If I can remember my original thoughts. Not only has it been a week since I saw the movie, it’s a frillion and two degrees out: thank God for my day job, which both keeps me in Popsicles and has central air. Also? Grape flavored Popsicles are actually pretty good, as opposed to the unfiltered vileness that is artificial grape flavor for most things. This is the sort of information that passes for a PSA around here: one of these days, I’ll get a little star-and-rainbow graphic for it, too.
Anyhow, I think I broke off talking about the de-aging of the kids, and how that makes the increased level of violence all the weirder. It also makes the main character’s relationship to his mom more prominent, and despite wishing there’d been a little more variety in the Leet Skills Through Mundane Chores scenes*, I did like that Mr. Han actually got on Dre’s case about the way he acted around the house. Especially as again, when I re-watch the original, Larusso was kind of a pill even in his pre-getting-beaten-up days: I think I whined less about moving cross-country when I was eight, and I was not one of your more stoic and graceful eight-year-olds. ** You’d think his mom would have pointed out that, since this was about her job, Danny Boy could shut his yap unless he liked the idea of eating Ramen three meals a day–and again, points to Dre’s mom for basically doing that.
The teacher is also younger in the remake: I may just be going by the actors’ appearance here, but Han seems somewhere between twenty and thirty years younger than Miyagi. He’s also much more of a post-nineties mentor figure…
…and here’s where I tangent into one of my pet theories. (Which totally makes the student loans worth it, Dad, yes.) Basically, if you look at 1980s-era underdog-kid-makes-good sports movies, the story and the conflict are about the kid, and the mentor doesn’t really get a lot of character development. Miyagi was and is my primary example. He’s a *cool* character, and he has layers, but he doesn’t have a lot of unresolved issues: before Daniel-san comes along, he seems perfectly happy chilling out, working on his bonsai and his house and his vintage cars. He gets drunk and sad every year or so about his wife and his son–about which more later–but I don’t get the impression that it’s something he needs to get past, or needs to be healed from: it happened a long time ago, he’s gone on to live his life.
In the 1990s, though, you got more of a troubled mentor archetype–q.v. The Mighty Ducks, in which the mentor starts out as an evil cynical evil guy whose heart must grow three sizes, plus has a whole angsty backstory with the rival coach, whereas Miyagi and Kreese appear to meet for the first time when Daniel starts having trouble–and that’s where Mr. Han seems to fall. Dude fixes up and then smashes a car every year, which doesn’t really indicate serenity or acceptance…and again, the age of the apprentice comes into play here, because Han gets crying-jag drunk in front of a twelve-year-old. Not intentionally, but it makes the scene quite a bit darker.
Part of the difference is likely, as I mentioned above, that Han is supposed to be a younger and more emotional man, whose loss is more recent, and whose dead son is a much more direct parallel to his apprentice…and then there’s the guilt. Miyagi’s wife and son died while he was away, and he might feel some guilt about that (or some quite understandable anger at the U.S. government because they died in an internment camp while he was serving his country***); Han was, if not totally, at least partially responsible for the accident that killed his family.
I don’t know how I feel about that, honestly. In the abstract liked the relationship in the original film a little better: having grown up on “teacher learns from his students” and “someone’s heart grows three sizes today,” I found it a refreshing change to have Miyagi’s life be enhanced by Daniel’s presence but not incomplete without it, and to not come off like either one of them was looking for a replacement father or son. (At least, not to me. Wiki says otherwise, I guess.) Also, showing characters who are sad about something without it being a giant trauma in their current life is really rare and cool.
On the other hand, the “I hope it was important” line was heartbreaking, and the accident itself tied into the theme of self-control. Plus? There was a very nice little scriptwriting trick there, because when we get the first look at Mr. Han’s place and see the car, those of us who watched the original movie were anticipating either the wax-on-wax-off scene or at least a humorous shout-out to it. Instead, it’s a foreshadowing trick for one of the saddest moments in the film. Well played.
*I saw the original enough times at a young enough age that I’m still secretly disappointed when painting a wall or washing the floor fails to turn me into a total badass.
**Also, I was terrified of moving to California, being under the impression–via that one episode of Ducktales–that earthquakes were a constant and fatal danger there, and involved giant cracks opening up in the earth and swallowing you. Meanwhile, I lived out there for ten years and never felt a thing.
***It strikes me that there could be a lot of interesting racial and military subtext in the original Karate Kid movie, what with Miyagi’s background, the picture of Kreese in army gear, etc. (Also, as a friend of mine observed: it’s a film about karate with one Asian character. Dude.) I’m really not qualified to analyze it at any coherent level, though.