"Karate Kid" retains indie spirit in China

Sun Jun 13, 2010 8:16pm EDT
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By Martin A. Grove

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Making big studio movies takes enormous manpower, but working with so many people can pose challenges for directors.

Case in point: The re-imagining of the 1984 action comedy "The Karate Kid," which opened at No. 1 at the weekend box office in North America with a surprisingly strong estimated haul of $56 million.

Shooting the $40 million Columbia Pictures project in China, director Harald Zwart ("Pink Panther 2") had a crew of 560 people, almost none of whom spoke English, but he managed to shoot as if he were making a small film.

"We wanted to have a movie that had the spirit of 'Slumdog Millionaire' with almost an independent flavor to it," he explained.

Since Zwart tries to run a green set, he learned how to say 'Turn off your engines and save the planet' to the 90 drivers idling their engines while cooling off in their cars.

The new "Kid" stars Jaden Smith in the role Ralph Macchio originated. Jackie Chan's in for Pat Morita, and Oscar nominee Taraji P. Henson plays Jaden's mom. Her career move to China puts Jaden in jeopardy with local bullies until he masters the art of self-defense with help from Chan's wise old character.

Shortly after "Pink Panther 2" opened last February, Zwart went to China to meet Chan. He had a week to explore Beijing before they got together, and while wandering around he found an inspiration for Chan's character.

"I saw this older man on a bicycle in the old neighborhoods and I took a series of pictures of him. I showed those pictures to Jackie and I said, 'This is your character.' He loved it. He had never cut his hair for any other movie before and he said, 'For this movie, I'll cut my hair.   Continued...

<p>Actor Jaden Smith of 'The Karate Kid' arrives at the 2010 MTV Movie Awards in Los Angeles, June 6, 2010. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok</p>