Movie Project #23: The Karate Kid [1984]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

The Karate Kid [1984]

The Karate Kid [1984]
Director: John G. Avildsen
Writer: Robert Mark Kamen
Country: USA
Genre: Action/Drama/Family
Starring: Ralph Macchio, Pat Morita, Elisabeth Shue
Running Time: 126 minutes

The Karate Kid falls under the same category as previous project entry, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, in that I’m sure I saw at least a good chunk of the movie as a kid. Once again, I remembered a scene here or there (who can forget “wax on, wax off”?) but it was fascinating to sit down and watch it in its entirety as an adult.

While the fashion and spirit of the 1980s are running wild in the film, I’m happy to report that it still holds up quite well as a fun, inspirational movie.

When New Jersey high school senior Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) is forced to move across the country with his mother to Los Angeles, he has a hard time adjusting to his new environment. Things seem promising at first — he befriends a local neighbor and meets a cute girl named Ali (Elisabeth Shue) — but he also acquires a handful of unwanted enemies. Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), Ali’s ex-boyfriend, and his gang of karate thugs beat down Daniel and leave him face down in the sand. When Daniel refuses to back down later on, they continue to bully him whenever possible.

The Karate Kid [1984]

It isn’t until Daniel meets his apartment complex’s maintenance man, Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita), that things start looking up. He discovers that Miyagi is proficient in karate, and he begins training under his guidance. The training regime isn’t quite what Daniel expects, however. Miyagi has him perform tedious chores such as waxing his cars and painting his house. It’s not all for naught — these unorthodox behaviors improve his muscle memory, leading to him becoming quite the defensive expert.

As a way to put an end to the bullying, Daniel enters a karate tournament in hope of taking down Johnny and his friends once and for all.

This setup is ripe for a cheesy, feel-good story, and that’s exactly what The Karate Kid is all about. There are music montages — most notably, the unforgettable “You’re the Best” during the tournament — and budding romances, and all of that goofy stuff you would expect to see from a movie of this sort.

The Karate Kid [1984]

What makes the film really work is the performance of Pat Morita. His take as the wise and reserved Mr. Miyagi got him an Oscar nomination, and it’s easy to see why. He comes across as such a likable mentor, and he’s someone that I’m sure every kid wishes he knew growing up.

Sure, The Karate Kid might be “Rocky for kids” (the two films even share the same director in John G. Avildsen) and it might be a little too long, but it remains a solid piece of family-friendly fun that still entertains to this day.

“Lesson not just karate only. Lesson for whole life. Whole life have a balance. Everything be better. Understand?”

8/10

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16 thoughts on “Movie Project #23: The Karate Kid [1984]

  1. The Heretic says:

    I remember seeing this in the theaters when I was a kid, and then continually renting it to the point of overkill when it was released on VHS. It also made every kid in our neighborhood (including myself) to take up martial arts. Then something else came along that made us forget about it after a while.

  2. 70srichard says:

    I just did a post for this movie on my 1984 project, and you are right, it holds up pretty well. Pat Morita is the real reason to see it, but the romance was nice and Daniel being a bit of a prick and learning to be better was a good lesson

  3. Dan Heaton says:

    I’m amazed by how well The Karate Kid holds up today. I totally agree that Morita does a great job. There’s one scene that’s hardly remembered by many where Daniel catches him drunk, and we see the sadness behind the character. I get sucked into the tournament every time.

  4. Chris says:

    I also got to this one late as an adult. I was entertained, just I was expecting the wisdom and lessons of the teacher to be more profound, considering the reputation the film has, then again it’s only a kid’s movie.

  5. The Blog of Big Ideas says:

    I really wonder how a person from east Asia perceives this film. I also wonder if the character of Mr. Miyagi is a tad too…I don’t know…cartoonish, which to some may be insulting of the culture. However, if it is taken lightly, as it was intended, then Karate Kid is exactly what you suggest, a very entertaining and family friendly film that is a clear product of the 1980s.
    Nice review!

    • Eric @ The Warning Sign says:

      Thanks, Niels. You know, I was wondering the same thing regarding the Miyagi character. I think in the wrong hands it could have been a bit of an embarrassment, but Morita brought some class to the role. He really helped elevate the film overall, and his performance is the biggest reason it’s still so enjoyable today.

  6. ruth says:

    This movie was huge when I was growing up. I really enjoyed it then but I haven’t had the desire to watch it again for some reason. Funny but even seeing Ralph Macchio recently at a local comic-con I sort of cringed, I don’t know why! In any case, it’s a great story and Mr. Miyagi is practically iconic!

    • Eric @ The Warning Sign says:

      Hahah, that’s funny about Macchio. This seems like one of those movies that is worth stopping and watching at least part of if it’s on TV, but I don’t think I would go out of my way to rewatch it anytime soon.

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