Chinese Censoring of the Karate Kid

After watching the new Karate Kid movie released in America, my American friend turned to me and said: “only in an American-made movie would the little American kid go to a foreign country and beat little Chinese boys with their own fighting style.” Although the movie took place in China, in collaboration with Chinese film makers, it was definitely made for American audiences as it portrayed the Americans as the good guys and the Chinese as the bad guys. So I wondered, how would the Chinese government alter the movie for a Chinese audience?

Well, after watching the new Karate Kid movie released in China, I must say that clever deletion of scenes managed to successfully change the movie from that of an underdog story to one of self-discovery. I spent the whole movie watching for deleted scenes and wondering what was their motivation in deleting them? How much does the edited version change the story?

The main editing came during the fight scenes (no fights in the lunch room or hallways), they were all made shorter or cut out. This drastically changed the story. In the American version, the Chinese students brutally pick on the poor foreign boy. This makes the Chinese characters look very violent and petty, viciously picking on the new guy for no apparent reason.
In the edited for Chinese audiences version, the Chinese students do not fight him unless provoked. There is some verbal intimidation, but they only fight him after he flirts with the love interest and throws dirty water on them. Without the violence between these two fights, it makes the American look bad. Yes, the Chinese boys threw the first punch and intimidated him, but without the fear of being beaten to a bloody pulp after that, the protagonist seems weak for being so afraid and then petty for throwing the water on them since they had not physically threatened him after the first fight.

Another key edited point was in the portrayal of the Kung Fu teacher. In the American version, the Chinese instructor was the stereotypical bad guy, it is all about winning and destroying the opponent so he could never be a threat again. He taught the boys to be bloodthirsty and even pushed one to use an illegal move during the competition to injure the American. This put Chinese people and Chinese Kung Fu in a bad light. It is not until the American studies Kung Fu that the Chinese students realize they had been studying their art wrong all this time.
So in the Chinese version, The Kung Fu teacher does none of this, he is just a strong Kung Fu master teaching his students to be strong. The problem with the Chinese version is that Mr. Han’s comment about a “bad teacher” teaching his students bad things does not make as much sense.

Essentially, by deleting the fight scenes and taming the Kung Fu teacher, the movie loses the antagonist. Somehow the Chinese kung fu students seem to fall more into the background of problems the American protagonist is having adjusting to life in China. It makes it appear as if he is simply having cultural problems – he upset the parents of the girl he likes and does not understand why, he is outcast by the other boys in school (they pick on him but do not beat him up), he is struggling to learn Chinese, he does not know when to wear his uniform. Without the fights, it seems like the American learns Kung Fu more for self-discovery, a way to come to terms with life in China, and not as much so he can protect himself against the vicious Chinese boys. The final competition just did not have the same underdog feeling, it actually felt like he was trying to prove himself more than compete against his Chinese classmates.

Other edited areas:

Catching the fly with chop sticks: In the Chinese version, he does not pick up the dead fly with his chop sticks and there is no comment that it is “nasty.”

Kiss Scene: The kiss scene between the protagonist and his love interest is deleted.

42 Comments

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42 responses to “Chinese Censoring of the Karate Kid

  1. Adam W

    I wonder why they deleted the kiss scene? Because a Chinese girl is kissing a black guy?

    • I don’t think they want to encourage 12-year-old girls to date.

    • Tiffani

      Not so much the racial card, but the Chinese don’t believe in public displays of affection. Their culture doesn’t involve the physical display as much as ours.

      • TheOrz

        Simply not true in the modern parts of China, such as Shanghai, Beijing or any other modern city. I lived there for over 2 years.

      • @TheOrz
        Even in Beijing and Shanghai, public displays of affection are still not as common as in the west, especially among school age children who could be kicked out of their middle school/high school for dating. When I’ve seen PDA’s in Cities, it’s been mostly college age couples who simply didn’t have a private place to go or drunk people in bars. My experiences dating in China have left me to agree with Tiffani, PDAs are still frowned upon.

      • When I was in China teaching, my (college-aged) students performed a scene from, oh, Sleeping Beauty or Snow White… it was a scene where the prince kisses the girl to awaken her from a spell. I never saw Sleeping Beauty but I understand there’s a similar scene. In any case, when it came time for the kiss, there was at least one audience voice that called “kiss her!” but alas, he did not kiss her.

        I found it amusing they’d be allowed to do the scene at all if they weren’t going to be allowed to perform the kiss. The kiss symbolizes love which breaks the spell. If they didn’t kiss, what broke the spell? His aura?

      • Kevin Li- I am a Chinese

        I agree…

    • TheOrz

      Yes, this is the reason why. Most Chinese find the very idea repulsive. Anyone who tells you otherwise is being an apologist or has no idea what they are talking about.

  2. I haven’t seen the movie, but after seeing some previews, I wondered what the Chinese audiences would think of this movie. I felt a little uncomfortable with it, to be honest, which is why I guess I haven’t seen it. I thought it was a little weird to move the original story line to China, and why remake it at all!? Anyway, I guess China is a trendy topic for America these days. :)

    Obviously this is a movie made for Americans, with the protagonist an American trying to fit in and understand his strange new home. I am not surprised that it was edited for Chinese audiences, and maybe that is not a bad thing for them. I do think, however, that it is important to view this new version with the first in mind. If I remember correctly (Lordy has it been a long time since I’ve seen the original!) the baddies in the original were bad because they were downright mean bullies who provoked without cause and did indeed have a “bad” teacher. By editing all that out, what they are left with is not a remake at all but an entirely different story. Very interesting!

  3. Extremely interesting! I have only seen the Chinese version and I remember thinking why the kid threw the dirty water, but now I understand. Without seeing your comment I wouldn’t have tought about this. Do they censor every movie in China?

  4. Adam W

    Maybe it’s different in HK, but expected people to be more reserved when it came to PDA. Needless to say, I was shocked when my boyfriend wanted to hold hands and even kiss in public. *I* was uncomfortable with that. Haha. OMG, the stares…

  5. Joe Lyon

    “only in an American-made movie would the little American kid go to a foreign country and beat up little Chinese boys with their own fighting style.”

    …and only a narrow minded individual who disliked Americans would come away with that impression.

    “Although the movie took place in China, it still portrayed the Americans as the good guys and the Chinese as the bad guys”

    See my above response. The Chinese were in no way painted as bad guys. The only “bad guys” in the film were some poorly mislead children who were trained to be bullies by a bad teacher. The only sad thing here is how the Chinese government felt so threatened by the original cut of this film that they edited it to make the American look like a foolish coward who need to be taught a lesson by a wiser Chinese man. Its no fun when the shoe is on the other foot, eh?

    The author here can make all the BS excuses about why the Chinese cut is better than the original, but all they’re really doing is making more excuses for the never ending cowardly censorship of the Chinese government. Censorship is the tool of those who can’t stand up to criticism and who must change and rewrite things to paint themselves in a better light.

    • I don’t really know how to respond to your comment… your response seems to agree with the blog though the tone tells otherwise.

      Anyways, I am pretty sure the antagonists in the movie were indeed Chinese and the main protagonist in the movie was American, if you’ll excuse my casual use of the terms “good guys” and “bad guys.” As mentioned above, in the edited version, the children were less of bullies thus making the chinese students less of an antagonist. If you don’t think that these parts were edited to make the Chinese characters look less like bad guys, than maybe to reduce violence?

      I’m sorry you assumed I preferred the Chinese version. I tried to be objective in understanding the reasoning why there were changes and how they affected the story, but perhaps by not saying the edited version was bad one could assume preference. You are very right that the changes were made to “paint themselves in a better light.”

      My friend is actually very American – her comment was only in jest, but it seemed to illustrate why the movie was edited.

    • Dirk T. Sanchez

      The “Never ending cowardly censorship” Mr. Lyon referred to, is nothing like the American government that banned radio stations from playing Boomtown Rats’ I hate Mondays over the air. Nor is it anything like the upcoming Senate Judiciary Committee meeting this month on COICA that allow the US government, under the command of media companies, to censor the internet as they see fit, like in China and Iran, with the difference that the sites they decide to censor will be completely removed from the internet and not just in the US. I guess being a patriotic American means that I should spend more time criticizing foreign government’s internal policies instead of writing letters to our Senators to prevent censorship in our own backyard. Afterall, Chinese government’s censorship is cowardly, unlike the US government’s censorship, which is so much braver!

      • kevin

        COICA is for copyright infringment. Any sort of infringment on freedom of speech is, and always will be shot down before becoming law. That is unless its to protect the rights of others, such as children by using parental controls. So do you think that sites that allow someone’s product to be in all senses “Stolen” should be allowed to operate?

    • Cy

      You talk as if Americans do not censor movies. American movies always diminishes roles for Asian characters. I can think of 2 off the top of my head: Jet Li’s Romeo Must Die where Jet Li does not kiss Aaliyah and 21:bringing down the house, where the main character of the movie was Chinese in real life. His name is Jeff Ma. Now you’re telling me that America does not censor movies? Give me a break. Yes, Chinese governments do censor, but, though I don’t know if American governments actually make an effort to censor, I know somebody made an effort.

  6. Pingback: Chinese Censoring of the Karate Kid (via Shandongxifu’s Blog) « Tzimtzum – The Blog

  7. cyprus

    movie name karate kid,
    this movie Kungfu kid,

    why he did not karate like old movie,
    why did not make this movie in japan ?

    everytime be bad guys asian, it is not good.

  8. samuel welsh

    this movie is not so good

  9. TOM

    Why the hell they deleted the kissing scene I want to watch the kissing scene but I search it on you tube but I couldn’t found it so could someone leave a comment about the website for the kissing scene so that I can watch

  10. timothy

    You can find kissing scene from YouTube. There are some generous people cut the scene and upload them.
    Well, they also edited some dialog on some scene. I have both version, original cut and Chinese edited, in my PC. I watched those two versions few times to find deleted scenes. And they did change some dialog.

    The first is, when students enter The Forbidden City. In original cut, the tour guide said: “As the emperor was considered to be divine, no mere mortal was permitted access. Hence the name the Forbidden City.” But in Chinese edited she said: “Welcome to one of the most popular landmarks in all over China. It is visited by millions of people every year. The Forbidden City.” I wonder why they change this dialog.

    The second, is when the American kid – Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) and the maintenance man – Mr. Han (Jackie Chan) left the kung fu school. Mr. Han said: ” That’s not kung fu. That’s a bad man teach them very bad things.” In Chinese edited version, he said: “That’s not kung fu. That does not represent China.” What is the purpose of changing this dialog?

  11. sangos

    Wow if the Chinese govt. censors each and every scrap of information…must be quite a (tedious) feat!

  12. samuel welsh

    both medias here spiting venom
    american vs chinese

  13. samuel welsh

    but jade is cool and he kicks ass

  14. bernard

    This is why I refuse to watch Karate Kid, the classic ones are racist beyond believe, the entire movie is about demonizing asian men as slimy and evil! I knew from the beginning the new one will not be much different.

    One thing that upset me the most that, Jackie Chan agreed to involve in this type of movie. But then again, money and fame can blind anyone. I don’t know whether or not Jackie Chan realised the American Hollywood – China propaganda message in the film but what the hell… being an actor is ALL about money and fame!

    • krueger

      I took the original to be a story about a Japanese master and immigrant, that taught an American in America how to stand up to the American guys that learned Karate from an American instructor. It was a story about trusting your teacher and overcoming a situation where bullies do what they want, due to a feeling of entitlement.
      It is beyond my understanding why Jackie Chan, himself a martial arts expert, would agree to a remake of the Karate Kid and not insist on calling it the Kung Fu Kid for the sake of accuracy. Does China get to co-opt every form of martial arts? Moving the story from America to China totally changed the story dynamics.

      • David Martin

        The story was moved from america to China because China is the next global super power this movie was made to boost that, Columbia is Indian owned and we will see more of China and India in ‘hollywood’ movies just look at mission impossible 4 parts made in India. We are looking at a total demographic change and shifting emphasis onto Asia.

      • Johnny lightfoot

        The producer of the original KK was the producer of the new one – he refused to change the title even when Sony asked him

    • Johnny lightfoot

      The bad guys in the original KK were Americans
      And most Chinese in the new KK are good – only Master Li’s group is bad

  15. David Martin

    Well to put it simply, the Chinese were not going to see their own kind beaten up by a small black boy who took only a few weeks to learn kung fu. The Chinese version had to be edited to appease those audiences because upsetting them will make politics difficult. To put it mildly, whether you like the truth or not, the americans have promoted these people over anyone else. Given a couple of years from now when China becomes the Superpower over the usa, the movies will be showing Chinese and Asian role models. In Asia (which has the primary selling markets to the west) they have a culture and it does not portray blacks being superior in any way, to put it simply if the blacks don’t like it they will be told to go home. If the west wants to sell to the primary markets the west will do whatever it has to, to make the money and that my include excluding the blacks up to a point no matter how much they complain about racism. That is the New World Order on the horizon any analyst will tell you this it is not just my word.

  16. Shannon

    Interesting…I came across this blog while looking for a rundown of the Chinese version of this movie since I’m currenty watching it on FX. I wanted to know if the censors allowed the kiss between Jaden Smith and the young Chinese love interest. I am not surprised to read that it was censored and deleted from the Chinese version. However, I was a bit surprised to read some of the views expressed in this post by the author’s American friend. In particular this point: “After watching the new Karate Kid movie released in America, my American friend turned to me and said: “only in an American-made movie would the little American kid go to a foreign country and beat up little Chinese boys with their own fighting style.”

    Ummm…since you and your friend live in China I am sure you have seen the numerous Chinese movies were Westerners are pretty much always depicted as the bad guys. This theme is usually followed by one man defeating the bad Westerners (usually single-handely) and recoverying the honor of China. Yet, you and your friend seem to take offense when this is done in an American movie?

    Sounds like both you and your friend need to grow up and join us in the really real world.

    • Why would anyone be offended by having an American protagonist in an American movie? By your comments you seem to agree with the quoted statement that that would not happen in a movie intended for a non-american audience, but my apologies if you were offended, there was definitely no intended criticism against America (or China). We saw the American version in America and my American friend has never been to China.

  17. Gravitasone

    I just wanted to say thank you for this blog. I have learned a lot from it. :)

  18. Pingback: Censorship | Unit X

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  22. gungfu_enthusiast

    I ran across this site after seeing a deleted scene where Mr. Han fought Master Li. Horrible fight scene, I’m glad they deleted it. It has been really cool to see and hear the other story changes the made to the movie in China. But I must say I am appalled at the rampant ignorance perpetrated by some of the Americans here. Now I am a wide-eyed, honky, ghost-face, red blooded American and proud of it, but if y’all can’t even read the original post well enough to see it was an American viewing and an American who turned and said the comment “only in an American-made movie would the little American kid go to a foreign country and beat little Chinese boys with their own fighting style.” Then you shouldn’t be responding.
    We Americans need to lighten up and allow people to say things without acting like a bunch of weak spined children who claim foul every time we find something to be offended about. Of course China is not going to want to be seen as a bunch of bullies, and in the American release, outside of Mr. Han of course, all the Chinese are shown that way. The principal is quick to discipline Dre for fighting without listening, and then when she realizes he is bullied and asked him. He responded with everything is ok, and she’s like good, I don’t have to do anything more. Obviously Master Li and his students are bullies. Even Meiying’s parents are quick to dismiss xiao Dre, that is until he charms the father with really broken mandarin. If we as Americans are going to be so sensitive, it allows us to go on keyboard warrior missions on misread articles. We should cut other countries some slack for not wanting to look like bullies.
    I too had the thought that “only in an American-made movie would the little American kid go to a foreign country and beat little Chinese boys with their own fighting style.” But that didn’t irritate me as much as the idea that Dre beat these kids after only training a few weeks. Now the interesting view-point the story suggest is that it’s because Mr. Han taught xiao Dre real kung fu and Dre drank from the dragon well. What eva what eva.
    So that’s my two cents. Go and spend any way you see fit.

  23. Somebody has to be the bad guy to make a movie interesting and what race the bad guys are should not be an issue. After all, there are good and bad people of all races. But unlike the original, this remake does not even include any Karate in it. Jackie Chan is a total sellout for taking part in this Hollywood farce.

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  25. Even the American version was censored or edited most likely by the request of the Chinese government. The scene makes an indirect statement regarding the political practices of the Chinese government. Check out the scene they deleted in the American Version.

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