Go ahead, remake my day

By Chris Betros

The other day I went to see the remake of “The Karate Kid.” I went with some trepidation because the original 1984 film is so iconic and one of my favorite films. Remakes of popular films and big-screen versions of hit TV series can be nostalgic for some, while for others, they interfere with cherished memories.

I was happy that the new “Karate Kid,” which stars Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan in the Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita roles, didn’t ruin my memories of the original. In fact, after seeing it, I watched the original one again to see how the new one stacked up against it: In some parts, the new one was better; in others, it wasn’t.

Hollywood is bombarding us with remakes, sequels and movie versions of TV series (“The A-Team,” for one). According to the Hollywood Reporter, 11 sequels or franchise films will open or have already opened in the U.S. this summer. Among them are “Iron Man 2,” “Sex and the City 2,” “Shrek Forever,” Toy Story 3” and “The Twilight Saga.” As for movie remakes, we have already had “Clash of the Titans,” “The Wolfman,” Robin Hood” and “Sherlock Holmes.” Last year, there was “The Taking of Pelham 123” and “Star Trek,” among others. Before that, it was “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” “The Pink Panther” and so on and so on.

Remakes of earlier films are nothing new. Hollywood has been doing it for 100 years, not only remaking its own films but also foreign movies, including countless Japanese horror and samurai films. But it seems to be happening with greater frequency recently. Is there such a creative drought in Hollywood? These days, the best writing is done on TV dramas and comedies and there are some brilliantly written shows. So why can't we get brilliantly written movie screenplays?

What possesses producers to resurrect TV shows from the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s (some of which weren’t that good to begin with – “Charlie’s Angels”) and hope that they will appeal to modern audiences? One reason is because they think that old TV shows already have built-in brand awareness. It’s a pity that they don’t make movie versions of popular TV series during their heyday, but tight weekly production schedules don’t allow for that. In some cases, they wait until after the series finishes, and then bring back the original cast for the big screen, such as with “Star Trek,” “The X-Files” and “Sex and the City,” for example. A film version of “24” is in the works after the drama ended its 8-season run this year.

What makes a memorable TV series is not just one episode. It is watching season after season – some good episodes, some bad – creating an emotional bond between the viewer and the characters. If you are a fan, then you have grown up on these shows; so many memories, often childhood ones, are associated with them. The characters are part of the family. Year after year, we invited them into our livingrooms and now that we are grown up, we still invite them into our homes on DVDs. The old actors are too associated with their characters to allow anyone else in.

That bond cannot be duplicated with one movie, a sequel or a big-screen version 20 years later. "The A-Team" movie is just a lot of noise to modern young audiences who get fidgety if there isn't a car chase or explosion every 10 minutes. The cinematic graveyard is full of remakes of TV shows that disappeared into oblivion, among them, “Miami Vice,” “SWAT,” “Bewitched,” “Starsky and Hutch,” “I Spy,” “The Dukes of Hazzard,” “Dennis the Menace,” “The Beverly Hillbillies,” "Car 54, Where Are You?" and “The Mod Squad," to name a few. The only ones that have been successful at the box office were Tom Cruise’s three “Mission: Impossible” films (though none of them captured the spirit of the vintage TV series), “Get Smart” (which wasn’t THE “Get Smart” to devotees like me), and Brian De Palma’s 1987 version of “The Untouchables.”

The other day, I read that Russell Crowe will reprise Edward Woodward’s role as “The Equalizer” – a 1985-89 series. There is even talk of a film version of “I Dream of Jeannie” (the mind boggles), with Jessica Alba’s name rumored. Meanwhile, a pilot has been made for a contemporary “Hawaii 5-0.” I mean, come on, surely we’re not going to see the big wave, hear the famous soundtrack and watch someone else turn around on the balcony as Steve McGarrett for the opening credits. Jack Lord will turn over in his grave.

Getting back to movies, admittedly, there are some films that could do with a remake, or which can be improved upon technically because of the special effects wizardry available today. More often than not, though, the story and “the feel” that made the earlier film special are lost amid the effects. The abysmal 2008 film, “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” and Steven Spielberg’s disappointing “War of the Worlds” in 2005 are two examples of that.

'Karate Kid' part of pop culture

With “The Karate Kid,” the challenge is remaking a movie that has become part of pop culture. I remember chatting with the late Pat Morita when he came to Japan in the mid-1980s (to promote the second film in the series, I think). Before “The Karate Kid,” the only times I had seen Morita were as a servant in an episode of “Columbo,” in “MAS*H, and as Arnold in “Happy Days.” Yet, now, he was strongly identified with his character wherever he went. Morita, who spoke flawless English (unlike Mr Miyagi), said he couldn’t count the number of people who had come up to him, saying “Wax on, wax off” or “Always look eye.” He was also amused at how many people told him they had tried the crane kick technique. Yeah, we all did it.

Morita made an interesting point about “The Karate Kid.” Until then, most martial arts films had concentrated on the physical aspect. Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris made great action films and the martial arts scenes were fantastic but there were no signature training techniques like “Wax on, wax off, paint the fence,” etc, that stuck in audiences’ minds. Nor have there been since, really. The films of Steven Seagal and Jet Li are about mashing and bashing, while Jackie Chan’s films have tended to be more comedy.

Morita said that by focusing on the spiritual (not to be confused with religious) aspect of the discipline, he believed “The Karate Kid” had inspired who knows how many teenagers in the U.S. and probably other countries to learn karate. It crossed all borders and cultures, he said.

Trivia note: The title didn’t cross all borders. For Japan, both the original film, its three sequels and the remake are titled “Best Kid.” I asked the movie distributor about this way back then and the consensus was that “Karate Kid” sounded too cartoonish.

So will the new film become iconic? Not likely, but parts of it will be memorable and stand on their own. Perhaps director Harald Zwart, who was responsible for “The Pink Panther 2” remake, learned from his mistakes. There has been some initial lampooning of its title by critics who carp that it should be “The Kung Fu Kid,” since it is set in China where the Jaden Smith character learns kung fu from his mentor. But it’s a brand name. When “The Manchurian Candidate” was remade in 2004, they got away with that one by calling the rogue company Manchurian Global.

Anyway, remakes will always be money earners for studios. By the way, Japanese producers are getting into the act, too. Last year, there was a Japanese version of "Sideways," and a Japanese version of the 1990 weepie "Ghost" is planned for next year, with Nanako Matsushima in the Demi Moore role.

The challenge is to stay faithful to the original while making the story fresh. It can be done successfully -- Christopher Nolan did it with two Batman films, JJ Abrams did it last year with “Star Trek” (but no more please; it won't work a second time) and Guy Richie breathed life into “Sherlock Holmes.” When he was in Japan promoting “Sherlock Holmes,” co-star Jude Law said the film was an attempt to introduce a generation of moviegoers to the famous detective, even though he has been around for more than 100 years in literature, films and TV.

Fair enough, but in some ways, that’s a shame. I know so many people who have seen very few movies made before 2000. They’ve never seen anything made by Alfred Hitchcock, Frank Capra, Billy Wilder, Preston Sturges, Howard Hawks and company. Those who don’t download movies seldom make it past the New Releases shelf when they venture to their neighborhood DVD rental store. So the temptation is there for producers to dig back into the past and do some remakes. But some films shouldn’t be touched. Gus Van Sant learned that when he made a clone of Hitchcock’s “Psycho” in 1998.

As Mr Miyagi would say: “Wax off.”

"The Karate Kid" opens in Japan on Aug 14.

© Japan Today

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But some films shouldn’t be touched.

Totally agree.

I think remakes, in principle, aren't a bad thing, but sometimes the changes they make are enough to make me crazy. It's one thing to have a different perspective and putting your own spin on a classic film, but the ones that completely go off the path of what the original film was trying to convey get on my nerves, and that's what a lot of them seem to do. They're either trying TOO hard or they don't seem to care at all. There are ones that can do the different spin well, like the ones mentioned in this article. Just not enough of them are like that.

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You know, I love movies. I love music. But I cannot escape one very troubling feeling over the past several years. And that feeling is this... "Haven't I see this story before?" or "Haven't I heard this, or something exactly like this before?"

I am frustrated by the fact that so much of what we have see released as "original" over the last several years are really regurgitations of past creativity. I mean what is wrong with the current generation of both film makers and musicians?

Music sounds like rip offs of early 1980's and magazines write that is "New", "Original", "Fresh". Maybe if you were not alive in 1982, or failed to hear music since then, but so much of what we see is reword material and ideas from prior and more creative generations.

Film is even worst because we are seeing the same old stories told again and again. "Karate Kid", "Elm Street" etc.. It has been done people! Come on don't you have any original ideas?

I can see retelling classic stories like "Robin Hood" etc... but "Karate Kid?" Come on!

So here is a challenge film makers. Look out into the world around you and think of a new idea if you can. No more rehashes of over viewed movies. No more brain dead re-interpretations. Try writing something original and new.

When I look at past generations the music can quickly and easily define the time. The movies reflect the social and cultural times. They are from generations saying "This is who and what we are and think."

But when I look at current creative markets I see "We have no idea who or what we are so we will just rehash what prior generations have done and call it original. After all no one is paying attention anyway." Pathetic!

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But some films shouldn’t be touched.

Totally disagree. Those of us not alive at the time of production need to see it. Remaking brings the attention

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Take off the Jacket, Put on the Jacket...Wax on, Wax off, much simple...

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Nice article, Chris.

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I think that for many movies, the re-makes have been better. Not always though. Certainly it puts a different spin on a familiar story. I for one, will be happy to watch a re-make but I certainly won't be expecting the same results.

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I don't really see the point of re-making films. They're almost always garbage- except for the remake of The Thing which is far, far superior to the dull original.

Remaking brings the attention

If it's a good film, people who like films know about it. People who like a film because they saw the remake probably don't like the old film and I think most of the time prefer the remake, because they usually have a load of eye-candy in them. So, bringing attention, yes, but not much in the way of bringing appreciation for the original.

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I watched it for free on Of course it was illegally copied, but it ran well. They got lots of great movies there. Be sure to use add blocks with google. This was not a remake in my opinion. It was very difeerent and well made.

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There is no improving on, "Wax on Wax off"

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Jaden Smith? oh please. and Jackie Chan? This movie should be "The Kung Fu Kid"

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I think "Karate Kid" is called "Kung Fu Kid" outside America. It's just "Karate Kid" in America to keep with the branding. IIRC, it was mentioned in the movie that "it's not karate; it's kung-fu."

Anyways, the remake pretty much follows the formula of the original. At the end, I thought he was gonna do the crane, like he did in the training wall shadows.

Though I hear that was a 16-yr-old girl kissing with 12-yr-old Jaden Smith?

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I'll go see the movie. Love Jackie Chan. Love Karate Kid. Done and done!

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Have to say, I hate the idea of this. Karate Kid is one that should not be touched.

Hell, I am going to watch it right now!

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It's been getting decent reviews... I guess because it didn't try to copy the script of the original and only used the most basic of plot outlines from the original.

I do have one challenge for those complaining about the lack of originality in movies these days: Come up with a plot outline or device that hasn't already been used in cinema or TV. We've had almost 100 years of movie plots generated and it simply has gotten to the point where you can't have a plot now that doesn't borrow from previous scripts. There's a finite number of ways to present a story that has a beginning, middle, and end.

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I agree that there are only so many different stories and so many ways that they can be told.

What is my gripe(and many others) with the current spade of remakes, prequels, sequels is that there are still many stories and good books that could be made into movies.

Some been lying on the shelfs for years if not decades because we didn't have tbhe technology to visualize them, now we have and yet we get remakes, etc.

Just my View.

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The film version of 24 had better star Mary Lynn Rajskub as Chloe O'Brien.

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Halloween remake. brilliant.

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The Lord of the Rings trilogy was correctly done. Peter Jackson was resigned to a fate of telling the story of the three books in two movies and had put together the screenplay outlines with that in mind. When he pitched it to Miramax he was surprised when they said, "Of course you're going to do this in three movies, right?" It allowed Jackson to treat each of the three books with the detail they deserved. I normally consider Miramax to be weak, but that incident improved their status in my mind.

While there are many other books out there to be considered for cinematic treatment, even books are now getting repetitious. After Tom Clancy came out with his "Politico/Techno Thrillers", you saw an avalanche of other writers putting out similar stories with similar plots. In between Ludlum and Clancy you've just about cornered the market on spy and techno-spy movies over the last 20 years.

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I can't believe they made another Nightmare on Elm Street movie.

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One problem if they go ahead with a Karate Kid remake sequel. Jaden Smith's love interest looks too young to be dating a UCLA football player....

Shook my head when I heard Hollywood is remaking Let the Right One In. The book and movie are incredible, so I don't know how Hollywood can approve on the original.

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Toss me in with the crowd of "The Kung-fu kid".

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How can they ever remake such iconic phrases like "there is no fear in this dojo. There is no pain in this dojo" and "Sweep the leg".

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She's 16.

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yo yo yo yo

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