Old vs. New: The Karate Kid
March 08, 2011
NC: Hello, I’m the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it so you don’t have to, and welcome to another rendition of “Old vs. New.”
(The “Old vs. New” title card is shown, featuring an old man crossing his cane with a little boy’s baseball bat, as dramatic music plays and lightning strikes)
NC: Has “Wax on, wax off” ever really taught anybody karate? Well, it did for this idiot.
(Clips from the 1984 movie “The Karate Kid” play out as NC speaks)
NC (voiceover): “The Karate Kid,” a hokey but still pretty effective sports film, centered around a kid named Daniel, who moved from Jersey to the Valley and keeps getting his ass kicked by a group of karate experts named Cobra—
(Cut to a shot of the Cobra Commander from the original “G.I. Joe” cartoon and a dubbed voice impersonating him)
Cobra Commander: COBRAAAA!!!
Cobra Commander: Oh. Well, could you ever do an “Old vs. New” with us and the “G.I. Joe” movie?
NC: The movie loses.
Cobra Commander: AWESOOOOME!!!
NC (voiceover): Anyway, he comes across a maintenance man named Mr. Miyagi, who teaches him karate and enters him in a tournament to fight the bullies and their crazy fucking teacher head on.
John Kreese (1984 “Karate Kid”): This is a karate dojo, not a knitting class.
NC (voiceover): Of course, Daniel wins and they live happily ever after through three more sequels.
NC: Who would have thought that years later, a spinoff would come around that not only would be intriguing, but just as good as the original? I’m of course talking about “The Karate Kid”….cartoon.
(The intro for “The Karate Kid” cartoon plays out and NC dances to it)
NC (voiceover): Oh, hell, yeah, Daniel and Mr. Miyagi are traveling the world to save the shrine! Look at this, they got motorcycles, airplanes, Amazon gods, he’s (Daniel) even walking on a fucking torpedo! Blow some shit up! (A ship in the introduction blows up) Oh, yeah!
NC: (lip syncs with the background singers and poses briefly) Karate Kid! (Beat, then speaks) Actually, that show was stupid, but they came out with another movie.
(Clips from the 2010 “The Karate Kid” movie remake play out as NC speaks)
NC (voiceover): Like everybody, when I saw the trailer for this film, I rolled my eyes. What, Will Smith’s son’s Daniel and Jackie Chan is Mr. Miyagi. Come on, it sounds more like a satirical sketch than it does an actual movie. But, to everybody’s surprise, it was actually a well put together film. It had hokey moments from the original, but it actually managed to be passionate, dramatic, and still stay true to the original source material while being its own creation. Who the hell would have thought?
NC: But we’re not here to glorify movies! Actually, we sort of are, but we’re mostly here to compare.
NC (voiceover): Which one of these movies got the job done better? The iconic original, or the new reimagining? Which one had more drama, more heart, and kept the better balance?
NC: What’s the better movie that everybody wax (“whacks”) off to? (to himself) That sounded really bad. (speaks normally) This is “Old vs. New Karate Kid.”
(The opening sequence features pictures of the characters from both movies, playing snippets of the musical score from each of the films, ending with the title card “The Karate Kid (1984) vs. The Karate Kid (2010)”)
NC: So what better way to start off “The Karate Kid” than by looking at…the karate kid? This is the best…karate kid.
Round 1—Best Karate Kid
NC (voiceover): Now both these actors do a good job representing their characters and their age range. They’re both tough but sensitive, too. They’re not super strong, but they never back down from a fight, and they’re both charming and cocky, but also know when to shut up and focus. In the original, Daniel—played by Ralph Macchio—moves from Jersey to the Valley and has a hard time fitting in.
Lucille Larusso (1984): I want to hear the truth.
Daniel LaRusso (1984): (argues) No, you don’t want to hear the truth! All you want to hear is how great it is out here. Well, it may be great for you, but it sucks for me! I hate this place! I hate it! I just want to go home!
NC (voiceover): With Dre, played by Jaden Smith, he moves from one side of the world to the other, so I guess you could argue that he has a little bit more to complain about.
Sherry Parker (2010): (to Dre) We’ve been here less than a week, and I—
Dre Parker (2010): I feel like it’s a year! I hate it here! I wanna go home!
NC (voiceover): But nevertheless, both represent how hard it is to fit in to a new place. You could also make the argument that because Smith is younger, you’d naturally feel more sorry for him when he gets beat up. Seeing little kids get injured isn’t a fun thing to watch—unless you’re Willy Wonka—but then again, it’s pretty hard to watch Macchio get his ass kicked, too. So I don’t know. Which one actually leaves a deeper impact?
NC: Well, if I had to choose, and of course I do, I’d have to say Macchio.
NC (voiceover): But to be fair, I think a lot of that has to deal with his age. When you’re a little kid, it’s common to get in fights, and if you lose, well…you’re a kid. It sucks, but you’re still allowed to look weak at that age, and if anything, it’s kind of cool that you were in a fight to begin with! No other kid’s gonna fuck with ya. But Macchio is in high school, a point where standing up for yourself and acting like a man is a much bigger deal. If you fight when you’re a kid, it’s still sort of OK when a parent or teacher comes in to fix the matter. When you’re a teen, that shit goes right out the window, and your pride suddenly cause a lot more to defend it. I think because of this, Macchio has a lot more to prove, and his struggle is much more painful and more identifiable. He wants to be left alone, but not to the cost of his own dignity. He’s willing to fight to defend who he is. Smith does this, too, but like I said, it’s a different age.
NC: If this kid (Chang, the Asian bully in the 2010 remake) was beating on me at that age, I’d be like,
NC (voiceover): “Dude, mom, there’s a crazy Asian kid who looks like a psycho. He knows kung fu and I am scared shitless. Do something!” In high school, you have no choice. You’ve got to fight, and thus, Daniel seems stronger and more determined. I also have to admit it is refreshing to see a movie character from Jersey who’s not an asshole! OK, yeah, I made fun of “Jersey [Shore]” once in a while, but even I know that not every person that comes from there is totally nuts. It’s nice to see an actual positive Jersey role model. You know, outside of…
Young Woman #1 (from “Jersey Shore”): Leave me (bleep) alone. Get out of my face.
Young Man #1 (from “Jersey Shore”): Oh, shut your mouth, you dirty little hamster!
Young Woman #2 (from “Jersey Shore”): You look like Popeye on crack.
Young Man #2 (from “Jersey Shore”): Popeye, yeah, right.
NC: (groans and rubs his temples) Ugh, that show rapes me.
NC (voiceover): I also get the feeling that Macchio is sort of like Bruce Wayne. Now, hear me out on this. It always seems like he’s one step away from being an evil jerk himself. He always walks that fine line, like he could turn to the dark side at any moment, but that just makes us all the more thankful that he is a good guy, wants to stay a good guy, and is willing to put his balls on the line to prove it. Not only does this make him more interesting, but it makes him a better role model and a better character. Smith, you did great, but Daniel San is the more engaging hero.
NC: Point goes to the old.
Dre (2010): Oh, that’s great.
Round 1 Winner: “Daniel San”
NC: But remember, there are no bad students, only bad teachers. And what kind of teacher makes his student paint a fence while learning karate?!
Round 2—Best Teacher
NC (voiceover): Indeed, Mr. Miyagi has become an iconic image of the old wise martial arts teacher, but Jackie Chan really is an old wise martial arts teacher, so again, this is a pretty close call. In many ways Miyagi is much more deceiving because he looks older, is shorter and is not as physically fit. Jackie Chan looks like…well, Jackie Chan, so his challenge is a little greater to be visually deceiving, but they overcome that very carefully with the attitude they gave him. He’s wise, yes, but he’s also sort of a lost soul.
Dre (2010): (to Mr. Han (Chan)) I thought you were just a maintenance man.
Mr. Han (2010): You see only with the eyes, so you are easy to fool.
NC (voiceover): He was destined for great things but chose not to follow them because of something painful that happened in the past. Miyagi is actually content with where he is and likes where he lives, despite the fact that he has a very sad backstory, too. But there is a lot of weight in having Jackie Chan being in a kung fu movie. For example, when Chan’s character Mr. Han actually talks about kung fu, it’s pretty obvious he knows what he’s talking about, because…Jackie Chan is playing him! You know he’s not gonna lie about that shit! And that’s another thing. In the remake, it’s “Coat on, coat off” as opposed to “Wax on, wax off,” but Mr. Han actually EXPLAINS why he used this method to teach him.
Mr. Han (2010): Kung fu lives in everything we do, Xiao Dre. It lives on how we put on a jacket, [it lives in] how we take off the jacket, it lives in how we treat people. Everything is kung fu.
NC (voiceover): Mr. Miyagi, on the other hand, never explains why he had Daniel wax his cars and paint his fence. Yeah, it’s teaching him karate, but why the hell didn’t he just, oh, I don’t know, TEACH HIM KARATE?!
Mr. Miyagi (1984): Wash the car.
Mr. Miyagi (1984): Sand the floor.
Mr. Miyagi (1984): Paint fence.
Mr. Miyagi (1984): Paint the house.
Mr. Miyagi (1984): All the floor!
NC (voiceover): I mean, think about it. It fools Daniel as well as the audience, but he never actually explains why. Why did he teach him this way instead of showing him the moves? Do you think Daniel ever came to that realization?
(Cut to a scenario with NC acting as both parts of Daniel and Mr. Miyagi)
NC Daniel (sits camera right): Hey, Mr. Miyagi, why’d you have me paint your fence?
NC Mr. Miyagi (sits camera left): To teach you karate!
NC Daniel: Yeah, but why didn’t you just show me the moves instead of having me paint your fence?
NC Mr. Miyagi: (pauses) To teach you karate!
NC Daniel: You just wanted your fence painted, didn’t you?
NC Mr. Miyagi: Yes, yes, I did.
NC Daniel: Then why’d you have me wax the car?
NC Mr. Miyagi: Oh, 2 for 1 deal!
(NC Daniel “punches” NC Mr. Miyagi off-screen)
NC (voiceover): Let’s look at the backstory. Mr. Miyagi lost his wife and son while she was giving birth and was unable to see her because he was in the army.
Mr. Miyagi (1984): (quoting his superior officer from the past) “Regret to inform…wife have complications at birth.”
NC (voiceover): With Mr. Han, he lost his wife and kid because he was driving the car and got into an accident, so that places even more guilt on him because he was actually the cause of their deaths.
Mr. Han (2010): (to Dre) I was driving. We were arguing about something. I was so angry. I lost control. I cannot remember what we were arguing about. I hope it was something important.
NC (voiceover): This explains why he’s such a shut-in and rarely talks to people. With Mr. Miyagi, there never seems like a concrete reason why to have that tragic history. Maybe the idea is that Daniel’s the closest thing to a son he ever had, but even then, that’s a little vague. It’s ironic, because I should like Mr. Miyagi more because he’s much more confident and wise. But honestly, Mr. Han is the more interesting character. It’s one of the few times I didn’t see Jackie Chan in a performance, and I sort of forgot he actually can do drama. He’s done it in the past and can do it quite well if in the right movie. But aside from that, Mr. Han is more complex and has more weaknesses to overcome. They both learn from each other and make one another stronger. In the original, it was very much “teacher taught student,” but here, they actually teach each other, which feeds into the whole balance subtext that both films are working with. Plus, Mr. Han can hold fucking fire in his hand! That’s just awesome! Again, both do wonderfully, but Mr. Han has the most juicy performance, allowing for a lot more strength and heart to be shown and developed.
NC: Point goes to the new.
Mr. Miyagi (1984): I think you talk too much.
Round 2 Winner: Mr. Han
NC: And now for my favorite part: the villains. Do these guys even need an introduction? I mean, they’re “Karate Kid” villains; they should practically have their own movie. And we’re gonna look at them right now.
Round 3—Best Villains
NC (voiceover): Alright, I’ve gone on and on about the crazy karate teacher from the first movie and what an enjoyable nut he is.
(Cut to a clip from NC’s “Nostalgic Sports Movies” Review)
John Kreese (1984): You’re a pushy little bastard, ain’t you? But I like that. I like that.
Past NC: (as Kreese) Yes, yes, very clever, old man. The ball is in your court now, but after the tournament is over, it is I who will possess the golden trophy, making me ruler of the dojo set next to the Walgreens drug store! (laughs maniacally; dubs over Kreese) God, I need a girlfriend.
(Back to the “Old vs. New” episode)
NC: His student, on the other hand—the main bully who picks on Daniel—is just sort of your run-of-the-mill jerk. The remake, on the other hand, switches it around. In the new film, it’s the teacher that’s just sort of the run-of-the-mill jerk and the student that seems totally bat-shit insane! I mean, look into his eyes! He’s fucking nuts! Clearly, these two (Johnny from the 1984 version and Cheng from the 2010 remake) should have been switched around. The Asian kid should have been with the American teacher, and the American student should have been with the Asian teacher.
NC: That way, these two could have their own reality show, “Mercy’s a Penis!”
(A Photoshopped image of Cheng and Johnny appear in front of an explosion with the title “Mercy’s a Penis!” in front of them; we hear the sound effect of an explosion before we hear background singers sing)
Background Singers: (sing high-pitched) Mercy’s a penis!
NC (voiceover): But I digress. Which of these are actually the better villains? Well, it all depends on how you look at it. If you’re going for what’s memorable, the original’s got it down. I mean, you’re never gonna forget these guys; they’re so over-the-top.
John Kreese (1984): I can’t hear you!
Karate Students (1984): STRIKE FIRST! STRIKE HARD! NO MERCY! SIR!
NC (voiceover): But if you’re going for what’s actually menacing, the newer film would probably come closer. Not that the other villains didn’t have threatening moments, but there are just so many silly moments that keep sucking you out of it. The teacher in the remake is a little bit more interesting because you get the feeling he (Mr. Han) has it out more for the teacher, not the student. He’s always calling the student a “thing.” He means very little to him.
Master Li (2010): (speaks in Chinese with English subtitles) From now on, this little thing is to be left alone until the tournament. Understood?
(Master Li’s Students (2010) shout something together as if to say “Yes”)
NC (voiceover): I think he’s more interesting in showing Mr. Han that his methods are better and stronger, and that anyone who questions it is going to get their ass handed to them. In the original, I don’t know what this guy’s problem is. He’s just a fucking asshole who wants to start a fight because…he’s a fucking asshole!
John Kreese (1984): (to Mr. Miyagi) Then it’s open season… (points to Daniel) …on him… (points to Mr. Miyagi) …and you.
(A dramatic music sting is heard here)
NC (voiceover): Though to be fair, it is a bit more rewarding to see the bully in the original hand the trophy over; that is in the remake. But again, that might be an age thing. In the remake, I keep thinking the kid is gonna steal it for himself.
NC (voiceover): (dubs over Chang) Ha ha! Mine, bitches!
NC (voiceover): Though to that film’s credit, it’s pretty fucking awesome when all the teacher’s students bow to Mr. Han. (Cut to Master Li’s shocked face) Look at that face; that’s pure friggin’ gold. Tough call, but I am gonna go with the new version. As much as I love these nuts, even I had to admit they’re hard to take seriously. Of course, that’s part of the fun, but I don’t think that was part of the characters. They’re supposed to be a legitimate threat, and martial arts masters from China are a little bit more legitimate than martial arts masters from a dojo next to a grocery store.
NC: Point goes to the new.
John Kreese (1984): But I like that. I like that.
Round 3 Winner: Crazy Asian Kid
NC: But everybody needs support in a “Karate Kid” movie, and luckily, there’s a good supporting cast to show it.
Round 4—Best Support
NC (voiceover): I guess we should start with the mothers, as they probably play the biggest role next to the main heroes and villains. The one in the original is pretty cool. She’s loving, but also has a tough, no-nonsense attitude.
Lucille LaRusso (1984): (to Daniel) What’s with the, uh, karate place?
Daniel (1984): Aw, it sucks.
Lucille (1984): Good. ‘Cause you probably couldn’t afford it, anyway.
NC (voiceover): You can tell she’s from Jersey and she definitely shows the stronger sides of it; Very frank and loud, but also very honest and giving.
Lucille (1984): (argues with Daniel) Fighting doesn’t solve anything!
Daniel (1984): Oh, well, neither does palm trees, Mom. [Like it was] fair coming over here without asking me how I felt about it. Right, that was really fair.
Lucille (1984): You’re right. I should have asked.
NC (voiceover): You can definitely tell these two are mother and son and get along really well. The mother in the new film is not as strong. I mean, sure, she’s loving and caring, but at times, she sort of seems like an airhead. She’s always either screaming for joy over little things or nagging her son to hang his coat up.
Sherry Parker (2010): For the one-hundredth time, can you please pick up your jacket?
Dre (2010): One second, Mom.
Sherry (2010): No! Come pick it up now! God, how many times do I have to ask you?
Dre (2010: (speaks low) I’m really sorry.
Sherry (2010): I’m sorry, what was that?
Dre (2010): Nothing.
Sherry (2010): OK, just what I thought. “Nothing.”
NC (voiceover): I’m probably being too harsh on her, but I guess in comparing her to the other mother, she just doesn’t seem as supportive. How about the girlfriend? They’re both supportive and the generic movie girlfriend sort of way. They’re nice and want to see their boys do well. I guess if I had to choose, though, I’d probably go with the original. Again, probably the age thing, as little children don’t have much control over what their parents say. But even when the original is forced to be with the bully she doesn’t like, she gives him a good punch in the jaw.
(Such a scene is shown with NC’s caption “Ouch.” at the bottom)
NC (voiceover): This one (the girlfriend in the remake) mostly looks sad in the corner, so I guess logically, the advantage has to be given to her (the girlfriend in the original). How about the other supporting cast?
NC: (thinks for a bit) That’s about it!
NC (voiceover): I mean, yeah, you have some brief characters, but they disappear pretty fast, and all the other important people are…well, dead. So I guess it’s just the girlfriend and the mother, and seeing as how I like both from the original, I guess the point goes to the old.
NC: Heh, that was easy.
Sherry (2010): Well, what do you want me to do?
Round 4 Winner: Danny’s Mama
NC (voiceover): Once again, it’s all tied up, and it comes down to the most important factor: the story.
Round 5—Best Story
NC (voiceover): Of course, the original is the classic coming-of-age sports movie, and the remake does well to keep faithful to the material while still adding some new twists. But are the new twists better than the original, or are they just messing up a classic? First of all, let’s look at the biggest flaw: the fact the original teaches karate, and the remake teaches kung fu.
NC: Well, then, why the hell isn’t it called “The Kung Fu Kid”?
NC (voiceover): You’re calling it “Karate,” even though karate has nothing to do with it!
NC: It’s like calling a movie “Brazil” when it has nothing to do with Brazil—OK, bad example.
NC (voiceover): But the point remains. If it’s called “Karate Kid,” you better show some friggin’ karate. Kung fu’s awesome, but it’s just misleading. How about the fact that it’s in China and not in the Valley? Well, aside from the “fish out of water” story having a bigger impact, seeing how it’s further across the world, it does allow for a lot of pretty imagery and, on top of that, when you hear about the origins of kung fu, it is nice to actually see the origins of kung fu. What about the relationship between the student and teacher? Both do very well in showing the friendship, and you can feel the bond is very strong with both of them. Like I said before, though, both films talk about balance, and in the new movie, there seems to be a lot more of that going on. The student helps the teacher through his problems just as much as the teacher helps the student. This also works with that clever metaphor with the woman controlling the snake. Is she controlling the snake, is the snake controlling her, or are they working as one? This comes back again when Chan and Smith are working with each other after he beats the car. It was pretty cleverly handled. Speaking of which, let’s talk about that big final fight scene. In the new film, Smith uses the understanding of his enemy to his advantage, using the elements of control and being one to ultimately win the battle. That’s both psychology and physical force that wins the day. In the original, it’s said that there’s a move you can do where if done right, no one can block it.
Mr. Miyagi (1984): Called crane technique.
Daniel (1984): Does it work?
Mr. Miyagi (1984): If done right, no can defense.
NC (voiceover): Uh, bullshit. That’s a jump kick, and it’s very easy to block! And even if you take that out of it, you feel like the kid understood both the philosophy and the technique of kung fu much more with this ending than you did with the original. I mean, it’s there, but it’s not as prominent or clever as the remake. You feel like this kid (Dre) got it more than Daniel did. But the big deciding point for me was this. I realize that the few things that don’t work in the new “Karate Kid” are because they had to carry it over from the original “Karate Kid.” The typical bullies, the over-the-top villains, the keeping the lovebirds apart just so they can get back together again; if you took these clichés out, it’d just be about a kid who wanted to understand kung fu from a wise master while also adjusting to his social life. This probably would have been a stronger movie. I mean, it’s good, but it would have been better. It’s the clichés of the original that holds it back, and while the clichés in the original are great and fun to laugh at, they are still very overused clichés, even from back then. At times, the original is so good, it almost seems real. A lot of the conversations they have seem very warm and out of everyday life. But at the same time, you have those incredibly overused characters and movie moments that constantly suck you out of that reality. While they are entertaining, they’re still distracting. The new film knows it’s a movie. It never tries to be real life. Because of that, it never oversteps its bounds. It keeps the balance much better. So…by definition, the new film must be the superior picture. It knows more what it is and what it’s trying to accomplish. There’s certainly a passion to the original that the new film never quite meets as strongly, but it’s still jumbled with over-the-top scenes that, frankly, makes it inconsistent. This film (the remake) is consistent. It picks a tone, it tells a story, and it does it very well. Even though the original will still most likely remain the best known, it’s this film (the remake) that seems more carefully put together. And when you get down to it, it’s the better movie.
NC: So the winner by just a little bit is the new “Karate Kid,” the superior film.
Daniel (1984): Oh, bullshit! I’m going home, man!
Round 5 Winner: The Karate Kid (2010)
NC: So thanks for joining me, I hope you had a lot of fun, and…if you’ll excuse me, I have quite a few karate cartoons to catch up with! (He poses and lip-syncs to when the background singers in the “Karate Kid” cartoon shout: Karate Kid!)
(The intro for the “Karate Kid” cartoon plays out as NC’s end credits roll)
John Kreese (1984): [But] I like that. I like that.
Channel Awesome Tagline—(sound of an explosion) Background Singers: (singing high-pitched) Mercy’s a penis!