tek's rating: ¾

The Karate Kid (PG)
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Caution: spoilers!

This came out in 1984, and I must have seen it a number of times on VHS throughout the 80s and possibly 90s. I'm reviewing it after watching it on DVD in 2023, for the first time in quite a few years. I'd say it holds up pretty well, and so many things about it are iconic, but I can't quite manage to love it. Before I re-watched the movie, I was thinking of putting my review under "sports films", but that's just for the tournament that comes at the very end of the movie. Mostly I think of the movie as a drama, so that's where I'm putting the review, but I'll still include a link to it from the sports section.

The movie begins in September, with a teenager named Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and his mother, Lucille, moving from New Jersey to the Reseda neighborhood of Los Angeles, which Daniel is not happy about. But he quickly makes a new friend, who invites him to a beach party, where he meets Ali Mills (Elisabeth Shue). Daniel and Ali immediately hit it off, to the annoyance of her ex-boyfriend, Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka). Johnny beats up Daniel, who later wants to learn karate to defend himself. Unfortunately, Johnny and his friends turn out to be students at the local Cobra Kai dojo, which is run by a complete asshole named John Kreese (Martin Kove).

Luckily for Daniel, he befriends his apartment complex's handyman, Mr. Miyagi (Noriyuki "Pat" Morita), who eventually teaches him karate. But that's getting a bit ahead of myself. First he teaches Daniel the art of trimming bonsai trees and stuff like that, and Daniel has no idea he knows karate. Then on Halloween, Mr. Miyagi makes a costume for Daniel (which I would call kind of iconic, or at least memorable), and he goes to a party and talks with Ali for a little while. (How she knew it was Daniel in that costume is beyond me. I mean, I feel like she very easily could have been wrong, and that would have been pretty embarrassing. But whatever.) Um... Daniel ends up playing a prank on Johnny, and he and his buddies then chase Daniel and give him a beating. Daniel is rescued by Mr. Miyagi, who later goes with him to the dojo to ask that Kreese's students leave him alone. Kreese, being the asshole that he is, refuses, and instead tries to get Daniel to fight Johnny one on one, then and there. But Mr. Miyagi proposes that they put off their fight until a karate tournament for which he had seen a poster in the dojo. I believe the poster said the tournament would be on December 19, which is obviously less than two months away. And I find it pretty unbelievable that Daniel could become proficient enough in such a short time to take on people who've been studying karate for years, but it's just a movie, so... whatever. (At one point. Mr. Miyagi says something about trusting quality of training over quantity, which as handwaves go isn't bad, but it's still hard to buy.) In the meantime, Kreese orders his students to leave Daniel alone until the tournament.

Now... Mr. Miyagi's methods of teaching are pretty unorthodox, and just seem like making Daniel do random chores (most notably, waxing his collection of cars, with what would become an iconic line, "wax on, wax off"). After four nights of waxing cars, sanding decks, painting fences and the house, Daniel gets fed up and demands to know why Mr. Miyagi hasn't been teaching him karate like he promised, which leads to another iconic scene, in which his methods are shown to have be teaching Daniel, after all. After that, the training becomes maybe a bit more traditional, but still not the kind of stuff that would happen in a dojo. Daniel has to learn balance, and punching, and whatnot. And he watches Mr. Miyagi use the "crane" kicking technique.

And... various other things happen throughout the film, not necessarily in the order I'll mention them. There's a scene I consider pretty iconic and the most dramatic part of the movie, in which Daniel learns what happened to Mr. Miyagi's wife years ago, but I don't want to spoil that. And there's a scene where Daniel and Ali go on a date. And an iconic scene set on Daniel's 18th birthday, in which Mr. Miyagi gives him two gifts. And a scene where Johnny messes with Daniel's head instead of beating him up, and causes a misunderstanding that makes Daniel mad at Ali. They later reconcile, which I think happens much too easily, but it was important because the tournament was the next day and she had to be there to cheer for him, because the plot says so. I don't want to say too much about the tournament itself, though there's a montage that uses the song "You're the Best", by Joe Esposito, which is yet another thing I'd call iconic. And Kreese ordering his students to do unethical things to Daniel is iconic. And Mr. Miyagi fixing Daniel's leg is iconic. And Daniel using the crane technique against Johnny is iconic.

Yup, like I said, the movie is full of iconicness. I haven't even mentioned every iconic thing. But anyway, it's a pretty good movie, with a decent if not really believable story, and memorable characters, and I can easily understand if some people love it, even if I only really like it. There are some little things I don't like as much about it, a couple of which I may have vaguely touched on, and some others which don't need to be mentioned. Nothing terrible (with the exception of one of Mr. Miyagi's lines during training that was rather sexist). I don't really know what else to say, except there have been any number of pop culture references to the movie over the years. And it spawned some sequels, and a remake, and a brief animated series that I never saw, and a longer-running live-action series which I also never saw. So it turned into a pretty solid franchise.

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The Karate Kid franchise
Fandom; TV Tropes; Wikipedia

The Karate Kid * Part II * Part III * The Next Karate Kid
The Karate Kid (2010) * Cobra Kai