The Karate Kid Remake Reflected A Familiar Struggle For Jackie Chan
Everyone loves a good underdog story. “The Karate Kid” is as best as it gets.
In the 2010 film, Jaden Smith’s Dre Parker has his life upended when he moves to China with his mom (Taraji P. Henson), finding himself in a stranger’s land. Dre doesn’t speak any Mandarin. He gets picked on endlessly by the school bully, and he struggles to make friends. It also doesn’t help that he is much smaller than his peers and gets thrashed for standing up for himself. Every day he goes to school, wishing it’ll be a different day, and every day he returns home having lost hope. Dre’s life changes when he becomes a protégé of Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), a former kung fu master-turned-local handyman who promises to teach him real kung fu and self-defense. What transpires next is an inspiring, rousing tale of an underdog who rises to great ranks. While the story is a remake of the semi-autobiographical 1984 film — it’s a story Jackie Chan related to a lot when he first arrived in Hollywood.
From a stuntman to a hero
Jackie Chan is a household name today, but the actor endured many years of hard work and far too many injuries to establish himself in mainstream cinema. When filming “The Karate Kid,” Chan recognized just how much he resonated with the fish-out-of-water plot, having moved from Hong Kong to Hollywood, like Dre moved from Detroit to Beijing.
Ahead of the film’s release, the actor shared with BBC News that Dre’s storyline was “exactly” like his life story. While Chan didn’t face any bullies as Dre did, he struggled to settle in a new country where people spoke a different language. He went to school every day, where he was questioned about his background, and his reasons for coming to Hollywood.
“It’s exactly like me! Except nobody bullied me. I went by myself to Hollywood, I spoke no English, every day I had to go to school.”
Chan was interrogated to no end. Every day, he answered the same questions:
“Where are you from? Hong Kong. What’s your name? Jackie Chan. Why do you come to Hollywood? I want to make kung fu movies. Every day! Ah … just very very tough for me.”
He was unhappy with the image conveyed by his stardom
Before the actor turned to Hollywood, Jackie Chan had multiple credits as a stuntman and an acrobat, starring alongside Bruce Lee as an extra in “Fist of Fury.” Six years later, he had established himself in the slapstick kung fu comedy genre with his role in “Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow.”
Soon after, Chan found significant success in Asia, thanks to his work in “Drunken Master,” an action-comedy film that made drunken boxing a new trend for kung fu comedies that came after. It propelled Chan to stardom, but the actor wasn’t pleased about being looked up to in that way. The actor explained that his priorities from starring in successful box office movies had changed, and he began caring about the characters he was playing. He wanted to inspire people, sure, but not inspire them to replicate his kung fu, especially the drunken style of fighting displayed in “Drunken Master.” He continued to BBC News:
“When I was young I didn’t care about education, just money and box office. People just copied all the bad things I was doing in movies.”
Chan went over his experience at the time and made sure the “Drunken Master” sequel would inspire a different lesson. After the first film taught people “how to drink and fight,” the second featured the principles of “Don’t drink, don’t fight.”
The Hong Kong superstar wanted to make meaningful films
The action star wanted to “do something meaningful” in his career, and with “The Karate Kid,” Jackie Chan did precisely that. Chan felt an affinity for the story because he was Dre Parker once, too. Being thrown into a different culture was “frightening” to him (via Emanuel Levy, Cinema 24/7). It’s no wonder the film is so close to his heart:
“I understand the fish-out-of-water story … About 30 years ago, I went to America for the first time by myself. When you’re in a completely different culture, it’s very frightening.”
Speaking about his character and recounting how a teacher also learns from his student, the actor said: “At first Mr. Han thinks he is only helping this bullied boy, but in the end, his life is also transformed.”
Jackie Chan will be next seen in “Ride On,” a Chinese comedy film that tells the story of a washed-up martial artist, Lao Luo (Chan), who is devoted to his stunt horse but must give him away due to his debts. The film is expected to be released in December 2022.