The Jaden Smith-starring remake of The Karate Kid is doing more than just saving the box office from one of the direst summers on record. Like its predecessor, it’s also poised to reignite the passionate amour fou between filmmakers and martial arts. Don’t believe us? Take it from a guy who would know, sort of: Sidekicks screenwriter and associate producer Lou Illar, whose love of karate is so all-consuming, he never made another film after that, because that’s probably why. Illar recently sent us the following press release, which has really made us stop and think about that Sidekicks film we sort of remember (it had Chuck Norris and the kid from Seaquest DSV who ended up hanging himself, right?), and also karate, we guess.
Subject: Sidekicks Screenwriter and Martial Arts Master Lou Illar on the Comeback of Karate
(Hollywood, CA) As the new version of The Karate Kid starring Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith sweeps the world’s multiplexes, could a new wave of karate kids sweep into studios and rec centers? Lou Illar, screenwriter and associate producer of the classic 90’s martial arts movie Sidekicks, knows the answer.
“Karate is tailor-made for the movies. It’s exciting to watch, and involves personal and spiritual components that make great story-telling devices,” says Illar, who’s in pre-production for ‘Sidekicks II’ while witnessing firsthand the resurgence of martial arts from his Louisiana Dojo. “Plus, it doesn’t need to have winners and losers like Western sporting activities do; and the character building aspect for young people is key. At their heart, martial arts are about discipline and humility. The best part is that anyone can do it and excel. There’s a reason they’ve been around for centuries.”
First, there’s going to be a Sidekicks 2? That’s…interesting. As far as we can tell from our admittedly ambivalent research, this is probably news to everyone except Lou Illar. And wasn’t the whole plot of the first film about how Jonathan Brandis’ Ralph Macchio-substitute fantasized about being friends with Chuck Norris? I mean, not that he couldn’t still kick our ass, but Chuck Norris is 70 years old. (Unless this is going to be some sort of Tuesdays With Morrie sort of thing—or unless they’re planning on replacing him with another famous martial artist. This isn’t going to be part of Chuck Liddell’s fledgling acting career, is it?) Secondly, “It doesn’t need to have winners and losers”? Um, aren’t all karate movies, Sidekicks included, about losers who turn into winners by learning how to beat up the people who called them losers in the first place? We must have missed the part where Ralph Macchio crane-kicked Billy Zabka in the face and the ref declared that both opponents had successfully built their respective characters. And finally, if Louisiana Dojo isn’t the name of the next Steven Seagal album, we’re going to be sad.
But never mind that. What’s important here, apparently, is that martial arts are still transforming America’s youth from “the inner city to the suburbs,” and it’s all thanks to people like Illar. (“A big part of that is because of the success of movies like The Karate Kid and Sidekicks,” says Illar, with admirable restraint. “These movies play every day on television all over the world, and they both have a terrific message for young people.”) And Illar sees both this steady growth and the reinvigorated interest sparked by The Karate Kid—and those omnipresent, daily broadcasts of Sidekicks, of course—as simply yet another example of cinema’s long love affair with the sport, which he outlines just before high-kicking you with some thematic subtext:
“Whether it’s Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, or Jackie Chan, karate movies, like the martial arts themselves, will never go away” Illar says. “Movies definitively tell a story through movement and action. The first movies made were made by Chinese and featured women using martial arts. Obviously, there are many period pieces of Kung Fu Heroes but where is there a better backdrop for martial art movies, than the physical and emotional challenges of our times? No doubt the continual popularity of The Karate Kid reflects America’s never ending admiration and support for those who selflessly achieve a moral victory. This flick nixes the love some kids have for things and replaces it with the moral respect that Americans still want to find in one another. The Karate Kid has and always will reflect American grit and morality!”
Indeed, from the earliest Edison Kinetoscopes featuring battlin’ Chinese ladies to the Lumière Brothers’ groundbreaking Les Mademoiselles Karate to the Chinese filmmakers who invented films before either of those impostors, apparently, movies have always been first and foremost about spinning fascinating tales out of the thematically rich sport of martial arts, which remains rife with lessons about morality and emotional challenges, and other stuff that is way more important than “the love some kids have for things.” By the way, if you have any further questions on any of this, you can catch Illar on his current “media tour,” where he will be discussing such pressing questions as “why martial arts have become so popular with American families, “ and “what the Sidekicks sequel will be about.” Our guess is “karate.” (And “grit.")