Friday, January 15, 2010

“The Karate Kid”

I recently saw the trailer for the remake with Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith. So I thought I’d take another look at the original. “The Karate Kid,” for those who haven’t seen it, is a teenage version of “Rocky.” And for those who haven’t seen “Rocky,” it’s a story about an athlete who overcomes great odds because of his heart. (Director John Avildsen was behind both.) In “The Karate Kid,” Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) is a New Jersey native who relocates to the suburbs of L.A. and is almost immediately an outcast. He also makes the mistake of falling for a cute blond (Elisabeth Shue) who happens to be the girlfriend of the local teen karate champ, Johnny (William Zabka). As a result, Daniel ends up on the wrong side of Johnny and his buddies from the Cobra Kai dojo. Daniel’s luck changes when, after a particularly bad beating at the hands of Johnny, Mr. Miyagi, (Noriyuki “Pat” Morita) his building’s handyman, agrees to teach him karate. Unknown to Daniel, his first lessons involve performing maintenance work around Miyagi’s house, like waxing the cars and painting the fence. Miyagi never lets on that these chores are about building character as much as muscle memory. And once Miyagi reveals that these slow, laborious tasks have a purpose, Daniel’s attitude, and the pace of the movie picks up. We move onto the obligatory training scene (accompanied by mystical Asian-style music) followed by the main event – a face-off between Daniel and Johnny in the final round of a karate competition (accompanied by a power-rock anthem). Now I must confess that everything I know about karate comes from movies, so I could be wrong. But I wonder how far Daniel would actually get in a competition. I can see how the simple motions (like “wax on, wax off”) can translate into defensive moves. But how effective would they really be? And how, in a matter of weeks, could Daniel be ready to compete at such a level? In the end, though, reality doesn’t really matter because you’re along for the ride. “The Karate Kid” also benefits from the believable (surrogate) father-son relationship between Daniel and Miyagi, and a message about learning coming from unexpected places. (Which inspired my tweet: The Karate Kid-Teenager learns karate by performing household chores. And all I mastered with my Sensei was “mow lawn” & “take out trash.” 8 (out of 10) “The Karate Kid” is a good feel-good movie, especially for family viewing. For nostalgia fans, it’s also a bit of a mid-’80s time capsule. Look for Johnny in his Michael Jackson “Beat It” red leather jacket and the Cindy Lauper “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” hairstyles. Those two things alone could have been the reason for greenlighting the remake.

“The Karate Kid”

Released: 1984

Rating: PG

Length: 126 minutes

Cast: Ralph Macchio, Noriyuki “Pat” Morita, Elisabeth Shue, Martin Kove

Director: John Avildsen

Genre(s): Drama, Action, Sports

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