I loved The Karate Kid. The original movie that is.
I must have watched it a dozen times. It was like I couldn't get enough of Daniel (Ralph Macchio), Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) and Ali (Elisabeth Shue).
It was a movie of the early 80's - and one few others have been able to replicate.
And, then a remake came out in 2010.
The Karate Kid remake stars Jaden Smith as Dre, a 12-year-old boy who moves from Detroit, Mich. to Beijing, China after his mom accepts a new job there. Shortly after arriving in Beijing, Dre meets Mei Ying (Wenwen Han), one of his classmates who seems amused and enamored by him – much to the chagrin of another boy, Cheng (Zhenwei Wang).
After being intimidated and mistreated by a jealous Cheng, Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), the maintenance man at the building where Dre and his mom live, steps in to defend Dre and later teaches him the true art of Kung Fu – a la Mr. Miyagi.
Yes, Mr. Han is a kung fu master and, like in the original movie, he uses unusual and unorthodox methods (at least in the eyes of a western child) to teach Dre about kung fu, showing him that it's about peace, respect and maturity - not just hurting your opponent. In the end, Dre (like Daniel) gains the confidence to rise up to life's challenges and face down a bully.
I admit that I had no desire to see the remake of the classic Karate Kid. And, so, I didn't - until the other night (four years after the movie was released) when my husband and I watched it with our sons for the first time.
It’s hard for me to think of another movie that has elicited so many discussion topics for our family. Well, at least discussions not centered on wizards, spells, battles, or "the force."
That’s why I’m glad we watched the movie together – and why I’d happily put it on again for my sons at any time.
Here are 6 reasons why you should watch The Karate Kid movie remake with your children:
1. It exposes you to China and the Chinese culture. One of the stars of the movie is Beijing, China. It’s the perfect backdrop to showcase martial arts – and the shots of people practicing the art there among its local treasures are simply breathtaking.
Over the course of the film, you get to see many of the region's incredible sites, including the Forbidden City, Great Wall of China, Tiananmen Square, the Wudang Mountains, Nanyan Temple, and Beijing National Stadium (also known as Bird's Nest Stadium).
Throughout the movie, you also get a look at snippets of everyday Chinese life. Images of women doing Tai Chi and men playing ping pong in the park. Scores of kids practicing Kung Fu on the lawn of Beijing Shaolin Wushu School. People riding the train through the Chinese countryside.
And, then there’s the exchange of culture between two of the stars – Dre and Mei Ying. Without giving anything away, there are a few precious scenes at the start of the movie that show them appreciating the nuances of each other’s culture through food, fashion, music and dance.
2. It shows you the importance of trying to learn a new language. On the way to China, Dre and his mom (Sherry, played by Taraji P. Henson) feverishly work to try to learn a few basic Chinese phrases to help them communicate with people in their new home country.
You see Dre stumble through the language as he tries to speak it, with Mei Ying laughingly commenting that it doesn’t even sound like Chinese.
But, as the movie goes on, you see Dre’s Chinese improve – and the benefit that comes during one key scene when he reads a letter in Chinese to Mei Ying’s dad.
3. It gives you a look at how it feels to be a new kid at school. My sons started at a new international school when they were in first grade and junior kindergarten. On the first day of school, they walked into their classrooms not knowing any of the other children and not speaking the primary language.
When a new kid starts at their school, I’m always quick to remind them to go out of their way to befriend him or her since they were once the "new kid," too. That’s why I felt for Dre when he started at a brand new school, with all new kids – and he didn’t speak the primary language. I wanted him to do well, make new friends, learn the language and succeed – just like I wanted my sons to do when they first started at their new school.
Regardless, if you’re ever been the new kid or not, I think it’s beneficial to see how it feels for Dre to do so. And, maybe, it will help us all be quicker to lend a helping hand to any “new” people who enter our lives – no matter how old we are.
4. It shows you what bullying really is – and can be a good opportunity for you to address the issue together as a family. My husband and I have talked a lot about the issue of bullying with our sons – and they’ve heard it addressed at school, too. But, I think the issue was portrayed most realistically for them in The Karate Kid remake.
They’ve seen images of bullying in other movies like Harry Potter when Harry has to face the taunts of his cousin Dudley Dursely in their home growing up, and then the boasts of Draco Malfoy at Hogwart’s. But, the bullying in The Karate Kid remake felt more real – like something that could impact them or those around them, too.
The images of Dre getting bullied by Cheng are vivid and hard to swallow. But, they’re real and they help depict the issue and offer a platform for discussion.
Following the movie, we talked about what bullying is, why Cheng might have bullied Dre, and what Dre should have done to reach out for help. I hope in some way it will help our sons know to come talk to me or my husband if they feel like someone is bullying them – and that they’ll stand up if they see signs of other friends being bullied (or being bullies), too.
5. It helps show the importance of using martial arts to maintain peace versus just fighting. I think it’s easy for kids to glorify fighting – and even the use of martial arts. Often in movies and TV shows, the individuals who are masters in the discipline appear all powerful and seem unstoppable. For kids, that’s simply awesome – and something they can only dream to master as well.
In the movie, Mr. Han emphasizes the true essence of “real” kung fu, which is to keep the peace – not just be able to fight.
That lesson launched a discussion for our family about the real benefits of being a “kung fu master” – and it’s something that I hope will stay with my sons now that they’re anxious to start up martial lessons of their own.
6. It demonstrates what can be achieved with hard work, practice and determination. Without giving anything away, The Karate Kid remake has a similar ending to the original movie. If you saw the movie, you know what I mean.
In the end, Dre does learn and excel in kung fu – but it’s not without a lot of sweat and even tears. Dre surrenders himself to the beauty of the martial art and the discipline needed to succeed. His skills come with hard work, a lot of practice, and true determination.
Dre doesn’t wake up one day with awesome kung fu powers, he doesn’t have a spell cast on him, and he doesn’t get bit by a radio-active spider. All of his skills come from one thing – himself. Well, that and the beneficial influence of a good teacher who truly appreciates the art and his kung fu student.
I am glad that my sons saw what one small kid from Detroit can achieve all on his own – and the pride that comes with it. It wasn’t an easy, painless path for Dre – and that’s okay. In fact, I’m glad that’s the case.
A final note…
I do want to note that I highly suggest you watch The Karate Kid remake with your children.
The movie is rated PG, but there is a good amount of violence. Dre does get "beat up" by Cheng and his buddies, and I couldn’t help cringing whenever it happened. And, some of the kung fu scenes can be a bit intense as well – especially when one kid inflicts a pretty nasty hit on another kid. By seeing it together, I could read my sons’ reactions and address any of their emotions head on.
As I said, the beauty of the movie is the conversations we had about it – about the good and the bad – together. The movie can provide a safe forum for you to discuss topics like bullying with your kids – even if you have to pause the movie mid-scene to do so.
Have you seen the “new” Karate Kid movie? Did you watch it with your children? What did you think of it? Did it illicit any important discussions among your family? Did any other movies spur other conversations about culture, language and/or the treatment of others? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.
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