Classic Movie Thursdays: The Karate Kid Review

So I watched The Karate Kid..

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One of the hallmarks of any classic is longevity. I grew up watching this movie as a child and as I’ve grown older, it’s gotten better. This is a film that’s a product of its time but also has a wonderful timeless glean to it. This is a movie that I’ll most likely be watching until I get to senile to remember what a movie is.

Okay, basic plot: Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and his mother leave their home in Newark, New Jersey for greener pastures in Reseda, Los Angeles. Daniel is unhappy about leaving the familiar comforts of his old neighbourhood and his woes are only worsened when a local group of kids start tormenting him. One day Daniel is saved from a beating by Mr Miyagi (Noriyuki “Pat” Morita) – the repairmen who works in the building where Daniel stays. Mr Miyagi suggests that Daniel report the bullying by the boys – who are all students at the Cobra Kai karate dojo – to their karate instructor. The aggressive, harsh temperament of the boys is reflected in their instructor who states that the only way to solve the dispute is by fighting. Mr Miyagi manages to convince the instructor that the fighting should happen at the local karate tournament which is scheduled in two months. Mr Miyagi promises to train Daniel but his methods are unorthodox and have Daniel fearing that he’ll be on the receiving end of yet another beating.

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This film is an example of the classic underdog story. It might not be the most original piece of work but its brilliance lies in its unique and exuberant execution. The best thing about this film is the chemistry and energy that its two lead characters bring to the fore. Ralph Macchio as Daniel-san is one of the most likeable and endearing underdogs to ever exist on film. He has this amazing charm and dogged spirit that just make you want to root for him to win. Pat Morita as Mr Miyagi is what I imagine Yoda would be if he was human. Imperfect but aware of these imperfections and constantly striving to be the best version of himself. He’s a man who’s walked the path and seen it all and now wishes to impart knowledge to make your journey easier without robbing you of your right of stumbling on your own path.  He makes you want to be better without causing you to feel like you aren’t enough and that’s what makes him such a great mentor.

Both of these characters individually are great to watch on screen but it’s when they’re put together that the true magic happens. The film takes time to establish the friendship between the two before the film’s drama even really begins. They want to be friends before they need to be allies and this adds depth to their relationship. Both characters have a hole in their lives – Daniel for a father, Mr Miyagi for a son – and they find solace in each other. Another beautiful thing about this is that the film never feels the need to state this i.e. neither of the pair voice the gap that exists in their lives or how the other person has filled it. We’re given the characters individual stories and allowed to connect that dots ourselves about why their friendship works so well.

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John G. Avildsen who directed this film also directed Rocky and you can feel that same underdog spirit present throughout The Karate Kid. In truth, The Karate Kid and Rocky share quite a few connections: they have the same director, Bill Conti composed the music for both films, both films feature songs performed by Survivor and the song, “You’re the best” which features in this film’s finale was actually originally written for Rocky III. I’m in no way trying to insinuate that The Karate Kid is a ripoff of Rocky but you can feel Rocky’s influence on this film and it’s all the better for it.

This film is just over two hours but it moves along at such a steady pace and is filled with so much humour and fun that you don’t even feel it. The way Mr Miyagi trains Daniel with the iconic “Wax on, wax off” mantra is pure gold. The movie manages to be deep and impart a meaningful message without ever losing its sense of fun or getting too bogged down in itself. The Karate Kid also has a great sense of focus and balance (which if you listen to Mr Miyagi, is essential). It knows which characters to push to the background and which to bring to the fore. Robert Mark Kamen – who wrote this film’s script – also deserves praise for not only his crisp and entertaining dialogue but also the detail he adds to characters to make them interesting without over-doing it and making things muddled.

Overall, The Karate Kid is a absolute masterpiece and a timeless classic. It tells a story which will be relevant in human culture until people stop being bullies and parents stop moving their kids, and even beyond that. Watch this movie, it deserves your attention.

five star

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4 thoughts on “Classic Movie Thursdays: The Karate Kid Review

  1. I also grew up with this movie, even went to see it in the theater, way back when. I am fond of it, but to be honest, I have never thought of it as a masterpiece. To me, it’s always been a Rocky rip-off. There are literally thousands of them, easily already into the hundreds by 1984, so that’s not a big knock on it. The reason it’s not a big knock is because this manages to set itself apart, largely due to the portrayal of the relationship between Daniel and Mr. Miyagi. I totally agree that the magic happens when the two share the screen. Pat Morita was particularly instrumental in making it work.

    The other thing that keeps it from being a masterpiece is the way too generous helping of cheese and predictability it is drowned in. I feel a little heartless for even saying this, but I have always found the final fight corny. Again, not enough to make me dislike it, but enough to keep it from being an all-time great.

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    1. Those are some great points but this movie always stands out for me because of the relationship at its core. I agree there are plenty of underdog stories and even more that have a mentor/mentee dynamic but I haven’t found one that showcases the relationship between the two as well as The Karate Kid. This film definitely takes notes from Rocky but I don’t think it ever steals or tries to embellish. I don’t think the depth of Rocky’s relationship with Micky matches the level of that between Daniel and Mr Miyagi. The ending is corny and cliche but it’s earned and that makes it acceptable. We see Daniel work for his success and have reason to root for him, this makes his victory an obligation.

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  2. It’s hard for me to pick something I love the most about this movie, but it might be the music. From “Cruel Summer” in the back to school montage to “You’re the Best” at the end, it’s the perfect 80s combination of image and music.
    As someone once said, there’s a reason by-the-numbers works, and The Karate Kid is a great example of a formula executed perfectly. Rocky wishes it were this good (and I’m only sort of kidding).

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    1. Hahahaha, haven’t seen Rocky in a while but I’d honestly rather watch Karate Kid than Rocky at the moment. I love “You’re The Best”, not sure if I mentioned it but it was actually supposed to be in Rocky III but they went with “Eye of the Tiger” instead. I agree that Karate Kid didn’t invent the wheel but they certainly perfected it.

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