Friday, June 18, 2010

The Karate Kid -- the Controversy

There's been controversy in the Asian American community about the new Karate Kid.  Aly Morita, daughter of the late Pat Morita who played Karate master Mr. Miyagi in the first Karate Kid, is calling for a boycott of the movie.  Her concern is a Hollywood that perpetuates stereotypes of Asians and where the only role for Asians is the Kung Fu master as fortune cookie sage (you can read a personal account from Aly Morita about her father and what the role meant to him and his family here).  But Edward at 8Asians found himself liking the film:

When this remake was first announced, I placed this film in what I call the “Hollywood Movies That Will Possibly Make Asians Look Bad or Not Have Asians At All As Main Characters” box, which also contained The Last Airbender, The Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, Sex & The City 2, and the Red Dawn remake. These were films that I would be hard pressed to pay $12-15 for and even if word of mouth for these films were spectacular, I would rather go watch Glee or my roommate’s bunny eat the carpet floor.

But out of all the movies in my absurdly named box, I didn’t feel so strongly against The Karate Kid remake like I did for the others. I liked that Jaden Smith was playing the kid and Jackie Chan as the grizzled mentor because it meant two people of color were the main stars in a Hollywood movie. However, I would still be hesitant enough to actually pay to watch the remake, so it was something I would just check out on DVD or on TV, if I ever was that bored.

But last week on June 4th, CAPE (Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment) and Sony invited people to a special press screening for this film. The nifty thing was that the event was free and at the very least, I can watch the film to see for myself if this is yet another exercise in Hollywood Asian stereotypes.

About two hours later, I came out of the theater shockingly surprised by how much I enjoyed the movie. Immediately, I became shocked at how I actually liked it.
He also responds to some of the criticisms of the film, including that it gives the impression that everyone in China knows Kung Fu, that the American-boy-"liberates"-Asian-girl storyline is way too neo-Colonial, that Jackie Chan gets second billing after that green kid Jaden Smith, and that the movie is titled Karate Kid, when it's clearly Kung Fu that is being taught.  Brian Lam also responds to that Karate  vs. Kung Fu thing at BoingBoing:
Okay, the title of the "new" Karate Kid title may be a misnomer in the literal sense. But I don't consider the title a mistake. Some may argue that the filmmakers are demonstrating cultural insensitivity to Chinese and Japanese martial artists. But I believe the Karate/Kung Fu discrepancy can also be interpreted as masterful perception. Because a master, like Bruce Lee or Jongsanan, knows that at the core, there is no real difference between any of the martial arts. In fact, this is the very sort of provincial distinction Bruce Lee fought against throughout his life.
Oh, and then there is the stomach-turning comments at Jackie Chan's website from the racists who hate the movie because it paints African-Americans as peaceful and Chinese as violent, when we all know it's the other way around, like this oh-so-charming comment from Tim:

Mr. Chan you are a politically correct pig. If you were really a man you would have bowed out on this project. Blacks are the most violent people on the planet and people of oriental descent the most pleasant (I am a white man FWIW), and the former abuse the latter here in America. Why not produce a film where a slight Chinese kid gets attacked by blacks and fights back? Oh, that's right it would show the grim reality, and you are too much of a coward to show that, as it would threaten your career. You have sold out your own people and the truth for money.
To cleanse your palette after that awful comment, you must read the absolutely hilarious live-blogging/review from Jen (and her Hardass Asian Mama -- her name, not mine!) at Disgrasian. No simple quote will do it justice, so you have to read the whole thing (spoiler alert!), but she picks up on a race issue, too:

Back in Beijing, the Karate Kid and Mini-Tamlyn [the Chinese love-interest] play hooky together, which involves them running all around the city with her violin. OMG IS EVERYONE IN THIS MOVIE A NERD??? But that almost makes her late for her big audition for the Beijing Academy of Music, which pisses off her parents, which makes them give the Karate Kid funny looks when they meet him. (Or is it because he’s black? Hmm.) Anyway, my HAM [Hardass Asian Mama] thinks the ambiguity of Mini-Tamlyn’s Hardass Asian Parents’ disapproval makes Chinese people look bad (and by bad, she means, “racist”).
So have you seen the movie?  I took the girls yesterday, and I'll tell you all about that in my next post!

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