The Karate Consultant
February 16, 2012
As the director of DePaul’s Chinese Studies Program, Associate Professor Franklin Perkins has helped educate students on Chinese culture and philosophy. In 2010, he helped inform the production of “The Karate Kid” remake as a credited cultural consultant.
Robin Wong, a friend who teaches at Loyola Marymount University in L.A., was contacted initially about consulting on the film and brought Perkins onto the project.
It was a fitting project for Perkins, whose interest in karate as a youth (“I even had a ‘Kung-Fu’ lunchbox,” he says) led to his interest in Chinese culture, which brought him to the home of one of the world’s biggest stars.
Brush with fame
“(Wong) told me that the producer, Will Smith, wanted us to meet with him,” Perkins says. “I thought, it couldn’t be the Will Smith; that’s kind of a common name. But it was the Will Smith.”
The pair went to Smith’s house twice for breakfast, meeting with Smith, “Karate Kid” director Harold Zwart and a couple of the writers.
“They gave us a draft of the script that had kind of generic wisdom in it and they wanted us to add elements that were more authentically Chinese,” Perkins says. “The main thing we talked about was Taoism and Taoist ideas and how that would connect with the movie. The original script was more focused on strength and courage and we wanted to shift it a bit more to a Chinese-style emphasis on yielding, calmness and softness.”
Influence on the film
One scene Perkins had a major influence on involved Mr. Han (played by Jackie Chan) taking Dre Parker (played by Jaden Smith) to a holy mountain.
“There is a plate of water and Jackie Chan stirs it around and asks Dre to look into it and it’s all blurry,” Perkins says. “Then he lets the water calm down and Dre can see his reflection. The metaphor in that scene basically says to reflect things you have to be still like water, and that’s actually from a Taoist text that I teach a lot. They constructed that scene, but my contribution was the concept of calming the mind and being able to reflect things. ”
Perkins visits China two or three times each year, and has lived in China for four years. While he was in Beijing in the summer of 2010, he was invited to visit the set of “The Karate Kid” where he watched the filming of a scene.
“The whole experience was pretty amazing, Perkins says. “I write a lot, but mostly for other academics, so it was interesting to have input into something that reaches such a broad audience.”
Are any other Hollywood projects in Perkins’ future?
“I’m not sure,” he says. “I went to Will Smith’s house again to consult on a different film, just in an initial idea generating stage. I don’t know how many films there are that need Chinese philosophy consultants, but I’d be happy to do it again if I had the chance.”