-ridin', headband-wearin' Johnny Lawrence, Meiying is also believed to be promised in some way or another to the son of a family friend. This Cheng boy warns Dre to stay away, but he doesn't listen and has to teach this "karate kid" a lesson. Dre, like Daniel, does get in a cheap surprise shot to the face. It only angers his challenger though and leaves the boy bloodied and alone.
THE BABY BROWNS
That's what Daniel's mom, Lucille, called her boy's eyes. He tried to sneak out the house wearing sunglasses and drinking his Minute Maid. Lucille demanded a peek though leading to the reveal of a giant shiner to which her son may as well have blamed on an abusive husband. Always falling off the bike this guy. Dre actually makes it all the way to school with his mom before having to take off his sunglasses and making an excuse.
Mr. Miyagi finally gets around to fixing the LaRusso's faucet. When he comes in he notices Daniel practicing karate from a book. Jackie Chan's now monikered Mr. Han arrives to fix the Parker's shower and sees Dre learning moves from TV.
CHINESE WATER TORTURE
Neither Daniel nor Dre know when to leave well enough alone. After bemoaning he can't go to the school dance for fear of being seen, Miyagi builds him a shower costume. Seeing an opportunity for revenge, he puts a hose over the stall of joint-rolling Johnny and gets him all wet. Dre must have seen the same movie and tries the trick in broad daylight throwing a bucket of water on Cheng and his cronies in an alley. Both actions come with consequences as the bullies track down Daniel and Dre and start punching and kicking again. Both times they are saved by their building's handyman. The owner of Arnold's diner took out a gang of skeleton-costumed teenage punks. The well-known martial arts superstar beats the hell out of a bunch of twelve year olds. Again, in broad daylight.
This is where Richard Gere and Kim Basinger show up. Just kidding. The final analysis of the dojo scenes is that they may be what Ralph Macchio's prosecutor would call "I-DENTICAL." Miyagi and Han are hesitant to teach Daniel and Dre how to defend themselves so they look for mercy with the bad guy's teacher. Guess what? He's an even worse guy with a horrible mantra. In these scenes the elders do all the talking. Bad teacher is amused that "the odds" might be what's bothering (soon-to-be) good teacher and offers a one-on-one match with Johnny and Cheng, respectively. Better idea? Fight in the upcoming tournament. Just leave Daniel and Dre alone until then. Deal. Only if the boys don't show, it is "open season" on student and handyman. The difference between these two scenes is not as obvious. John Kreese from 1984 came from the armed forces. Reasonable to speculate he may have been in Vietnam and was now (or then) coming from a racist's place to corrupt a once honorable martial art from that corner of the world, adding an extra element to his villainy. 2010's sensei is just a jerk from China.
"I PROMISE TO TEACH KARATE"
Mr. Miyagi was from Okinawa. Mr. Han resides in China. One taught Karate. The new guy teaches Kung Fu, the same practice learned by the bear a few years back in the hit animated film, Karate Panda. That wasn't the title? Then why is this called The KARATE Kid instead of The KUNG FU Kid? Either write something that conforms to the very title you are trying to draw audiences in with its familiarity or make a new movie altogether.
Daniel LaRusso and Mr. Miyagi got a lot more out of their time together than just learning Karate. Daniel learned the value of a hard day's work and Miyagi saved money on painters, sanders and car washes. Paint the fence. Sand the floor. Wax on, wax off. None of it a metaphor for masturbation. Everything was literal and it became Karate 101 for the kid. The lesson that Dre learns from Mr. Han is how to hang up one's jacket and not just throw it on the floor. That's the extent of Dre's introduction to Kar...Kung-Fu. "Jacket on. Jacket off." And coming from Jackie Chan's lips (especially when he sounds out each syllable), it does sound like a more valuable lesson to get Dre through puberty.
CRANE VS. COBRA
Miyagi's "crane technique" that Daniel catches him practicing - "if do right, no can defense." And LaRusso proved that by catching Johnny by surprising and laying him out in a single tournament-winning kick to the face. Certainly one of the most satisfying comeuppances of a villain of all time. Little Jaden reportedly didn't want to have the crane kick. Not xBox enough for him. So the new move consists of staring down a cobra and getting the thing to follow your every move. Basically a drunk test with a snake. It's a shame Dre's opponent does not know the way of the crane.
VIDEO GAMES CAN GET YOU LAID
"I guess we are going to Golf n' Stuff," Daniel says sheepishly to Ali's wealthy parents. How could he forget that there was "this cool new game" she wanted to show him? This was 1984 and the height of the arcade boom, after all, and Ali was into it. So score! In 2010 China, Meiying also takes Dre to an arcade and schools him in some Dance Dance Revolution version of Poker Face much to his delight. For those keeping track, this is now the second PG-rated film of the year to feature a sequence involving an extended play of the Lady Gaga song. Percy Jackson was the first. How many parents will now have to revisit the conversation over the lyrics about "Russian Roulette", "rough love" and "I'll get him hot, show him what I've got?"
BAD FIRST IMPRESSIONS
Not only does Daniel show up to get Ali with his "ma" and knock out a brick on her porch, but the dang car won't start in front of her tennis-playin' folks. How embarrassing. Dre shows up to Meiying's big recital and makes what is apparently the cultural equivalent of peeing on the floor over there. He applauds at the end. This is met not with graciousness but a decree by Meiying's papa forbidding Dre to see his daughter ever again. Dre must then regain his honor by giving a Cyrano-like apology to the dad like a disgraced athlete reading a prepared statement from his lawyer.
BETTER THAN NO FAMILY AT ALL
Daniel finds Miyagi at his most vulnerable; drunk and in his military fatigues toasting the anniversary of his wife's death in childbirth. In a relocation camp, no less. It is a very sad scene that further cements the father/son bond between the two. Miyagi falls asleep, Daniel tucks him in and the next montage shows the kid continuing his lessons himself so as not to bother his friend and mentor in his time of grief. Mr. Han also lost a wife and child. In an automobile accident. In a car he keeps in his living room, no less. (And he waxes it.) Han also knocks a few back when Dre makes this discovery. Only this insensitive little punk puts the training sticks into Han's hands and goads him back to his feet to continue training like a pet craving attention. I believe the line of dialogue, "hey old man, forget them fools, we's gots a tournament to win" was cut from the final print.
THE OTHER KARATE/KUNG-FU KID
Remember the other underdog in the 1984 tournament? He was kicking some big, fat Cobra Kai butt. Literally, there was a big fat Cobra Kai guy he kicked in the chest. Dude's name was Vidal. Darryl Vidal. The latter his real name, the former his character's name just so there is no confusion. The guy's only movie credit was The Karate Kid and he will always be the guy who would have faced Daniel in the finals if Johnny didn't beat him first. I bring this up less to point out that there's another semi-finalist given equal time in the remake but to salute the guy who created the very crane kick that Jaden Smith didn't want.
YOU WANT ME TO DO WHAT?
"Sweep the leg." Those three words from Sensei Kreese directed at putting LaRusso out of commission were a catch phrase in the making. Fun to say at pee-wee soccer games, too. Unless the new chapter of the Cobra Kai do glee club in their spare time, I'm not sure "break his leg" is going to catch on the same way and is really just poor sportsmanship.
Earlier in both versions, Miyagi and Han both heal their protege with some special method. Miyagi warmed his hands and did something mystical under Daniel's clothes to make him feel better. Mr. Han does something involving fire and empty beakers as if he were Lance Burton. And like Daniel, Dre asks Han for a second helping so he can fight in the finals.
Those who want to see the true difference between the original film and the remake, it all comes together in this very scene where Jaden Smith cannot come close to reciprocating the heartbreaking plea by Ralph Macchio's Daniel to find balance to his life by being given a shot at standing up to his enemy in a fair fight. It is as automated a performance as the project's conception and it will have you immediately reevaluating Macchio's skills as an actor. 2010's Karate Kid may dare to poke fun at the original by showing Mr. Han waxing his damaged car or catching a fly first with his swatter before chopsticks, but it fails to capture everything that made it unique. Unless blatantly copying it counts as capturing.