The remake of The Karate Kid comes to the big screen this week and seen Jaden Smith take on his first major lead role alongiside Jackie Chan.
When the filmmakers decided to open up the movie and go to China, one change that became necessary was the fighting style that Dre would learn. He would learn a Chinese fighting style, rather than karate, which originates from Okinawa and Japan.
So the karate kid would learn kung fu. In one scene, the bullies mock Dre, calling him 'the karate kid' for trying karate in the land of kung fu. If Dre is going to survive, he will have to learn kung fu.
The word kung fu has several different meanings, but it is not specifically a martial arts term. The word might be literally translated as 'work,' 'skill,' or 'time and effort' a writer might have good kung fu at storytelling.
At the same time, this term has a special meaning when applied to martial arts, and outside of China, kung fu can be used to describe the gamut of Chinese martial arts and a range of techniques.
In The Karate Kid, Dre learns wushu martial arts, a physically demanding, active kung fu sport taught and practiced in China. He was trained by Wu Gang, the stunt coordinator for the Jackie Chan stunt team, which is responsible for the stunts in the films that Chan directs.
Master Wu, as Jaden Smith came to call him, trained Smith for three months in Los Angeles before the production began in Beijing, then continued to train him throughout the four-month production.
"When I first met Jaden, he was just a kid," says Wu. "A few months later, he was at the same level as kids that have been training for five or six years. He was very focused, very talented, and never complained. I’m very proud of him."
They were starting at the beginning. "Whenever I teach anyone kung fu, but especially a kid, the first thing I teach them is respect for other people. Kung fu isn’t about fighting, but about helping people," says Wu.
From there, Wu began training Smith in wushu. Despite the fact that they were making a movie, Wu says that the filmmakers were never tempted to rely on moviemaking tricks to make Smith look like he could do something he couldn’t. "No matter what, he had to learn how to move, how to fight, the basic training. There was a serious need for real kung fu, wushu learning."
Of course, Smith and all of the other kung fu kids would be taught how to fight for the camera in a choreographed match and look good doing it on the big screen.
"All of the kids in the film are full time wushu students, but none of them had movie fighting experience," Wu notes. "It’s not easy to get the timing, the rhythm, and the reaction when you get hit.
"Also, the drama and the acting in the fight are just as important as the action, the kids needed to tell the dramatic story of the fight with their faces and bodies. It’s very challenging. But the big difference with this movie is that the movements are real."
Jaden Smith says movie fighting is not easy. "You have to actually hit the person you do it softly, but you make it look hard," he says. "You also have to block. If you don’t block the hit, you’re going to get hit in the face."
And did Smith enjoy his training? "He asked me to continue training him after the movie wrapped," says Wu. "I was honored."
"Yeah, I want to stay buff," says Smith. "If Taylor Lautner ever needs a stunt double, I’m ready for action."
The Karate Kid is out now.