The Karate Kid director, Harald Zwart, whose last film, Pink Panther 2, starred Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, talks about Hollywood and Bollywood.
You came on board the movie after the casting was done. Did the cast get you excited about the movie?
Yeah, absolutely. The Karate Kid is a great franchise, it was something I was dying to do when I heard of it. The fact that Jackie (Chan) and Jaden (Smith) were attached to it kind of sealed the deal. Jackie wasn’t confirmed, but I’m glad he came on board, because no one could have done the role better than him.
What memories do you have of watching the original Karate Kid?
It’s a movie that stays with you, and lives with you. I think everybody has some sort of life before and after The Karate Kid. It made us all realize that even if you are being bullied at school, you can stand up for yourself. It was a great way to motivate, and to understand that you don’t have to accept any ill-treatment.
You sound like a fan of the original. Were you nervous when directing the remake?
Oh yeah, I’m a huge fan of the original. So the idea was to respect the original movie, but at the same time, I wanted to make it my own movie. We had to! There were certain expectations from fans. We had to give them what they wanted but it also had to be fresh enough for them to enjoy it on its own merit.
Were you bullied as a kid? Did you use any such personal memories in the film?
(Laughs) No, I wasn’t. I have been in fights though, like every kid has. And I remember those fights were just as dangerous as what you would have when you are grown up. That’s why it was important for me to not treat this movie like a kid’s movie. I wanted the fighting to be as real and as grown up as it could. I made sure that I respected the children, and not make the film lighter or dumber because they are kids.
The movie is also funnier than the original. Is it the Jackie Chan effect?
Even Jaden’s a very funny kid! Jackie has a great sense of humour and I’ve always been a fan of his movies. But Jaden loves doing practical jokes too. In my movies, I like to pop the seriousness of scenes with a funny ending, without anyone consciously trying to be funny.
Jaden’s parents, Will and Jada Pinkett Smith produced the film, but weren’t they worried about the risky stunts?
I think they juggled the jobs of parents and producers really well. It’s obvious that they are a really hard-working family. They like reaching for perfection, and that made my job easier. As for the stunts, we made sure Jaden was never in harm’s way. Even if he had to do a split on a roof, there was enough safety around. In the original movie, Ralph Macchio’s character was a teenager, so the stunts weren’t considered too risky. In fact, I felt that the fact that Jaden is younger, made his character more vulnerable and the story stronger. Because, a 12-year-old has less control over his life, and the stakes become higher. Also, Jaden is very focused. He has a mature soul, and that made the story more believable.
Chan has only one fight sequence. Wasn’t it tempting to give him more?
(Laughs) Yeah, that was very tempting. And well, there might be some surprises for you on the DVD. But yeah, we just worked really hard not to go there. The movie was always about Jaden. Jackie, more than anything else, proved himself to be a great actor in the movie. He was very excited to become a soulful master and really had a blast playing a low key, mysterious man.
Do you know any Kung Fu yourself?
(Chuckles) I don’t know much, but I know enough to make a film on kung fu!
You said, in an interview, how you shot a part of The Karate Kid like Slumdog Millionaire. Was it an inspiration?
Oh yeah, Slumdog has been a huge inspiration to me! I wanted the chase sequences in the movie to be shot like those of Slumdog. It’s tough when you have a crew of 500, but I think we pulled it off.
Have you seen any Indian movies?
Yes, I have seen some. Before I met Aishwarya (Rai Bachchan) for Pink Panther, I had done my research. (Chuckles) But all the movies had difficult names.
What memories do you have of working with Aishwarya Rai Bachchan?
Oh, she’s an incredibly professional and fun person to be around. It’s always amazed me how humble huge stars are. When the cameras were not rolling, she was one of the nicest people in the world to hang out with. She is a great human being and I’d love to work with her again.
Any other Indian actors you’d like to work with?
Well, Aishwarya’s husband… I forget his name. Abhishek? Yeah, he’s a terrific guy, I think. I’d love to direct him someday.
Ever fancy making a movie in India?
I would love to shoot in India, even if it’s only for a commercial. I’m really amazed by the country and want to see it for sure.