Finally, I am getting a chance to continue my series of Back to School reviews!
Earlier today, we had a pretty big storm down here in Texas and it knocked out the electricity for three and a half hours! There I was, sitting in the dark and wondering if I would ever get a chance to review the 16th movie in this 56-film review series.
(Originally, I was planning on being done by this weekend but, as always seems to happen whenever I do a review series, I’m currently running behind so it’ll probably won’t be until the weekend after next that I post my final Back to School review.)
Fortunately, the Oncor truck eventually showed up in the alley. I, of course, ran out into the back yard and started to shout at them, “I need power! I have movies to review!” They must have heard me because, suddenly, the power came back on. And now, I can finally get around to sharing a few thoughts on the original, 1984 version of The Karate Kid!
Up until last night, believe it or not, I had never seen The Karate Kid before. Certainly, I knew about it. Much like Star Wars and Star Trek, The Karate Kid is one of those cultural landmarks that everyone knows about even if they haven’t actually sat down and watched the movie. Even before I watched the film, I knew about Mr. Miyagi. I knew about “wax on” and “wax off.” I knew about the crane. I even knew about “You’re alright, LaRusso!”
But I hadn’t actually seen the film and I have to admit that I was a little bit hesitant about doing so. Everything I had heard about The Karate Kid made it sound like a thoroughly predictable and excessively 80s sports film. I was expecting the film to be all about power ballads and training montages and uplifting dialogue and certainly, The Karate Kid had a lot of that.
But what took me by surprise is what a genuinely sweet movie The Karate Kid is. Yes, it’s predictable and it’s full of clichés but dammit, it all works. It still brought tears to my mismatched eyes.
The karate kid of the title is Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio), who moves, with his mother, from New Jersey to California. Daniel’s a nice kid who has learned a little karate from reading books but he’s still no match for the bullies at his new high school. Daniel does get a girlfriend, Ali Mills (Elisabeth Shue, giving a performance that feels far more genuine than any of her more recent work), but even that leads to him getting in trouble. It turns out that Ali’s ex-boyfriend is Johnny (William Zabka), the top student at Cobra Kai. Oddly enough, Johnny’s teacher is also named John. John Kreese (Martin Kove) is a Vietnam veteran who decorates his dojo with pictures of himself looking threatening. Kreese, we soon discover, is a total psychopath. “NO MERCY!” he shouts at this students.
When Johnny and his fellow Cobra Kai students beat up Daniel on Halloween, Daniel’s life is saved by Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita). Mr. Miyagi may appear to just be a simple maintenance man but he’s actually a total badass. He teaches Daniel not only the moves of karate (“Wax on…wax off…”) but the philosophy as well. He explains to Daniel that there are “No bad students. Just bad teacher.” In short, he is the exact opposite of Kreese.
Who is the better teacher? That’s a question that will be answered when Daniel faces off against the Cobra Kai bullies at the Under-18 All-Valley Karate Tournament. Can Daniel defeat Johnny, win Ali’s love, and earn the right to live free of harassment?
Well, it would be a pretty depressing movie if he didn’t…
Anyway, The Karate Kid turned out to be a really sweet and likable movie. I was never surprised by the movie’s plot but I still found myself being drawn into the story and hoping that everything would work out for Daniel and Ali. The character of Mr. Miyagi has been parodied in so many other films that I was a bit surprised to see just how good Pat Morita was in the role. Yes, Morita gets to say a lot of funny lines but he also gets a rather harrowing dramatic scene where talks about how his wife and child died while he was away, serving in the army.
It’s interesting to note that, at the end of the film, even Johnny got to show a glimmer of humanity, suggesting that even the worst jerk in the world can be redeemed by a good ass-kicking. That said, Kreese is pure evil from beginning to end and Johnny’s friend, Dutch (played by Chad McQueen), is about as scary a high school bully as I’ve ever seen. But at least Johnny is willing to admit the truth.