Will and Jada were producers on the film, so they packed up the family—minus 17-year-old Trey, who stayed behind for his football season—and moved to China, where they shot everywhere from the Great Wall to Beijing's forbidden city, for four months. "It's really such a beautiful story about life and just the nature of growing up and dealing with the things that you're going to have to face," Will says.
After shooting The Pursuit of Happyness, Jaden was bit by the acting bug, Will says. "The Karate Kid was one of my favorites as a child growing up, and we were just looking for that thing that would be perfect for that age group, and it's kids doing martial arts. When the idea of Jackie Chan came up, we started looking at how we could refresh the idea. Such a David and Goliath story."
To prepare for the role, Jaden trained for three months in the United States and then three hours a day for four months once they moved to China. But martial arts weren't totally new to him. He'd been taking karate lessons since he was 3 years old. "I was pretty ripped [before filming]," Jaden says. "But I wasn't as ripped as I am now."
In the film, Jaden plays the new kid in school who's bullied by his classmates, but he says he's never had to deal with getting picked on in real life. "I've basically known karate my whole life, so usually at school nobody messes with me," he says. "But I could feel how they felt because I could see a lot of people get bullied. ... Once you can understand it, you can be it."
The movie isn't all fighting and training, though. Jaden also had his first onscreen kiss. But he says that was no problem. "I'm good at kissing, so it wasn't as challenging as it could have been!"
Spending four months in China was the trip of a lifetime, Will says. "China is probably as foreign, where things are done as differently from the United States as they're done in the world," he says. "We had images of China in our mind and we had preconceived notions and ideas about China that bear little to no resemblance to what the real China is."
Will and Jada say one of the biggest differences between them as producers was their vision for Jaden. "In my mind, I was teaching my son to hunt," Will says. "When he's making this movie, I'm teaching him how to hunt."
Jada says her natural instinct was to protect her son. "In African tribes, men would come to the village and remove their sons and initiate them into manhood. As a mother, it's an excruciating thing to have to watch. And I'm telling you, that mother instinct kicks in," she says, noting that China doesn't have the same labor restrictions for children as the United States does. "I tell Will: 'I understand there are certain things you're trying to instill in him, but at the end of the day, he's 11,' you know what I mean? So, you know, we had to find a nice balance."
When all was said and done, Jaden returned to the United States a different person, Jada says. "I had a friend over, and he said, look how [Jaden's] walking. Chest up. Confident,'" Jada says. "We can't jump in his body and make him go to rehearsal during lunch and practice. He did that, and he knows he did it. That type of character builds in a person."