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March 26, 2010

Original ‘Karate Kid’ screenwriter says fans wonder ‘Why are you remaking this classic?’

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Rachel Abramowitz is back on the Hero Complex with a look at the past and the future of “The Karate Kid.” 

The writer of 1984’s “The Karate Kid” isn’t flipping for this summer’s remake starring young Jaden Smith, the son of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith.

Karate Kid poster

“It’s weird to have your films remade in your lifetime,”  says screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen, who has watched an Internet backlash against trailers for the June movie. “Two-thirds of the comments out there are negative: ‘Why are you remaking this classic?’ ‘It was the movie of my childhood.’ ‘It was my inspirational movie.’ ‘Why are you remaking it? Just because Jaden is a little rich kid?’  I’m wondering if those people are going to go see it.”

Kamen is best known these days as French writer-director-producer Luc Besson’s go-to collaborator on projects such as “Taken,” “The Transporter” films and “The Fifth Element,” but it’s clear he has deep (and protective) affection for the 1980s coming-of-age film that starred Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita.

In that original (which spawned three sequels) Macchio plays Daniel, a high school student who moves from New Jersey to California, where he is bullied by the locals. Morita, a handyman, agrees to teach the East Coast outsider in the ways of martial arts but the lessons are about far more than fighting.

The new revival is set in China, where 11-year old Smith portrays Dre Parker, who is even more of an outsider. Jackie Chan steps in this time as the mentor. The film opens June 11.

Kamen wasn’t invited to be part of the new production, although, per Writers Guild rules, he was sent a copy of the script and received a story credit.

“The film is exactly the film I wrote,” Kamen said. “They just changed a 17-year-old kid into an 11-year-old African American kid. They changed Reseda to Beijing. It’s exactly the same, scene for scene. I was surprised I didn’t get [screenwriter] credit.”

Karate Kid 2010

The structure may look familiar to Kamen, but not the tone.

“This version is much slicker.” Kaman said. “This version has scope, and big scenes with kung fu and beautiful scenic shots of China.”

One major thing missing is sexual frisson, Kamen points out. The first had Macchio longing for the young Elisabeth Shue. “The first one had a girl who had [breasts] and [a butt]. There was some sexual danger between these teenagers.”

He added that the date-movie crowd might stay home. “I don’t know if they’re going to want to show up. It’s now a kids’ movie.”

Kamen, with tongue in cheek, said he has scaled back his plan to see the new film with a celebrity date — Macchio. “We were going to drive up to the Chinese theater in that big yellow convertible that Mr. Miyagi gives him in the movie. Now we’re just going to dinner and the movie.”

– Rachel Abramowitz

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