With The Karate Kid opening number one this weekend Harald Zwart must be feeling pretty good about himself! The innocence and epic nature of the this remake seemed to be no match for the off-the-cuff comedic violence of The A-Team.
Zwart may be known in the US for The Pink Panther 2 and internationally for Long Flat Balls I and II, but he’s yearned for some time to do something less silly and humorous, and something more artistic and dare I say epic. He jumped at the chance to join the Smith family in “retelling” the classic story in a beautiful, new way.
Even before the release of the film, Zwart was confident that his film would be a success with viewers…
How does it feel to go against another classic remake of The A-Team?
Harald Zwart: I’m feeling pretty good. We rely on tracking. We are going to do really well. The reviews have been terrific; everything I have read today. I am just totally confident that when people are in the theater they will have a great experience. Every screening we have had ended with applause and cheering, so I am feeling really good about that.
This film had the possibility of being cheesy, but you managed to avoid that. Was it important to you to develop the story and take your time with it?
HZ: Yes. This film is much more true to my own desire of filmmaking. It is much more of how I really am. When I came across the project, this was my opportunity to show a much more artistic and much more emotional movie, which is something I have always wanted to do. I actually feel the best doing.
When I came into the meeting, I came in with all the artistry that I thought the movie should have. I designed the whole shadow theme on the wall. I built a model of Han’s house so I could demonstrate to the studio how the shadows were going to play on the wall. I did that with a little flashlight.
How was it trying to combine the history of China and the ancient art of Karate with normal teenagers today and pop music?
I love the fact that I have [Fryderyk Franciszek] Chopin and Lady Gaga in the same movie, it is all the stuff that I bring with me that I have always wanted to have in a movie. I was also working really hard to make it visually interesting. I think what I told Will and the studios is that I want to treat this like an independent movie. I want to shoot it like an independent movie where you do take your time on the characters and it has an absolute realism and authenticity. I want to shoot on the real streets in China. I don’t want to do studios and set up extras. I just want to be right there in the middle. I want the fights to be completely realistic. That was my approach to the whole thing. Luckily, the producers, Overbrook, and the studios felt the same way, so we always pulled the same train in that sense.
The fight scenes were pretty realistic for a PG-13 movie, was that important to you that you could really feel the punches?
HZ: Yeah. I was never a fighter, but like any young boy I ended up in street confrontations. The fact is that no matter what age you are, whether you are young or a grown up, that stuff is as scary for anybody. I wanted to have that realism totally reflected in the movie. There is no filter where we go, “It’s just a kids movie. Should we do it this way or that way?” It doesn’t matter. I never looked at it as a kids’ movie. It was a movie with kids is how I looked at it. I wanted the fights to be just like they were with The Bourne Identity or The Bourne Supremacy.
Can you tell us about working with charismatic Jayden Smith?
HZ: Jayden was on board before I became on board. He is part of the reason why I thought the movie was a great idea. He is fantastic. He photographs unbelievably well. He is such a beautiful child. He has a mature soul. He has a very mature aura about him. He has a great sense of humor and he is incredibly focused. I think he was the hardest working person on our crew. Nobody worked more hours than him. He had to train everyday, he had to train between takes, he had to learn Chinese, and learn his lines. I just have such huge respect for him and still he always maintained his sense of humor. He is much like his dad.
And what was it like working with Will Smith behind the camera?
[Will] as a producer is a dream for a director. There was just constant motivation with positive energy. As a director you are always looking for perfection, but sometimes you are limited by the producers. They tell you to move on and it is good enough, but it was never that. It was always, “Let’s make it the absolute best we can, and we are not going to stop until we got it.” For a director, that is just a dream. I had such a good time working with them.
Did you feel like this is a remake or like you are introducing the film to the newer generation in a whole new way?
HZ: Well this is part of the reason people are skeptical to us remaking it. I always say that I am not remaking the original movie. I am retelling a story. I think it is a story that deserves to be retold because it is such a great life lesson for young people. It is such a motivating movie and you learn so much from it that it deserves to be retold again. We have honored the original one, and we sort of homage it.
It seems to work well for both those who have seen it and those who have not seen it.
HZ: I keep hearing that too. After ten minutes, people forget that it is a remake.
In the film we get to see more of Jackie Chan’s serious side, was that something he wanted to show or that you pushed out of him?
HZ: We always wanted to go deep with the character. When I met Jackie for the first time, I saw right away that he is a man with the heart in the right place. He is very emotional and a very connected man. He wanted to go that mile himself, so it was kind of a mutual thing. He always wanted to go to that place himself, but I think that people will see that he isn’t only a movie star, he is also a great actor.
I had taken a picture of a guy in the street in Beijing; a man on a bicycle with. I thought that was the character. He had that leather hat, the blue jacket, and the button up t-shirt. I showed it to Jackie and told him, “That is your character.” This is the man, but you have to cut your hair. He said, “I never cut my hair for a movie.” I said, “Well this is the guy. I need you to look like this. You can’t have that full set of hair. You need to look a lot more like the tired, soulful character.” Then he said, “Okay. I’ll cut my hair only for you” (laughs).
Check out The Karate Kid in theaters now!