The Karate Kid is your classic David and Goliath story. It is also the sole film responsible for putting Ralph Macchio on the cover of Tiger Beat and maybe earning him that role in My Cousin Vinny eight years later. You remember, the one where he said two words. But even if Macchio never rose to Tom Cruise level fame, The Karate Kid has its place in 1980’s film trivia. Maybe it was because this movie was the first film I ever saw in a theater at an impressionable age five, that I look back on it with fond memories. But almost 30 years later, it doesn’t quite have the same affect.
The movie centers on, barely out of puberty, Daniel LaRusso. He moves cross-country with his mom from New Jersey to the valley in California. On his second day, he meets the girl of his dreams, Ali, played by a not even legal Elisabeth Shue. Unfortunately her ex-boyfriend, Johnny, is a major dick and Daniel’s face, along with Ali’s boom-box, both take a major beating. After getting his ass kicked enough times to make any kid end up in serious therapy, Daniel asks his new friend, Mr. Miyagi, who moonlights as a Mr. Fix-it in the apartment complex where Daniel lives, for help. Mr. Miyagi cuts a deal with Johnny’s sensei that Daniel is off limits until the All Valley Karate Tournament, where Daniel will fight like a man under a three point system with no hits below the waist. Leading up to the tournament, Mr. Miyagi trains Daniel in key karate moves, by using him as his indentured servant to fix up his shit-hole house and turn it into something that rivals a Benihana restaurant. Daniel learns some life lessons on the way, like it doesn’t matter if you win or lose. But no one cares. We only want him to win the tournament and stick it to Johnny.
Everyone loves a fish out of water story where the new kid wins in the end. It is overall a warm and fuzzy movie with some entertaining fight scenes throughout. The film also entails the best Halloween costume I have ever seen, a human shower. Pat Morita has some great one-liners that actually made me laugh, like the one about his belt being from J.C. Penny. Plus, how can you not bop your head along to Bananarama’s “Cruel Summer” during the high school montage scene?
And then there is the musical score and dialogue that will make you quite thirsty. The score starts out with a Jack Kerouac -type On the Road feeling, switches to romantic bandstand swing when Daniel spots Ali and, once Mr. Miyagi enters the scene, they set off gongs and xylophone music left and right. Can you say “stereotype”? The dialogue throughout often hits the upper echelon of cheese. I’m willing to cut it some slack because this is a film from the 80’s, after all. But I can’t overlook such lines as:
“This is a karate dojo, not a knitting class.”
“No one touches the prima donna.”
“You’re dead meat.”
“Get him a body bag.”
“Finish him.” and of course “You’re all right, LaRusso.”
I couldn’t help but notice some strange things throughout the film that felt so awkward you will need some liquid courage. Daniel LaRusso loves a sleeveless shirt and sweatpants. I never realized he started the trend, and that The Situation from JerseyShore stole his look. (I love a guy in daisy dukes.)
Every single bad guy that Daniel runs into is a blond. We get it, this is California. But is he really the only Italian in the entire valley? It is also quite unbelievable that the beautiful and mature looking Ali would ever go for Daniel. We know Johnny is a jerk, but she seems to be slumming when she is instantly drawn to Daniel. Daniel’s mom seems pretty cool throughout the movie. She lets Daniel stay out and ride his bike everywhere, but it seems strange that any mother would be keen on her young teenage son spending time in a garden shed with a 60 year old man, to prune miniature trees. Where is that sex offender app when you need it?
Then there is the strange occurrence of Mr. Miyagi going out and coming home wasted, three separate times. The film goes quite dark when it reveals that it’s Mr. Miyagi’s wedding anniversary and his wife and unborn child died in a Japanese internment camp during WWII. I get that they wanted to give Mr. Miyagi a backstory, but it doesn’t flow with the rest of the film and makes the usually wise sage seem like a pathetic old man. The last bizarre moment is at the climax of the film right after Daniel gets his leg swept by a Cobra Kai. He begs Mr. Miyagi to do his thing and a reluctant Mr. Miyagi obliges him. He slaps his hands together, rubs them ferociously and then touches Daniel’s leg. Although he still has a limp, Daniel is strong enough to go out and fight Johnny in the finals. If I could fix all the knots in my back by just rubbing my hands together, I wouldn’t have to live on Advil anymore.
No matter how hard you try to resist, you’ll still consider enrolling in a karate class at your local dojo after the film is over. The Karate Kid is the OG of all those MMA movies being released now and it is way better than the 2010 remake starring one of Will Smith’s kids and a desperate Jackie Chan, biding his time until Chris Tucker agrees to do Rush Hour 4.
Take a Drink: every time Mr. Miyagi says, “Daniel, san.”
Take a Drink: every time the Cobras say “Sensei.”
Drink a Shot: every time you see a bonsai tree.