Saturday, May 3, 2014

29. The Karate Kid (1984)

Code-name: Bonsai
("To baby trees!")

Director: John G. Avildsen
Composer: Bill Conti
(funny enough, these two previously collaborated on the "Rocky" movies. Coincidence? I think not ;) )

Type: coming-of-age, karate, sports, high school drama

Daniel Larusso- Ralph Macchio
Mr. Miyagi- Noriyuki "Pat" Morita (RIP 2005)
Ali Mills- Elisabeth Shue
Johnny Lawrence- William Zabka
Cobra Kai Instructor John Kreese- Martin Kove
Lucille Larusso- Randee Heller

Notable Nominations:
OSCAR- Best Supporting Actor- Pat Morita
Golden Globe- Best Supporting Actor- Pat Morita
(no love for Mr. Miyagi from The Academy or the Hollywood Foreign Press? Shame on them!)


Bad News First

For a change of pace, I'll get the majority of my negativity towards the rest of the film's series out of the way so I put most of my focus on the good stuff...

in fall of 2012, I let curiosity get the best of me and I haven't quite forgiven myself for it...
that was when I finally got around to watching the 3rd Karate Kid movie. all because it was included in a boxset with all four movies (the three parts and the Hilary Swank reboot), I had to see how it all ended...

Let's put it this way... it inspired an entire blog entry where I was debating whether sequels or remakes were a greater sin in Hollywood...
I don't know what was more inexcusable: the villains having no redeemable qualities or the fact they recreated the climatic film on this movie while spitting on its face.

I should probably stop there before I stoop to too much negativity...

Perhaps the day will come where I'll give the Hilary Swank reboot another shot. Years ago when I saw it (long before she won those Oscars and I loved her in "Freedom Writers"), I didn't like it because it just wasn't the same without Ralph Macchio. And do not get me started on the 2010 remake. Out of complete loyalty to this picture [and the late Pat Morita, the one & only Mr. Miyagi], I will refuse to watch it because you shouldn't remake something that wasn't broke to begin with. Certainly not an 80's movie. Just my opinion :shrug:
So I'm pretty much going into discussing this movie after watching it for the first time since the atrocity I addressed above... hopefully 2 years is enough space :-P

How I got into this movie

I was a Power Rangers kid growing up. Loved the series so much I thought about taking karate and gymnastics so I could do the same moves. :-P

The gymnastics thing never happened (for a reason I'll get to later), but I did take karate for five years. Of course, beforehand, my dad made sure I understood it had to be about more than just emulating my favorite TV series.

I worked my way through the ranks of Tang Soo Do, earned my black belt (something that will forever remain one of my proudest achievements) and had it for a year before I "retired." I was never much of an athlete with my lack of speed and hand-eye coordination, but however much an athlete being a black belt made me, all that went away after I needed surgery on my back.

Ironically, the year after the surgery was when my school actually ran tests on students for scoliosis. But yeah, since 11/15/99, I've had titanium rods and screws in my back and I often don't remember that they're there.

Before I make another unnecessary side-bar here on back surgeries, I'll cut to my point. A couple years after I started taking classes, my folks rented the movie, figuring it would be appropriate for me to see. Especially because one of our warm-up exercises was the crane technique.
My earliest memory of it was that we watched it at night and I see the beach scene very clearly.

The Story

Daniel and his mother move from Newark to California, where she has a new job.
The plot begins when he is introduced to some of the local kids. Freddy, who lives at the same apartment complex, invites Daniel to a beach party with his friends. He hits it off with a cute girl, but winds up getting his butt kicked by her ex-boyfriend, Johnny.
This becomes a reoccurring theme, making Daniel even more troubled about this move because other than Ali, he hasn't been able to fit in or make any friends.

It gets to a point where he almost gets killed in a fight and Mr. Miyagi, the complex's handyman, arrives to save his life. They set up a deal with the instructor of Cobra Kai, where Johnny and the other bullies train, where they agree to stop beating on Daniel until December 19th, the day of a tournament.

And of course we all know the rest: Mr. Miyagi assigns Daniel chores around his house, which oddly enough become part of his training. Mainly how to put up an effective defense with blocking. Other lessons like balance and punching come as well.

Then in every sports movie you can name, you have the climatic fight scene and the hero wins...

The Cast

I guess you could say that I find this to be a very iconic cast. All of the main actors, whether I'd seen them in other movies or not, I will always associate them with "The Karate Kid."

I cannot say enough good things about Pat Morita in this. I know it wasn't his first role and he was well-known for his comedic acting, but he's just so amazing in this. Mr. Miyagi comes off a little odd when you first meet him, but as the movie progresses, you grow to appreciate and love him for what he brings to Daniel's life. He's a bit of a surrogate father figure, but gives him the tools to mature into a better, more confident, person.
He is still sorely missed by many fans of this movie and his other work. Can't believe it's been almost 10 years.

Other than "Soapdish" and years ago "Adventures in Babysitting" (been meaning to see that again because it's been ages), I hadn't really seen Elisabeth Shue in any other movie besides this one.
She plays Ali Mills, who comes from a rich family, but she comes off as a very sweet, kind person. Of course, her being charmed by Daniel does lead to many problems and it continuously puts a strain on their relationship. Between him not wanting to be around her because he's afraid of getting beat up or feeling like he isn't good enough for her.

I read a few comments on message boards from people asking why a girl like her would be interested in a guy like Daniel.
To that, I shrug and say "why not?"... but maybe because I would consider him my type.

On the other hand, though, Billy Zabka's a good looking guy too and I'm sure Johnny has his good points. But they sure don't come out a lot in this movie, where he walks around with this alpha dog attitude like he owns the place.
Come to think of it, this actor plays a lot of jerks and bullies, so I guess he wound up getting typecast that way. (whoa, just looked at his profile, he earned a black belt in Tang Soo Do also... although it was years after doing this movie, which he had no karate experience going into).

Martin Kove who plays Cobra Kai instructor Kreese... that dude's freaking scary and years later, he's still paying the price for this dead-on portrayal of a radical karate teacher. Rumor is people still come up to him and gives him crap for what his character did in this movie.
...and if more people saw the third movie, he'd probably get worse.
I think years ago, I saw him on an episode of "Win Lose or Draw" where I was thinking how unnatural it was to see him not being so intense, but quite the opposite.

Now for Ralph Macchio...
By far, this is his best role. Not that I'd seen him in many.
I wanted to see "My Cousin Vinny" on the mere fact he was in it. Luckily my disappointment that he was playing a supporting role didn't last long 8-) #66 on my list

I saw his stint on "Dancing with the Stars" and was pleasantly surprised with him. Then it was also surprising to see that at age 50 something, he's not in the same shape as he used to be :-P but it was great seeing that he aged well and is the same nice guy he was in his work.

Probably his first major role was in the adaptation of S.E. Hinton's "The Outsiders," a movie that was the first outing for a lot of young actors. I saw the movie as part of my class where we were studying the book (another entry worth doing later on).
Watching it, I often wondered if he had a major growth spurt between this movie and "Karate Kid" because he's easily the smallest guy there. Then again, maybe they were just tall.
Sometimes when I watch this movie, I imagine Daniel as a second-coming of his "Outsiders" role, Johnny. He had a pretty rough life, but maintained a positive attitude no matter what. And when he comes back as Daniel, he comes back with a vengeance, to prove he won't be pushed around anymore.

The Music & Soundtrack

I gotta give major props to Bill Conti on this particular production. People talk about how the best movie scores carry the emotional weight of the picture. Depending on what you hear, how dark or light, tense and lovely the score sounds, you're compelled to feel the same way.

Of the top of my head, this is one of the best movie scores I'd ever heard. You can say whatever you want about this movie being dated, maybe being cheesy 80's or whatever, but the score has as much credibility and power in bringing this picture together as the directing and the writing.

Every character and situation has its own soundtrack. Mr. Miyagi has a lot of panflute and soft music playing in the background. Daniel's confrontations with Cobra Kai has a lot of 80's influences as well as your signature "villain" music. The tender moments with him and Ali, those have their own sound too, as does the tournament.

There's a lot of great 80's songs on this soundtrack, most of which are by one-hit wonders or lesser known acts (none of them ring a bell for me, and I'm a major 80's fans). Survivor (best known for "Eye of the Tiger") wrote "The Moment of Truth," which plays in the end credits.
But my favorite is "Cruel Summer" by Banarama. It was funny to me how the song came on the radio one time at work and one guy said how it made them think of this movie. It was the first time I heard it and I often associate it with the scene where Daniel meets up with Ali at school and he gets kicked out soccer try-outs for fighting.

Apparently, it's the only song not on the official soundtrack, which SUCKS. One of my many favorite 80's songs and among my favorite summertime jams 8-)


I think I'd covered most of the main themes in this movie.

But to Ralph Macchio for a second, though, his acting is pretty incredible. I don't think he gets a lot of credit because he's not one of the biggest names that comes to mind with "great actors." Although some of that is because he hasn't been in many other productions with this much staying power and he only acts on occasion these days :shrug: which I completely understand.

Actors can talk about how their characters take a beating or how that can sometimes become a reoccurring theme in their career.
Between this movie and "The Outsiders," when his character is in pain or under duress, my gut convulses. I absolutely believe him and want nothing more than defy the constraints of reality and tell him everything's gonna be okay. I hate in movies when my favorite actors get into that kind of trouble or worse, they wind up getting killed, but Ralph Macchio is the only one that comes to mind... for me, that stirs me up with the slightest groan or a difficult inhale of breath.

That resonated a lot with me as I saw this movie a lot of a teenager and that gut feeling helped me become a better writer. Unfortunately, that may have turned me into a masochist because that's the area where my best writing came out. I promise I'm trying to work on that :-P

The Best Sequel

"Karate Kid Part 2" (whoa, it came out 9 days before I was born :-P) is one of those rare sequels that delivers just as well as the original film. Sure, some of the same themes are repeated. Daniel goes to a new place, gets in entanglements with one of the locals (thankfully not as relentless as Johnny was), and finds love.

The only thing that didn't resonate with me was how Daniel's relationship with Ali falls apart in the first couple minutes of the movie... after the aftermath of the tournament of course.
Supposedly they were going to prom and she crashed his beloved car :shrug: Elisabeth Shue resumed her studies at Harvard (yeah, I know!) so her presence in this movie was just this conversation Daniel has with Mr. Miyagi.
I suppose it was there just to give Daniel an excuse to go to Okinawa with Mr. Miyagi, there was nothing keeping him in California for the summer.

Taking into account, it just is so silly that Daniel had to have a different love interest in every movie in the series.

I'd become more of a Japanophile as I've gotten older, though I use that term loosely :-P I love Japanese culture as presented in films and animé and that's about it.
But I love how it's portrayed here. It gives the film a different enough feel to separate it from the original, but maintains the same dignity.

And it helps that Peter Cetera sings the main theme "The Glory of Love"... another of my favorite figures from the 80's.

Final Thoughts

It's not the first movie that comes to mind when I think of my favorite 80's movies. But regardless, it's one of them and it doesn't matter if it winds up being #10 on that top 10 list. As I get older, I look back on it fondly and find even more reasons to love it. If you really look at it, you'll see how well constructed it is. How strong the character development is. How compelling the score is. I always enjoy it and it's one of those occasions where I really can't find any fault in it.
But maybe that's just me being biased 8-)

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