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.