Teachers, mentors, trainers, instructors, surrogate parents: they all merge together in the movies. It's a time-honored tradition to examine the teacher-student relationship, starting long before Robert Donat won an Oscar as a beloved teacher in Goodbye, Mr. Chips in 1939. It's a tradition that's served as the main plot device for hundreds of movies, and it's revived again in The Karate Kid, which opened wide this weekend, with Jackie Chan teaching Jaden Smith.
Chan, as an apparently broken-down maintenance man living a solitary existence, serves in several roles. He teaches young Smith the physical aspects of martial arts, but also provides a cultural context, showing him the splendors of scenic China and the spiritual origins behind kung fu. For the fatherless boy, Chan also becomes a surrogate father, and discovers that the young man has a thing or two he can teach him. None of the real learning takes places in a classroom. Still, Chan initially earns respect from the boy because he can kick ass, as he demonstrates in dealing with a group of bullies. That inspired this list, which consider teachers who may be wise, but can also administer discipline in a fear-inspiring way.
1. Pai Mei in Kill Bill: Vol. 2
The Bride (Uma Thurman) is Caucasian, American, and a woman, a trifecta of hate for the distinguished Pai Mei (Gordon Liu), but she is determined to learn the secrets of the martial arts that only Pai Mei knows. Pai Mai is a coiled snake, ready to strike before his victim even knows he has been attacked, and is, perhaps, the deadliest teacher in the history of cinema. He imposes harsh lessons upon his young student, but she endures. The lessons will save her life.