A handyman/martial arts master agrees to teach a bullied boy karate and shows him that there is more to the martial art than fighting.
John G. Avildsen made the most uplifting film of the 70ís with Rocky and does the same thing in the 80ís with The Karate Kid.
Daniel Larusso (Ralph Macchio) moves from New Jersey with his mother (Randee Heller) to Los Angeles so she can begin a new job. While moving into an apartment complex, he meets a friend who invites him to a beach party. Things are going great and heís smitten with Ali (Elisabeth Shue) until her ex-boyfriend Johnny (William Zabka) shows up. Daniel tries to defend Ali and diffuse the situation but is quickly beat down by Johnny. Danielís newfound friends abandon him and heís left alone at the beach.
Things continue like this at school, where Johnny and the rest of the Cobra Kai continue to pick on Daniel; even his one time friends turn their back on him. The only one that offers him any support or sympathy is Ali.
In one event, Daniel is ridden down a steep hill on his bike by Johnny and his gang, and returns to the apartment, throwing his bike in the trash. The next day after school, the bike is repaired and sitting in front of Daniels door. Thus begins the friendship of Daniel and Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) which is the cornerstone of the film.
At the Halloween dance at school, Daniel decides to prank Johnny, and he almost escapes, but is caught right before his apartment complex. The Cobra Kai beat on Daniel really bad, until heís saved by the shadowy figure of Mr. Miyagi.
Daniel quickly asks Mr. Miyagi to teach him karate so he can stand up to the bullies, but Mr. Miyagi refuses, insisting that situations be handled without violence. The two of them go to the karate dojo to talk to Johnnyís sensei (Martin Kove). Here itís realized that Sensei Kreese is a bad man. Right there Mr. Miyagi agrees to train Daniel and a deal is made that no one will pick on Daniel until the All Valley Karate Tournament two months from now where they will compete.
During the training part of the film comes some of cinemas most famous sequences and lines. Mr. Miyagi uses unorthodox ways to teach Daniel karate; ways in which Daniel doesnít even know that heís being taught. I donít want to spoil anything for people who havenít seen the film.
While heís training, the love story with Ali continues to move and get resolved, with Ali obviously ending up with Daniel. And then comes the tournament that Daniel obviously wins. However, this brief description doesnít give the build up to the tournament and the climax due justice. In fact, nothing I can type here would give the ending justice. It really needs to be seen.
The Karate Kid isnít a thinking mans film, which is okay. Not every film needs to be clever and deep. But try to tell me a more inspiring and uplifting film than this one. The picture doesnít try to say much, but what it does say, it says it well. Karate isnít just the physical aspects of the movements, but also a mind set in the spiritual side of a person. This film is unique in that it was the first film that didnít just show the physical aspect of martial arts, but how it can change and make a person grow. How you learn patience, discipline, and respect are all fundamentals to karate.
The cast is also picture perfect in their performances. Ralph Macchio does a great job as the naÔve boy thatís eager to learn, William Zabka does a great job as the bad boy leader, and Martin Kove is chilling as the evil Sensei. Pat Morita was nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal as Mr. Miyagi, and rightfully so. He took the part and ran with it, making it one of the most memorable characters in all of cinema.
The story is simple enough when you break it down, but Robert Mark Kamen adds some great wrinkles and twists to the script. The first one would obviously be the training style of Mr. Miyagi, but the second one isnít as noticeable. Through the majority of the film, we believe that Johnny is the bad guy. When we meet Sensei Kreese, we realize heís a bad guy as well, but we donít realize until the end of the film at the tournament that Johnny actually isnít a bad guy. Itís been Sensei Kreese all along. Johnny has just been absorbing when Kreese has told him, and you canít really fault a young boy for that. This is obviously a good vs. evil format, but it never feels that way.
The directing by Avildsen isnít something many people will notice, but I was pleasantly surprised. Obviously he has to pick the right angles during the fights for the blows to look like they land, but from the director of Rocky, you really expect nothing less than that. What really surprised me is how he let the chemistry between Mr. Miyagi and Daniel play out on screen. He uses long takes that donít seem static at all.
In a crucial scene in the movie when Mr. Miyagi consoles Daniel and they decide to go to the Cobra Kai dojo, Avildsen trusts his performers enough to use one shot. Maybe Iím being conditioned by movies of today that feel like they have to cut everything into ribbons, but itís nice to watch a film with a deliberate pace set by the actors. Not many directors have the confidence to do this anymore and feel like the have to push the pace constantly.
This is one of those rare films where magic just happened, and itís purely evident on the screen. All the right parts were there at the right time. The cast was perfect, the script was spot on, the photography by James Crabe was beautiful (in fact, itís refreshing to see grain in movies again), and the score by Bill Conti is amazing. In fact, Contiís score (who also scored Rocky) is such an important part of the film, it canít even be put into words. Itís his score that kicks in at the end that makes you want to cheer, and itís his score that will have you at the edge of your seat, even though you already know the outcome. I caught the end of this film on TV one night, and less than a week later, I went out and bought it and watched it that night. The next day it was on TV again, and again, I sat down and watched Daniel Larusso learn the wise teachings of Mr. Miyagi and what karate really means.
This film has garnered a cult following, and even to this day you can say ďwax on, wax offĒ and people will know what you mean. Iíve even seen T-shirts for sale with Danielís crane technique on the front.
If youíve never seen this film, make a bowl of popcorn and prepare to have a great time. If you havenít seen it in awhile, give it a revisitÖ and remember to sweep the leg.