Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Kung Fu Kid showing at a bookshelf near you

Such is the fate of Generation X - to watch another wave of recycled stories from our youth. Oh, where do new stories come from? It seems the path of least resistance is clear. It is easier, cheaper, and less risky to bank on nostalgia and name recognition by redoing the Flintstones, Josie and the Pussycats, and Scooby Doo on the big screen. Yeech. What we're they drinking? Freddie Prinze Jr. and Rachael Leigh Cook were better off imitating Valley Girl, which copied Pygmalion. Next up are the A-Team and The Karate Kid.

Plus it is even savvier to appeal to the world's most populous nation and biggest emerging consumer market. The NBA opened the doors to the Middle Kingdom with the Trojan Horse of Yao Ming. Kung Fu Panda won over the hearts of the Forbidden City by denaturing the ideal a revolutionary action hero into a fat furry toy. Cue Will Smith and Jada Pinkett who wish to establish gainful employment for their son Jaden. Studios want their films to be #1 for their first weekend at any cost (creative or otherwise), so I'm sure that Columbia Pictures loves it when a plans comes together.

I never equated Jackie Chan with Pat Morita. But I'm sure that Jackie would have been better off reprising the role of Arnold from Happy Days. Jackie was a great Drunken Master, but I don't think Bruce Lee would have been caught playing a shadow of his former self, while simultaneously following the footsteps of a former burger flipper. Despite his prominent turns talking pidgin-English, at least Pat Morita helped raise the profile of Asian Americans as a lonely actor among a homogeneous eggshell-tinted cast. Mr. Miyagi was authentic in his limited way. Jackie just seems caught in a cycle of diluting whatever made him notable in the first place. (What else could have been the reasons to make Rush Hour 3 and Shanghai Knights?) You can blame it on aging or economic opportunism, but whatever it is, P.T. Barnum must be laughing because of it.

Let's forget for the time being the disingenuous mis-titling of the retelling of Ralph Macchio redux - that this weekend's remake is set in China with kung fu, as opposed to Japan (or Japantown or Okinawa) with karate. Or that the original writer of the screenplay was denied a credit. Or that Jaden only got the job because of his famous parents or that he acts like a typical 12 year old (i.e. not good enough to get the job in the first place). Or that we have a new target for the whole Avatar social-political criticism (i.e. a Westerner comes to a "native" culture, and shows he's the new savior and best warrior and gets the girl). The question is why can't we have some new stories with new characters. Do we have to swallow reheated leftovers from the cinematic microwave?

Sure, a movie can serve a good purpose - this flick can inspire children to take a martial arts class and learn discipline, good listening and exercise habits, and piety for peers and elders. (These are all laudable goals.) Or it can exploit the actual opposite values like a wolf in sheep's clothing - promoting the sexiness of violence, instant gratification, and egotism while ostensibly upholding the values of self-defense, self-respect, and self-mastery. Let viewers be the judge, but don't settle for the concept of "voting" with your pocket book by refusing to open it. That's like trying to tell Arizona that you disapprove of their recent immigration law by saying you won't vacation there.

If a movie piques your curiosity, great! Take some time, search some more. Dig a little deeper, beyond the superficial layer of merchandising (though Toy Story 3 may be a unique case now that Pixar was assimilated by the Disney Borg).

Check out - we're proud of the book and Charlene Chua's dazzling artwork - and how that is based on a real story and a real kid. Here a girl can be the heroine (and not just a prize). Here a both man and a woman, and a mother and a father, can be inspirational teachers. Here stereotypes are challenged, not pandered to. Plus there's our itty bitty You Tube trailer :)

Though Julie Black Belt was published a few years ago, it may be new to you - and still seem new after the 10th reading.

If so, that's great too.