Will You Let Your Kids See ‘Karate’?

The Karate Kid promotional photo, Columbia Pictures

I was thinking the Karate Kid remake might be a fun movie to take my kids to see this weekend. A bit of Hollywood fluff to start off the summer —especially with one boy who’s already a yellow-stripe, and another one who’s been asking to try martial arts.

It turns out that the decision to see this movie or not has gotten a bit more complicated. And not because of the PG rating (for bullying, martial arts action violence and some mild language). The Asian American blog world is sparring over whether the remake is just a rehash of stereotypes that were already embarassing twenty years ago… or whether this major Hollywood production starring two persons of color is a cause for celebration .

In the far corner, we have Aly Morita, daughter of Pat Morita (more commonly known as Mr. Miyagi, from the 1980s Karate Kid), calling for a boycott of the new film.

In a Hyphen Magazine article by Harry Mok, Morita criticizes the movie  — in effect, the movie industry — for perpetuating stereotypes about Asian Americans.

“It’s been 25 years since the original came out, and we’re still dealing with the same stereotypes… Where are the other roles for Asian American actors? Why is the karate master the one role that people can respond to?”

— Aly Morita, as told to Hyphen Magazine

Morita, has written on many websites, including Hyphen and You Offend Me and My Family about how the role of karate master Mr. Miyagi, both galvanized her father’s career and pretty much ruined him for any role other than fortune-cookie quoting martial arts sage. She’s also created a “Boycott the Remake of Karate Kid” page  on Facebook.

By the way, Morita says she has not seen the new movie. Her boycott is intended to make a statement to the Hollywood powers-that-be and raise awareness among the movie going public.

In the other corner, we have Edward Hong, who writes for the website 8 Asians. Hong attended a special press screening put on by CAPE (Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment) and Sony. He says he went into it with this “Hollywood Movies That Will Possibly Make Asians Look Bad or Not Have Asians At All As Main Characters” radar on, and came out of the theater shocked at how much he like it.

It was one Hollywood movie that didn’t treat Jackie Chan as a joke. In this film, Chan shows off his serious acting chops in the portrayal of a deeply flawed yet noble character. At one point, one profound emotional moment with Jackie’s character absolutely floored me. I also enjoyed how Jaden Smith took his craft seriously, which not only made me believe he was a real kid but that he also worked his butt off to prepare for the martial arts segments. Most importantly, the chemistry between Jackie and Jaden was honest and genuine, giving this film a lot of heart that I otherwise wouldn’t expect.

There are lots of other concerns, such as the fact that the American (even if he is black) guy gets the Asian girl, Karate and Kung Fu are used interchangeably, and why does Jackie Chan get second billing to an eleven year-old (even if he is Will Smith’s son)?

As the mother of  Hapa boys, I am always on the lookout for books, TV programs, movies, anything that portrays an Asian experience. Without embarassing, or even worse — inaccurate — stereotypes would be nice, too. The only Asians I saw on TV during my childhood were Pat Morita running the diner on Happy Days, and Connie Chung reading the headlines on the evening news. Will the breathaking views of  China and the martial arts action sequences make them feel good about their heritage… or will it plant seeds in their mind that by nature of their genetics they are destined to be a cookie-fortune dispensing martial art instructor? And before you pooh-pooh the second idea, let me remind you that this Connie Chung watching girl did go on to pursue a career in television news.

I am leaning towards seeing the movie. Perhaps without the kids. As a GenXer Mama, I have a weak spot for anything 80s. And did I mention my own kids start karate lessons on Monday? Their karate master is… you guessed it, Black.

©  2010 Grace Hwang Lynch


  1. angela says

    Its a phenomenal movie and the fact that a family/kids oriented film that stars only Black and Asian actors has been so successful is something to be celebrated, not boycotted.

    • grace says

      Thanks for the insight, Angela! I haven’t seen the movie yet, but it’s just a matter of time before we do.

      After hearing many opinions, I think the movie will be worth seeing overall.

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