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

March 26, 2010 | 5:56 p.m.

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

  1. Brett says:

    You almost hit the nail on the head with the question, "Because Jaden is a little rich kid?" It's being remade because Will Smith is a VERY rich kid, and has the kind of clout to push his little boy onto the public in movies like "Pursuit of Happyness," the dreadful remake of "The Day the Earth Stood Still," and now a new "Karate Kid." I predict that in about 9 years, Jaden will be starring in a remake of "Top Gun," unless Will and Jada Pinkett Smith somehow lose their pull in Hollywood between now and then.

  2. Fabrisse says:

    Everyone I know who's seen the new trailer has adored it.
    I can't wait to see the new film. I love the idea that the new movie features an African-American lead — and I liked Mr. Smith in "The Day the Earth Stood Still." Plus, who can go wrong with Jackie Chan as a martial arts instructor?

  3. Javier From Chino says:

    The "Crain technique" scene was so classic, that it should've qualified from being remade. I'm sure the new movie will try to show a different move, but it will never be the same. You see people do the crane in movies, cartoons, and even amongst ourselves when we play fight. Some movies should simply be left alone and the original Karate Kid is one of them. (If you also watch the previews of the new movie, they always refer to Kung Fu, so shouldn't this actually be called the Kung Fu Kid?)

  4. arcee says:

    My question is: Why are you, instead of remaking this classic, just close the circle with Ralph Maccio taking on the Miyagi "sensi" role?
    Scene: Once Daniel-san, now Sensi Daniel meditating in a small part of his Korean-style patio where stands a tiny shrine with the picture of Miyagi on the wall beside two sticks of incense. The cocky new kid arrives complaining that he still doesn't know how to fight and is tired of all the manual labor he's been forced to do. Daniel smiles.
    That's a movie I'd pay to see.

  5. EJ says:

    More breast-beating over the remake of The Karate Kid *sigh*. I was already tired of that by January. I understand being fond of a movie from your childhood, but I don't understand the wailing and teeth-gnashing I've seen over the remake, especially early on. In my universe 'The Karate Kid' was not that big of a deal — it was a nice little movie with good perfomances, not 'Gone with the Wind'. And let's face it, unless a movie is a major hit like GWTW or maybe 'Star Wars' it's almost certain to be up for a remake at some point or another. The wonder to me is that they waited this long to remake it. If you think the original Karate Kid was an incredible movie and you loved it I can understand that you might want to skip the new one, but please skip the dramatics over the idea of a remake.

  6. JL says:

    People may be up in arms about this being a remake but from the trailer it looks like it is going to be a much better movie than the original. Lil Jaden Smith looks like he has actually learned martial arts and the cinematography is first class. I grew up with the Karate Kid franchise but as I look back on it, I realize that the movies weren't that good. The writing was poor, the acting was poor, the script became stale, and the action sequences left a lot to be desired. In conclusion…the original Karate Kid movie was good for its time but this younger generation needs more visual stimulation and action to keep them in their seats. I'm taking my twins to see this one so I can go see it…LOL.

  7. Salim says:

    First of all why is it called "Karate Kid" they aren't in Japan, it should be called "Kung Fu Kid" are the writers stupid, do they not know there is a huge difference in fighting styles? W/e….. anyway I hope it's good

  8. sassy says:

    rich or not jaden you did a good job. Will continue to be the wind under your son winds much love

  9. Ted says:

    They are remaking this because Hollywood has no ideas left. What studios do come out with is usualy from a script that they stole from a writer, in the case of Warner Bros and their Matrix.

  10. I agree that it's odd to be able to witness a re-make of a movie that was released in my lifetime — and not so long ago, really — but the funny thing is that when they pitch it to kids it's all new again. My 7-year old has no idea there even was another movie that bears the same name, and she has no idea who Ralph Macchio is, of course. She just wants to see the cool action movie with Jackie Chan — who she only knows of from the last silly kids' movie he did as an undercover secret agent instead of the coolest action hero since Bruce Lee (see, e.g., Drunken Master). Everything is the new new thing when you're 7.

  11. David says:

    Wow, the kid in the new Karate Kid looks, sounds, dresses and moves just like the kid form the adult swim cartoon "The Boondocks". Talk about being out of original ideas, basing the main character on a cartoon.
    Also at 0:43 into the trailer, the mentor tells the child "I will teach you kung fu" So should this movie be called "The Kung Fu Kid" instead?
    Also, dispite whatever level of A.D.D the average american currently has. No one gonna buy the plot of an 11 yr old black kid from the US going to china, becoming a black belt and kicking every chinese bullies butt in Chairman Mao city all before his 12th birthday.

  12. Char Musillo says:

    ok, so they are in CHINA, doing KUNGFU, it's jackie chan who is CHINESE, and it's called karate kid??!?! (karate is japanese and so was mr. miyagi)… should have just called it "the kungfu kid"

  13. Richard Pelletier says:

    I really want this movie to be successful, but please change the name! It is not KARATE! Can we get a campaign started to have the movie renamed before it is too late? Or is it too late.

  14. Heisenberg says:

    A tragedy. One might as well remake Citizen Kane. I hope WILLIAM ZABKA pops out of the shadows with his skeleton face paint on and challenges Will Smith Jr. to a duel! That is the only way this sad vehicle shall be acceptable!

  15. Andre says:

    I watched the original and loved it. It was cheesy, but so what? It was aimed at a young crowd, and this one is as well. Guess what? Those of you who are complaining, you aren't the target audience anymore. If you like the original, go rent it. Have fun reliving your childhood. But you're going to look foolish to kids once this one comes out — the crane might be replaced.
    And whether it's called Karate Kid or Kung Fu Kid is irrelevant because the majority of you don't know the difference between martial arts anyway.

  16. Robert says:

    I can see no point in remaking the film. It is good enough as it is. Surely if Will Smith is looking for a vehicle to make his kid a star, I am sure that there is another script out there worth putting into production.
    Jackie Chan is a likable guy but no one can replace the wonderful performance of Pat Morita.

  17. Billy Fury says:

    Maybe the term "classic" needs to be re-defined. Though the original is a well beloved film for a certain generation, it is far from a classic. I'm sure many kids today do not have not seen the original, nor care to. I don't know why people harp about the lack of creativity in Hollywood, due to all of the remakes. In the theatre, classic plays are constantly re-staged and re-interpreted. What's the difference? Is Shakespeare rolling in his grave because companies are still producing versions of "Hamlet?" Doubt it. Does Neil Simon forbid the staging of his well known works? No. If you have problems with remakes, don't go to see them.

  18. Princess1986 says:

    I HATE the fact that every freaking movie is being remade now days. I love Will Smith and his family but, I think this movie will be crap. Hollywood has officially ran out of ideas. Wtf? How many movies can be remade and who is dropping these millions of dollars to remake movies? I feel disgusted by directors and actors willing to be in movies that end up being shittier than than the original. I think someone should give me a a budget and I would come up with a way better movie that we have seen in the past two years and I'm a complete amateur. I say f*** Hollywood and their multi million dollar actors and directors who aren't anything but rich people doing anything for money. AMERICA why are we supporting people who make crap movies? It's your money that goes in to their pockets when you go see these movies. This has nothing to do with race because I noticed people being proud that the new kid is black. American is not a color but, the original Karate kid was white and so was the original Catwoman. That is just a fact. And well this movie should of been named something else. You can't beat great classic movie with special effects and Jackie Chan sorry. This is just a kid movie that will never be anything more.

  19. stevemartinz says:

    What are you people smoking? You can't call this movie Karate Kid because it has no Karate in it, the only mention of Karate is that Little Smiths character knows just enough Karate to get beat up. Jackie Chan teaches him Kung Fu, why call it Karate Kid when it should have been Kung Fu Kid or Martial Arts Kid. This is like naming a movie Mr Football but playing Rugby instead. It's sad that just because someone has the money to produce a film, they can just go around and ruin a classic. Poor Mr Miyagi must be rolling over right now.

  20. mona says:

    Dre Parker is a kid teaching himself Karate = The Karate Kid until Mr. Han comes along and teaches him Kung Fu. Because Mr. Han teaches Dre Kung Fu doesn't mean the movie HAS to be called The Kung Fu Kid.

  21. Wow says:

    “They just changed a 17-year-old kid into an 11-year-old African American kid." -Kamen

    The statement above told me all I needed to know. why cant both be just kids, insidious stupidity coming from the maker of a homogenous mediocre film, that has been rewritten far better than the original.

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