New “Karate Kid” Filled with Old Stereotypes

That’s the argument made by Leslie Bow, author of Partly Colored: Asian Americans and Racial Anomaly in the Segregated South, at The Progressive.

The new “Karate Kid” with Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith has supposedly learned from the past, setting out to poke holes in some stereotypes about Asians. That’s good news for any Asian middle-schooler tormented by the “Wax on, wax off” catchphrase of the original.  The film parodies the idea that all Asians are foreigners (“Dude, I’m from Detroit”) and can grab flies out of the air with chopsticks.

It also preserves some of the positives from the original. The heart-warming, cross-racial coalition is still there, as is the theme of reciprocal redemption, to say nothing of the obligatory training montage.

But what’s also still there is a tired image that always surrounds Hollywood fantasies about Asians: We respect our elders; we obey authority; we are preternaturally focused and preternaturally cruel; we have bad hair.