The Karate Kid (1984)

Posted by on Jan 2, 2012 in All Play and No Work | 0 comments


Disclaimer: Swearing, sexual references, bad acting, and glorified Asian fighting, which includes vicious moves such as Johnny-Sweep-the-Leg. There will indeed be kicking and screaming after this one (provided the kicks make contact).

Somewhere among the piles of VHS tapes at my parents’ home in Wisconsin resides a few home movies that will someday come back to haunt me. For a price, you can see a clip depicting a squirrelly nerd in a white robe who thinks he’s Ralph Macchio in The Karate Kid – crane kick and all. That’s me, exhibiting a prime example of how movies affected me when I was young. It wasn’t so much mimicry as it was obsession.

This film follows Daniel LaRusso Karate3(Macchio) after he and his mother move to sunny California from New Jersey. Daniel, an Italian, tries to fit in with the others, blond surfers, but rubs them the wrong way when he becomes friendly with one of their girlfriends (Elizabeth Shue, in her film debut). As it turns out, these Californians are all members of a karate club called Cobra Kai, led by twisted Sensei John Kreese (Martin Kove, after Chuck Norris turned it down). One night the gang surrounds Daniel and gives him a good beating until a mysterious neighbor named Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) saves him. Miyagi, a handyman and karate master, takes Daniel under his wing to pass down what he learned from karate (not to mention to get some housework done).

“Lesson not just karate only,” Miyagi says in broken English. “Lesson for whole life. Whole life have balance, everything better, understand?”

Miyagi shows Daniel that American karate, focused on power and strength, isn’t where it’s at. Wax on, wax off, however, is totally awesome.

“What kind of belt do you have?” Daniel asks at one point.

“Canvas. J.C. Penney. Three ninety-eight. You like?” Miyagi responds.

In order to end the violence and bad blood between the boys, Miyagi agrees to enter Daniel in a tournament where, of course, he’ll eventually take down all the minor characters until he meets leader Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) in the finalé.

This is a classic 80s movie with an Karate2equally hilarious soundtrack including Cruel Summer and You’re the Best, which South Park used in an episode as a farce without having to alter it – it’s that awesome. The film gave Morita a Golden Globe and Academy Award nomination for actor in a supporting role and spawned two mediocre sequels, with some hilarious scenes as well, and an atrocious spin-off with Hilary Swank as The Next Karate Kid. Though the 2010 remake with Jackie Chan and Will Smith’s kid Jayden earned mostly positive praise, it missed the mark of what made the original so cheesy, so 80s, and so damn awesome. The action scenes are more involved and “bad guys” far more brutal, which would maybe be fine if it was still high schoolers, but it’s not; these are pre-teen middle schoolers. The biggest disappointment is the Miyagi character, which now isn’t nearly as interesting/lasting/funny/empathetic (the mother and love interest are the same undeveloped one-dimensional gals as before). It’s far longer, yet it feels like less happens.

Indeed, the original has been much-replicated but never equaled, as evidenced by single-handedly making karate lessons cool and leading hundreds of dorky kids to believe they could win over hot girls by accruing various colored belts. Thanks are due for you, Karate Kid, as well as my father, who had sense enough to keep me from joining those desperate ranks.

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