In a recent Washington Post column, economics reporter Howard Schneider had an intriguing take on the remake of The Karate Kid and the film's view of America in decline, China's rise, environmentalism, and the power of globalization. In other words, this remake is a real downer—at least for those of you who still love America.
Although I have yet to see the remake, Schneider makes me less inclined to view it any time soon. He writes,
Jump to the new version. Japan—diminished on the world stage by a lost decade of economic stagnation, an aging and contracting population, a once-mighty yen facing marginalization—has disappeared from the story.
U.S. interests in Asia now revolve around China, and the movie has been set in Beijing in what amounts to a two-hour-plus advertisement for the country, featuring stunning landscapes, smog-free skies and a Forbidden City void of police. (Perhaps the $5 million in funding from the Chinese government, together with permission to film in the country, helped shape the outcome? That's a question for Jaden's dad, Will Smith, one of the producers.)
Key plot dynamics are reversed. America is no longer the land of opportunity. The boy protagonist, Dre Parker, has left the economic mayhem of urban Detroit. He and his mother have been transferred by an unnamed car company from a failing factory in Michigan to a presumably thriving one in China. No more escaping to the surfer 'burbs of California. Presumably no jobs are there, either.
The 1984 pop-culture classic was a reflection of American optimism, smack-dab in the middle of the Reagan years. Think back to Daniel LaRusso climbing up through the tournament's ranks and that '80s montage music ("You're the best around, and nothin's gonna ever keep you down!"). His sensei is a Japanese American who served in the U.S. military (while his wife and child die during her delivery at an internment camp). Of course the very notion of puny actor Ralph Macchio taking on '80s bully actor William Zabka and dating Elisabeth Shue is utterly absurd. But I still remember coming out of the theater wanting to kick some Cobra Kai ass. (In reality, I probably ended up playing Spy Hunter at the arcade next door.)
And there seems to be more to dislike about the remake, such as its environmental preachiness:
When the new Americans complain of a broken water heater in their apartment, he explains that they only have to flip the switch and wait half an hour before showering, then turn the heater off.
There's a switch? They seem puzzled. In the United States, hot water is always just there.
Put in a switch, [Kung-Fu instructor] Han lectures, and save the planet.
It's enough to make you want to join the Cobra Kai, show no mercy, and put 'em in a body bag.