'80s Movie Month: "The Karate Kid" Review

Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures

'80s Movie Month: "The Karate Kid" Review

Rating: PG
Length: 126 min
Release Date: June 22, 1984
Directed by: John G. Avildsen
Genre: Family, Drama, Action

"The Karate Kid" has been a beloved family movie since its release in 1984. It's easy to understand how this movie soared to popularity when you consider the cast and crew behind the film. First, director John G. Avildsen was already famous for "Rocky," a film somewhat similar to "The Karate Kid" that was released in 1976. When fans of "Rocky" heard there would be another underdog film from the director, the hype for "The Karate Kid" started building, especially since "The Karate Kid" was being marketed as a classic family film. Many fans of "Rocky" weren't comfortable letting their young children see it due to the movie's violence, so having a similar alternative their kids could watch was a big deal for parents.

All the hype paid off, and "The Karate Kid" brought in more than $90 million internationally—a massive profit considering its $8 million budget. The film continues to be a popular choice for families, and it enjoyed another surge in popularity after the 2010 remake. Ralph Macchio, who played the role of the karate kid himself, went on to enjoy many roles in popular television series and two sequels to "The Karate Kid." Pat Morita, the boy's teacher, also had roles in the two sequels to "The Karate Kid" as well as a starring role in Disney's "Mulan." Many critics praised "The Karate Kid" as being the most realistic feature film about martial arts in mainstream movie culture, even above martial arts films starring the likes of Jet Li and Jackie Chan.

"The Karate Kid" revolves, for the most part, around the lives of the two main characters, a boy named Daniel LaRusso and an older martial artist known primarily as Mr. Miyagi. The film is set in beautiful southern California, and the opening scenes show Daniel making the innocent mistake of flirting with a girl named Ali, played by Elisabeth Shue, who happens to be the previous girlfriend of martial artist Johnny Lawrence, portrayed by William Zabka. Daniel is beaten badly by Johnny and walks away with some injuries. As time goes on, Daniel's clashes with Johnny and his other martial arts-trained friends from the Cobra Kai dojo intensify until Daniel is rescued by the eccentric Mr. Miyagi, the handyman at Daniel's apartment complex. Impressed by Mr. Miyagi's incredible skills, Daniel pleads with Mr. Miyagi to teach him karate so he can compete against Johnny and the other bullies at the upcoming martial arts tournament. Mr. Miyagi agrees, but his methods are unconventional and revolve around performing tedious chores. At first, Daniel resents Mr. Miyagi and feels like the strange old man is just taking advantage of having someone young around to help, but he soon learns that Mr. Miyagi is using these chores to prepare him to master karate.

The young Ralph Macchio puts on a fantastic performance as Daniel, who latches onto Mr. Miyagi and forms a deep bond with him that goes beyond teacher and student. Daniel lost his father, and Mr. Miyagi lost his family, so the two have experienced tragedies that bring them closer together and help Mr. Miyagi reach Daniel's heart, which is the key to mastering a martial art. Pat Morita brings grace and depth to the character of Mr. Miyagi, who might have been a stereotypical character if portrayed by another actor. The two share a deep connection that's visible from the moment they meet all the way up to the film's dramatic climax, when Daniel goes up against the ruthless and unethical students of the Cobra Kai dojo. During the film's final moments, the similarities to "Rocky" are especially obvious.

In spite of all the action and dramatic martial arts scenes, the fights in "The Karate Kid" are very realistic and more like "Rocky" than films like "Enter the Dragon" and "The Matrix." Every scene in "The Karate Kid" involved the supervision of real karate masters and teachers who helped make this film as much like the real deal as possible. This gives the film a surprisingly authentic feel when it could have been just another over-the-top martial arts movie. In fact, even moviegoers who usually prefer unrealistic fantasy films thoroughly enjoyed "The Karate Kid" and praised it for its startling level of realism. Families who love underdog stories and action-packed films should give "The Karate Kid" a chance. Even though it was released many years ago, it's still relevant to many of the issues young people face today, such as the loss of a parent and dealing with bullies.

Stars: 3.5 of 5 stars