Friday, August 6, 2010

Karate Kid - the qi force

I recently watched the new Karate Kid movie, with Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan. It really is a good movie - but this post is not a movie review.

This (very short) post is actually about Chinese writing systems.

The movie is based in mainland China, where the Simplified Character Set is used. And throughout the movie you see writing in this Simplified set, as you'd expect.

But there is one scene (no, this is not a spoiler) where Jackie Chan is explaining the concept of life-force or qi, and he writes the symbol as follows: 氣. Of course, this is actually the Traditional version, whereas the Simplified version is: 气  (and you also get a Z-variant: 気).

OK, so Jackie Chan is from Hong Kong where they use Traditional characters, and I accept that the above version looks more 'appropriate' for a scene in a movie.

So I begrudge that it is the right thing to do for Karate Kid.  Although, to be fair, my heart did miss a beat when I saw the technical goof.

Small things amuse small minds.   (Go on, don't be shy to tell me that in the comments below ...)


  1. I'm actually more excited to watch the movie, because of Beijing and all the interesting Chinese things I'll pick up, exactly like you did. Good catch!

  2. For someone with an interest in China, I definitely enjoyed the Chinese setting of the movie. And I particularly liked it when I saw buildings or places that I know personally. (For example, there was footage of the CCTV building - if you don't know it then look it up - but they expertly excluded the burnt-out hotel next to it!)

  3. Davidico, the SpanishPod/cPod audio engineer in Shanghai, always used gave us the traditional character when he was explaining a character for us, saying the traditional 'made more sense.' Then he'd show us the Simplified version.

  4. Actually it's not really a technical goof. I watched the whole show and didn't really see much glitch, other than the name itself...

    In Mainland, the people don't strictly confine themselves only to Simplified Characters. Simplified characters may be used most of the time in the average Chinese everyday life, but the Chinese can read traditional characters too. and they sometimes uses them. This is more evident in the more "traditional" settings, like when writing calligraphy and that sort of stuff, or simply when used for aesthetic purposes in "grander settings" (because trad. char. are more ancient and feels more beautiful).

    I don't really know which part you are talking about in the movie, but from the way you describe it, I suppose Jackie Chan was introducing this ancient theory of qi (to the boy?) in a very epic way and so used the more ancient character to representing the concept.

    Such cases of usage of trad char. are common. Another example of people switching from simplified to traditional characters in grander settings is 龍 and 鳳 for 龙 and 凤, simply because it's more beautiful. But then in every day writing and communication, people use back the simplified version.

    Don't think too much about the qi written in traditional chinese as an error on the producer's part. Think of it more as a cultural thing in China.

  5. JP: Without a doubt, the Traditional characters make more sense. Even before I actually tried to learn to read & write Chinese, I enjoyed looking up characters on to get a sense of their origins. So thanks for your comment about learning Chinese from your SpanishPod engineer :-)

  6. Pewteroid: I know what you mean about the name - even little Jaden explains to his mom that "it's not karate, it's kung fu".

    The scene I'm talking about is when they are in the train, with Jackie writing on the "steamy" window.

    You say: "In Mainland the people don't strictly confine themselves only to Simplified Characters" - which was something I discovered myself when visiting Yangshuo this year. Although almost all of the writing was Simplified, I noticed that many of the signs (eg. no parking) were written in traditional.

    Thanks for your comment, and for adding some colour to the topic!

  7. I just noticed in my visit logs that I got lots of visitors from Google who are searching for the meaning of that character that Jackie drew, and Google is sending them here :-)

  8. OK HERE IS THE THING CHINESE WILL ACTUALLY PAY ATTENTION TO. When the Jaden Smith wrote the word on the window and all audiance saw the character inside out from the exterior. AND IT LOOKS LIKE THE WORD SHIT!!!!! "屎"

    People from China don't really care the whether its tranditional or simplfied. They can read both and all Calligraphy follow tranditional character.