Columbia's The Karate Kid-A Character-Driven, Relatable, and Fun Teen Drama

He taught him the secret to karate lies in the mind and heart. Not in the hands.

The Karate Kid is a 1984 martial arts drama film directed by John G. Avildsen, written by Robert Mark Kamen, produced by Delphi II Productions and Jerry Weintraub Productions, and distributed by Columbia Pictures. It stars Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita. The film was nominated for Best Supporting Actor (Morita), but did not win. This is the first film in the Karate Kid franchise. It was followed by The Karate Kid Part II, but also spawned a spin-off TV show, Cobra Kai.


"Wax on. Wax off." -Mr. Miyagi

Plot


After getting in a fight on the beach, Daniel LaRusso has made an enemy: Johnny Lawrence. Throughout all of school, Johnny picks out times to beat the life out of Daniel. Daniel becomes fed up with the bullying, and tries to find a place to learn karate to defend himself. When he meets a quiet maintenance man named Mr. Miyagi, everything changes. Miyagi teaches Daniel karate through a series of chores, all leading up to a karate tournament that will decide whether Johnny stops bullying him or not.


Positive Aspects


The thing that holds this film up is the unbreakable chemistry between Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita. I love both of these performances for different reasons: Ralph Macchio is very good at balancing the witty teenage charm that Daniel has and the whiny, wimpier side of the character. Pat Morita gives an absolutely stunning performance. I was shocked when I found out that Morita has a mostly American accent. His Mr. Miyagi accent is so believable. The two of them play off of each other perfectly. Every line feels sincere and strikes hard. It's really great to watch the two of them together.


I also think that this film is written very well. Miyagi's wisdom rivals Yoda's. Every single line is a deep philosophy about life that is completely true. Every scene has one line that makes you think for a really long time.


Johnny is one of the better 80s bully-villains. He sucks. William Zabka embraces this performance, becoming just an absolute a-hole. The viewer will despise this kid. He is just horrible, which is how he's supposed to be. It's really satisfying to watch Daniel take Johnny down in the tournament.


The training stuff in this film is great. The Karate Kid made itself distinct by having an unusual type of training. The way that Miyagi teaches Daniel karate is interesting and makes sense. Maybe there's a little suspension of disbelief, but I think it works pretty well. For some reason, it is entertaining to watch. I never thought I'd say that I want to see chores as a training mechanism in a martial arts movie, but it's good.


Daniel LaRusso is the quintessential teenage protagonist. His character, through the writing, Ralph Macchio, and the way that he works in the story, really captures the teenage struggle really well. This is how everyone feels in high school: scared. Being a high schooler, especially in a new school, is a scary experience. You feel like everyone is going to judge you and are constantly worried about being bullied. All of this is displayed through Daniel's character, making him one of the best teenage main characters, along with Ferris Bueller and Marty McFly.


The score for this film is just great. "You're the Best Around" is one of the great inspiring sports themes in film. I love the song, it's really catchy, but it's sprinkled perfectly around the film. The other songs are still very inspiring, just not as memorable.


Finally, this story is layered well and the characters just carry this film. Every character has an interesting relationship with another character. The best is obviously, as stated before, Miyagi and Daniel. But there's also Daniel and Ali, Johnny and Ali, Johnny and Kreese, Daniel and Johnny, Daniel and his mom, Ali and her parents, and all the Cobra Kai kids. All of these characters bounce off one another in really great fashion, and it makes this movie a totally character-driven film.


Negative Aspects


There are a couple of problems. The first is the predictability of the plot. It is hard to make a sports film not predictable, and Karate Kid fails at accomplishing this task. I knew halfway through the movie that Daniel and Ali were going to get into a fight and break up. I knew that Johnny was going to get a redemption. I knew that Daniel was going to beat Johnny in the tournament with the crane kick. It doesn't really affect the fun of the movie, but it does lessen the quality of the film.


I do think that it drags a little bit during the middle. There's a lot of training. I do think that the training scenes fill up the majority of the runtime, which doesn't always make for the most interesting watching experience. As soon as Ali and Daniel break up, there's about fifteen minutes where it is somewhat boring.


Also, for some reason, Lucille (Daniel's mom), just disappears in the middle of the movie. It seems like she has no hold over Daniel's life and is just gone. He sees Mr. Miyagi and sees Ali, but his mom is not there. Then she reappears at the tournament without any context. I don't really know why the screenwriters forgot about her.


The karate choreography is pretty bad. You can tell how choreographed it is, and even though it is choreographed, it's just terrible. It never looks convincing until Daniel kicks Johnny in the face. I do wish that had been a little bit more of a focus point, because it pulls you out of the movie.


Finally, the movie ends way too quickly. John G. Avildsen is also the director of Rocky, which also ends without any second thought. The fight is over, Johnny gives him the trophy, and the film is over. There isn't any closure with Miyagi and Daniel or with Kreese and Johnny, which is frustrating. along those lines, Johnny's redemption is one throwaway line. That's a pretty bad way to redeem a really awful person.

Final Score


The Karate Kid may have problems at the end of the day, but it does succeed with great performances and great characters.


I will give it a Savory rating. Age range is 7+.


SWEET N' SOUR SCALE

Sweet (Great)

Savory (Good) Sour (Bad) Moldy (Terrible)


"The Karate Kid"


Fun Factor: 8.5/10

Acting: 9/10

Story: 7.5/10

Characters: 9/10

Quality: 7.5/10


Directed by John G. Avildsen


Rated PG for language, moderate violence, disturbing themes and behavior, thematic elements


Released on June 22, 1984


2 hours and 6 minutes


Ralph Macchio as Daniel LaRusso

Pat Morita as Mr. Miyagi

Elisabeth Shue as Ali Mills

William Zabka as Johnny Lawrence

Randee Heller as Lucille LaRusso

Martin Kove as John Kreese