a/perture Cinema, Elisabeth Shue, Hulu, IMDb, John G Avildsen, Martin Kove, Pat Morita, Ralph Macchio, Randee Heller, Rocky, Rotten Tomatoes, The Golden Girls, The Karate Kid, The Less Desirables, William Zabka
Per IMDb: “A martial arts master agrees to teach karate to a bullied teenager.”
That’s probably the most minimalist synopsis I’ve ever seen. But, it’s accurate. This film is directed by John G. Avildsen, the same director for Rocky, which, probably not coincidentally, was also an “‘underdog’ rising to the challenge” film.
Teenaged Daniel LaRusso (Macchio) moves from Newark, New Jersey to Reseda, a suburb of Los Angeles, with his mother (Randee Heller) and immediately falls for a cute blonde cheerleader (Shue), who has a jealous, karate-slinging ex-boyfriend, named Johnny (William Zabka). Johnny instantly starts bullying the new kid who has enough YMCA karate training to get himself into trouble. Daniel doesn’t step away, either, he just continually gets in beat-down mode and that’s defensive sense, not offensive.
Daniel wants to take karate classes but the local dojo is run by a sadistic, special forces war veteran of a sinsei, named Kreese (Martin Kove). Still instigating the arse-whoopin’, Daniel gets cornered not far from his house by Johnny and his gang of goons and they proceed to beat the snot out of him. Suddenly, the quiet, mild-mannered Japanese maintenance man of Daniel’s and his mother’s apartment complex, Mr. Myagi (Morita) shows up and wears out Johnny and his gang. Myagi agrees to teach Daniel-san karate to help him stand up for himself.
He starts by taking Daniel-san to the Cobra Kai dojo and asks Kreese to call off his boys. Kreese resists and says that Johnny and Daniel should fight. Myagi says it’s not far to do it at the dojo as Johnny would have an advantage. Myagi says Daniel will compete in the regional karate championship on the condition that until the tourney is over, the boys have to leave Daniel alone to give him time to train. Kreese agrees.
Daniel goes to Myagi’s house outside the city thinking he’s going to be training in karate and for the tournament. Instead, Myagi has Daniel-san wash and wax his antique cars, sand his bamboo wood floors on the deck, paint the fence around the garden and paint his house. Daniel-san gets upset and throws a fit saying Myagi was just getting free labor. Myagi teaches him humility and that everything is not always what it seems. Does Daniel get the girl? Does he get his behind handed to him in the tournament? You’ll have to watch to find out. Seriously, if you’re over 25 and haven’t seen this film, shame on you, to start with.
I was 13 going on 14 when this film came out. I had always been interested in karate and martial arts but I certainly wasn’t going to go out and purposefully put myself in a position to get my butt handed to me. I loved the film, then. It had everything a 1984 favorite should have, underdogs, boys falling for cute girls who are out of their league both in looks and class, a cheesy synth-pop soundtrack, California beaches and bad acting from everyone not in the main cast. I saw the film in the theater (as I did Parts II and III). I watched the film when it came on HBO almost non-stop. I was really into it. I watched it some when I got older and started to realize how cheesy it was, but I didn’t like it any less.
It has iconic quotes that even people that have never seen the film (again… shame!!) are familiar with. “Wax on. Wax off.” “Sand the floor.” “Sweep his leg.” That’s just to name a few. Pat Morita was the perfect choice for the part of Myagi. Humor, depth, seriousness. It was all there. Ralph Macchio was 24 playing a teenager and he looked the part. Everyone made a big deal of that. But, I wonder why no one made such a deal out of Elisabeth Shue playing the part of a teenager when she’s only two years younger than Macchio in real life. Oh, well.
Rotten Tomatoes has it at 90% Fresh with an Audience Score of 82%. IMDb has it at 7.2 stars out of 10. This was available on Hulu and that’s where I watched it between binging The Golden Girls (yeah, don’t judge me). I can’t get over being a kid and watching this. It holds a place in my heart. I rate it 4.75 stars out of 5. Have you seen it? What did you think? What would you like to read/hear me review?
Until tomorrow, same blog channel…
“Finish him!” – Kreese