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Sunday, 18 June 2017

Retro Review: The Karate Kid (1984)

The Karate Kid
Cast: Ralph Macchio, Pat Morita, Elizabeth Shue, William Zabka, Chad McQueen, Martin Kove
Genre: Martial Arts Drama
U.S Box Office Gross: over $90 million 

Plot: A martial arts master agrees to teach karate to a bullied teenager

'Far From Award-Winning Material, Yet Still Makes You Want To Go Karate Fighting'

I hadn't seen The Karate Kid in a long, long time; the last time I did so was during the 1990s when it aired on TV. Operating as a coming-of-age drama with martial arts action thrown in, The Karate Kid is the martial arts equivalent of Rocky, which is heavily cliched (it is directed by the same person who did Rocky), and like that movie, it still packs a couple of punches in certain areas, along with career-launching roles by Pat Morita, Elizabeth Shue and Ralph Macchio. The film spawned 3 sequels, including one starring Hilary Swank and also doubles up as an anti-bullying film, at the same time. 

It was also unfortunately remade with Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan in the lead roles as the young apprentice and elder master in 2010.

Daniel Larosso and his mother move from New Jersey to Southern California and from there on, he takes a shine to a girl in Ali. Trouble then looms after Ali's ex-boyfriend and his gang of bullies make life hell for Daniel at school. After getting beaten up several times, in comes elderly Japanese handyman & Banzai tree guy, Mr Miyagi who comes to the rescue. It isn't long until during a series of sessions that Daniel learns that with karate that there is more to it than just a series of high-flying kicks and leg sweeps. 

My Miyagi is a weird guy, who sometimes irritates me, but who manages to instil discipline, confidence, values of honour and self-defence skills in Daniel in preparation for a karate tournament. His 'wax on, wax off' workout that Daniel undertakes consists of menial tasks such as cleaning cars and waxing floors, which are heavily disguised as different forms of martial arts training.     

The melodrama can be a little overwhelming at times whilst the romance angle between Ralph Macchio and Elizabeth Shue just didn't work and the fight scenes were okay. But the 2-hour run-time practically made the film a tad too long than it should have. The practice part where Daniel shows off his moves and utilises the wax on wax off techniques were good though. Coming- of- age films aren't really my type of movie: I find most of them difficult to sustain interest in. In The Karate Kid, it implements that Rocky formula but also skews it slightly by replacing the boxing with karate and adding in the old Asian master. 

Ralph Macchio doesn't show much range as an actor, but he delivers a natural performance; Daniel-San is a socially awkward teenager, who is prone to falling over and getting beaten up by bullies and yet who wants to gain confidence, and through his meetings with Mr Miyagi, it is through karate that he makes that happen for himself. In Daniel, we have a clear protagonist to root for in this film, as difficult as he comes across onscreen. Kove, as the bad guy, on the other hand, comes off as too cartoonish.

The Karate Kid is not really a film about karate or the art of karate: it's a film about a young person who tries to adjust to new surroundings and gaining confidence and skills. It has more in common with 1989's Best of the Best, from a competitive sports angle, and yet out of the two, I prefer that film moreso than The Karate Kid. 

Final Verdict:

I get that this is considered by a lot of people as a classic, at the time, but I think most of that is because martial arts films in America and made in America was still a new thing in the early 1980s and The Karate Kid was one of those movies that epitomised this. And because of the martial arts theme, it was the first real film that put a new spin on the zero to hero concept. 

What it doesn't do well in is showing Daniel's progression as a fighter, but rather in building up his confidence as a person and neither does it contribute anything new to the film and martial arts movies in general. And in truth, even though this was nominated twice for the Academy Awards and Golden Globes for Best Supporting Actor in Pat Morita, The Karate Kid is not Oscar-worthy material, film-wise. 

But what The Karate Kid accomplishes is it is one of those martial arts-based movies where it is near impossible to watch this film and not wanting to break out a karate or kung fu kick, just by getting caught up in the fighting and Miyagi and Daniel's practice scenes together. 



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