Remake vs. Original: “The Karate Kid”


Angela Wong, News Editor

In “The Karate Kid” (1984), Daniel LaRusso (played by Ralph Macchio) kept audiences at the edge of their seats as his momentous crane kick led the young martial artist to victory. Audiences were able to relive the somewhat nostalgic magic of karate kicks and roaring cheers from the crowd 26 years later in its 2010 remake. “The Karate Kid” (2010), starring Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan, while integrating various differences into a similarly structured plotline, managed to offer viewers an exciting take on the beloved story of overcoming hardships.

The original film follows LaRusso as he moves from New Jersey to Southern California with his mother. He soon becomes the target of a group of bullies from his high school; with the help of martial arts master Mr. Miyagi, LaRusso trains to compete against them. In its remake, it’s 12-year-old Dre Parker that is train- ing alongside Mr. Han in an attempt to improve his kung fu to defeat his school bully, Cheng. While there is a considerable age difference between LaRusso and Parker, the stakes are high for both, and there is the same amount of physical violence shown on screen.

While the framework of the two films is similar, even down to the title, the remake’s plot takes on a few variations: for one, Parker learns kung fu to defend himself, contrary to the title, thus resulting in the change from a Japanese to Chinese martial arts master. Furthermore, Parker does not move across the country; rather, he and his mother experience a cultural and linguistic shift as they leave the U.S. for China. “The Karate Kid” undergoes a cultural shift of its own: the 1984 film featured a heavily white cast and was fully in English; in 2010, the film stemmed out from this original plotline to offer bilingual dialogue and more cultural representation behind kung fu. While “jacket on, jacket off” can’t replace “wax on, wax off,” the landscape shots of China pull the remake together and truly captivate the audience with more high-quality filming than what was available in the original.

This top-tier filming comes into play in the most famous scene of the movie: the last moments of the tournament where the bully loses to the now empowered karate kid. The crane kick is surely iconic and leads LaRusso to victory as his mother and schoolmates rush to him, ending the film with a sweet happily ever after. Yet, the moment audiences have been waiting for is exactly that: short and sweet. The scene lacks close-ups of the kid who has everything to lose or the worried parent on the sidelines, thus lacking in complexity. This is where the remake wins: the camera focuses in on Parker and the mental anguish he experiences as he stands face-to-face with his enemy, Cheng, who faces extreme pressure from his kung fu teacher and from his own determination to defeat Parker, Mr. Han, who, unlike Mr. Miyagi’s glare at the Cobra Kai teacher, wears a face of caution and worry for his student and Mrs. Parker, who’s uncertain over her sons’ safety in the tournament. While the 1984 film is indeed a classic, the remake successfully offers a varying outlook on a similar plot and added touches of complexity that audiences will cherish.