Many films have tried to do what The Karate Kid does and failed or at least can’t live up to the success of the original. Many movies become summarised as “The Karate Kid with…” which shows you how successful a blueprint for classic under-dog story this movie was. Add to that the fact that it has become a movie synonymous with the 1980s, spawned three direct sequels, a remake and a modern hit TV show and you wonder if it can still truly live up to the legacy.
As dated as The Karate Kid can feel at times, there is still a great film there. The story itself is a simple but effective one. Ralph Macchio’s Danial LaRusso moves to a new city and falls foul of the local bully, William Zabka’s Johnny, and his karate gang The Cobra Kai. Its only when these bullies take their beatings to a new level of brutality that lowly, shy apartment janitor Mr Miyagi (played perfectly by Pat Morita, who steals the movie) intervenes and reveals that he is in fact a karate master and offers to train Daniel for a big tournament.
Its a simple story but it actually has plenty of depth. This isn’t just a story of a boy being terrible at karate, getting good and beating the odds. Within this movie there are moments reflecting on social class, the true meaning and spirit of martial arts like karate and even an emotional back-story for iconic mentor Mr Miyagi which offers some true development for his character and explains his relationship with Daniel even more. Even the love story with Elisabeth Shue’s Ali hits bumps in the road as Daniel tries to figure out who he is, what he wants and the best way to deal with his problems.
This is an 80s underdog story though so the heart of the film is in the training. There there are some clever moments, as Daniel is instructed by Miyagi to clean fences, sand floors and wash cars. Although it takes some suspension of disbelief, the reveal as to why he has been asked to do these things will raise a smile, as will the classic 80s montage which goes with the general training.
Anyone who has even seen a film of this ilk before will see where it is going but it is done very well. Once the tournament arrives in the third act, you can see the direction of the story but that doesn’t make it any less effective. If anything, there are still a few surprises in store as Daniel comes up against his nemesis (as you’d expect) and the infuriatingly under-developed Cobra-Kai dojo master played by Martin Kove. Kove is a great villain and you wish you could have seen Miyagi kick his ass properly. Little niggles like this aside, the ending of the movie is still heartfelt and inspiring, if a little cheesy.
Which is where the dated aspects of The Karate Kid come unstuck. This is the blueprint for all under-dog movies, particularly those involving sports or combat, which means that a lot off it now feels slightly cliche. You also have to look past some of the sillier aspects, which have also dated the film quite badly.
Overall, The Karate Kid is a classic 80s movie and its lost none of its charm. Its still the best version of the “under-dog” story and iconic moments, coupled with some great characters, will still raise a smile. Look past the minor missteps and the dated aspects and you will find yourself being uplifted by Daniel-San and Mr Miyagi once again.
Rating – 4
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