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Sunday, June 13, 2010

So I'm Supposed To Chalk It Up To Ignorance?

Karate and Kung Fu.

I'm not talking about knowing the intricate movements by eye. I don't expect everyone to be knowledgeable about a Karate kick and a Kung Fu hand slap.

But if I tell you, "My kid is studying Karate," I do expect that 99 percent of you to suddenly visualize Japan, Japanese, sushi, Mr. Miyagi. OTOH, if I say, "My kid is taking up Kung Fu," your brain should instantly connect to images of Chinese, China, Bruce Lee.

Am I taking for granted that my fellow Americans, even those who aren't totally exposed to international culture, in today's 1001 cable channels, 5000 video games, 1,000,000 Youtube connections, should know that Karate is Japanese and Kung Fu is Chinese?

My offhanded joking comment this last week on one of my social networks was just a wry observation at that moment: "Y'all know there's no Karate in Karate Kid (2), right?" Meaning, I was pointing out something that was obvious to me, funny, too, because I know Hollywood ain't that dumb when they named a movie Karate Kid and set it in China with Kung Fu. Hollywood knew the difference.

A commenter remarked that she couldn't tell the difference and didn't really care because she's all about the emotional connection in the story. To me, there are readers out there who correct every "incorrect" historical detail in a historical romance, expressing horror about the use of champagne flutes in such a such a year, etc. Yet, when I pointed out this--to me, quite big--detail, I was told that it shouldn't matter to me.

Why not?

It matters to me, just as it offends many people that all Asians--Chinese, Korean, Thai, Japanese--are lumped together and dismissed as looking "alike." Sure, it's not easy to tell us apart, but these days, most people ask where I'm from originally; they no longer just assume I'm a "Chink" from China. When my friends and I reply, Malaysia, or Singapore, or Thailand, they have an idea about the general locations of those countries.

So, I've been assuming that in the last 25 years, there has been some sort of progress. Am I wrong? Do most of you not know that Karate is Japanese and Kung Fu is Chinese? That it's stupid funny to call a movie Karate Kid when it's set in China with the kid learning Kung Fu?

Again, I'm not talking about knowing the artforms and all their movements. I'm talking about the words themselves.

I wasn't even upset or thinking much about this subject till the online conversation. She didn't know. Okay, I can accept that. But now that I've done my best to help her know, she still didn't care. I don't know whether I can accept that.

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vince said...

From what I've read, it's called "The Karate Kid" to pick up the nostalgia market. It features kung fu because that's the most popular martial art internationally.

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, the movie is set in China because the producers hope to penetrate the Chinese market, a market which is pretty resistant to western movies. They're likely to be successful, since the Chinese government contributed $5 million towards production costs. The movie will reportedly be marketed as "The Kung Fu Kid" in non-U.S. markets.

In an interview with Jackie Chan, he stated that it would be called "The Kung Fu Kid" for international markets, although I haven't been able to confirm this.

I have a friend from Columbia who echoes your point about all Asians being lumped together. He said that Americans tend to use the word "Hispanics" and equate this with "Mexicans," forgetting that there are many Americans whose family immigrated from Spanish-speaking South American countries and are proud of their origins.

Gennita said...

Yes, it's marketing to nostalgia. That doesn't mean you (Hollywood writers) can write a whole new story with its showcase anchor as a kung-fu expert and call it Karate Kid, LOL. Yes, yes, I'm sooo picky.

There are no new stories and everything is a rewrite of something, but if you're rewriting Karate Kid, please write about the kid doing karate. I'm not ecpecting high art here, but if I were a karate enthusiast and went in to see the movie without any prior reading of interviews, I'd have been very disappointed. And a bit put out.

What if I named a movie Eating Sushi and the whole story was about Peking Duck? It's all Asian, right? :P

Mo said...

As a not fan of martial arts, I admit to not knowing their origins, and hence their philosophies. I was curious at one point about aikido, so I did look that one up. Both of the more martial arts films that I have seen (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and House of the Flying Daggers)are set in China, so an assumption is made that the actual forms themselves are Chinese in origin.

Having said that, once the effort is made to explain the difference, it shouldn't be dismissed. A friend of mine is heavily into Kung Fu movies; he is also Chinese. He and I talked once about it so I at least know that it is Chinese.

I'd say 2 things: the person you talked to about it is wilfully ignorant and Hollywood is playing on the fact that most Americans are at the very least simply ignorant on the subject.

This reminds me of when I picked on "Saving Private Ryan" because they have Tom Hanks and company land on the wrong beach. I was quite upset by that. Or how most Americans can't tell you the names of all the beaches or which countries landed on which ones. (How many know that Canada is one of those countries?)

Gennita said...

Exactly. As a writer, with so many readers from different cultures and countries, I have to be careful how I portray the cultural aspects of my made-believed world. Yes, a generalization can't be helped sometimes. I don't mind that at all, but when one is writing about an important historical event, like your example, one should at least get the beach/location right!

Anyway, obviously, I have the wrong assumption about the general knowledge of the two terms, Karate and Kung Fu. But obviously, the whole world outside the US knows, LOL, because the marketing dpt chsnging its title to Kung Fu Kid tells me they're awared at how everyone out there is going to laugh about it being called Karate Kid with no karate!

MaryC said...


I was recently walking in downtown Boston when I passed a hotel near Chinatown with four male American tourists standing in front - one of them put his hands together and started bowing while saying "Konichiwa". As I passed, I simply said,"I'm not Japanese."

I still come across people who compliment me on my English and ask where I was born. When I respond Boston, the response is, "No, not where you live,where were you born?"

Deborah Blake Dempsey said...

Most people do not know the difference and unfortunately, they do not care. That is the honest truth. It’s easier to lump a person or thing into a single category than find out if there are any differences. Not to mention, there are few forums where these differences are explained, unless there is a specific study or need for differentiation. The Hollywood arm plays with the idea of “poetic license” and the fact that most people won’t know the difference of what they are changing or misrepresent. Sadly, many people believe what they see so the uninformed remains that way and then they pass this information on to other who believe it’s the truth.

Mary C - You know what the sad thing is, they probably just shrugged after you corrected them and laughed away their mistake. No lessons learned. Which is amazing really, because there is such a large population of Asians in Boston and although they are in a place called Chinatown, you can’t assume everyone there is Chinese. I mean, next they’ll think I’m Chinese the next time I walk down Washington St. just because I’m in the neighborhood.

I understand your frustrations Jenn.

alund said...

I understand your pet peeve completely. I believe I'm the only one in the movie theater arguing that the Coca Cola ad with the polar bears and the penguins is all wrong. People in Madison Avenue, hear me roar. One species lives in the Arctic and the other in the Antarctic.:) LOL, is this what happens when you're nearing 50?

Gennita said...


Oh, I have been konichiwaed many, many times :D. The older ones Hap Senged me too. Sometimes I answer back in Chinese just to see their expressions. Sometimes I drawl out, "Dude, where y'all from?" It all depends on my mood :P.

But it is frustrating to be an ABC and get those questions, I bet.

Gennita said...


I do get the it's all that Asian Mystical Thing. Really, I have no problem with it. Only with the people who think it doesn't matter ;-).

Gennita said...

AHAHAHAHA, Alund, you made my day with that one. Thank you!


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