Saturday, February 19, 2011

The 2010 Karate Kid Movie

I recently viewed the 2010 version of the Karate Kid. The original Karate Kid I and II movies, starring Pat Morita and Ralph Macchio, were amazing. The messages they expressed and the interaction between the Japanese and American cultures were insightfully written and portrayed. The cinematography was exceptional. And the music was magical and an integral element to these Karate Kid hits.

The basic theme of this new Karate Kid was the same except this movie took place in China and was about Kung Fu. Jaden Smith turned out another really good performance. And this was some of the best acting I've seen from Jackie Chan. And while it was wonderful getting a glimpse of China in this film, a more accurate title would have been, "The Kung Fu Kid."

I remember feeling the same way after seeing the movie Hachi with Richard Gere. I have had three Akitas and I treasure the relationships I've had with each of them. I have an Akita Service Dog now. I'd read the book so I was excited to see the movie Hachi. The original story takes place in Japan. It is about a Japanese man and his loyal dog Hachi. This man took the train to work and his Akita walked with him to the train and everday met him when the train brought his favorite human back home.

One day the man died at work and for more than ten years his Akita went to the train station and waited for him to return. The whole town was taken with this Akita's love and devotion. So much so that they re-named their province Akita. There was a lovingly created statue in Hachi's honor at the train station and to this day it is a place where people make their own promises of undying love and devotion to one another. It is a beautiful story and a pretty big deal in Japan. The opportunity to share the Japanese countryside and share this touching story with a U.S. audience would have had a profound affect.

So what actually happened? The story was completely re-written. In the new version a Japanese Akita was flown to the U. S. and it got lost in transit where an American professor found him. Joan Allen, the actress who played his wife, gave yet another dull, frigid performance. And the story line was typical. It was impossible to believe that of these characters had any feelings for one another, let alone for the Akita in the movie. There was only one Japanese-American actor, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, in the film. And he gave a stellar, if brief performance. I remember thinking, this is such an insult. I am surprised Richard Gere took part in this project.

So again I am left with an "I don't get it," feeling. Why is the beauty of the Japanese culture being erased out of American films?

When I was very young I spent the summers with my sister with our Granparents, in the country. Grandma started teaching me Latin when I was about ten. And when Grandma read to us before bed she read Shakespere and Walt Whitman and Robert Frost. When I was about 12 she introduced me to the teachings of Confucius. And that was it for me. I studied Confucius and then discovered the wisdom of Lao Tzu and studied the Tao and then I read Siddhartha and studied Buddhism. Ghandi has remained one of my favorite authors and leaders and I had a dear friend who was a Tibetan Lama who was one of the most kind and loving people I have ever known. So my exposure to these different cultures were based on their philosophies, teachings and cultures. I was ignorant of the history of their countries of origin until much later in life.

I did not know anything about the history of China or Japan or India or Tibet. All I knew was that I greatly appreciated the beautiful, wise and straight forward observations and teachings and approaches to life these teachers shared.

It wasn't until a few years ago that I began to learn more about the complex and often bloody history of these countries. I found out that China and Japan had been at war with each other for eight years and they had experienced great oppression and cruelty during those times. And the people of Tibet had suffered unspeakable torture and murder from their Chinese occupiers. And when we tangled with Japan or Korea or Viet Nam many hearts were also broken. War and the refusal to treat one another with honor and respect has a way of leaving devastation in its wake. So I was unaware that these conflicts existed. All I had in my mind was an idealized version of Asia which was brilliant, gracious and honorable and I cherished the beauty of their collective wisdom.

Knowing now that there have been times of violent inner conflict and terrible wars between them; it strikes me that changing a Japanese story and making it a Chinese story with a Japanese title is really distasteful. Each culture has an abundance of history and all kinds of wisdom to share.

I bet there are plenty of Japanese-American actors, directors and actresses and writers that would welcome the work in their own country, the USA. The original Karate Kid I and II had such actors and they were genuine and gave wonderful performances. Every week I see touching performances when I watch Japanese foreign films. So I don't understand why we aren't seeing Japanese artists featured in contemporary Japanese stories made here in America.

All that being said, I am a huge fan of Japanese Indies and Karate and Kung Fu movies. I have been an addict for a long time. And I appreciate the beauty of all of these ancient cultures. Of course, that is easy for me to say.

Still, I can't help but think that if Hollywood is going to Americanize a film they should give the new version an appropriate title.

If you are interested in seeing some good action, martial arts movies I recommend: Rashomon; Seven Samurai; Ip Man; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Jet Li's Hero; Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior and the original Karate Kid I and II movies. These are some amazing action flicks with wisdom and historical or mythical significance and they are totally kickin. I encourage you to take the plunge into a few different cultures and explore them. These films are complex and they will challenge you to understand human nature in new ways.

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