Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.



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The Karate Kid (1984)

Film #345


A handyman/martial arts master agrees to teach a bullied boy karate and shows him that there is more to the martial art than fighting.

Year 1, Day 345

BEFORE: Before beginning another comedy chain, The Karate Kid will be taking the screen. Often cited as a classic, this is one of those films that many people see as children but, for whatever reason, I never got around to watching. Better late than never though and today I get to learn from Mr. Miyagi.

AFTER: Wax on, wax off. This is one of many training lessons that Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) teaches Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) but it also describes the film quite astutely. The Karate Kid seems to take this binary approach of things being one way and then suddenly the roles, behaviors, etc. are reversed. But what’s surprising is how little these annoying inconsistencies matter. At the end of the day this is an underdog story and we want to root for Daniel, something that’s easy to do.

Let me start and get my negatives out of the way. What do I mean by this binary, on/off approach. Well the best way is to provide examples, and for the sake of argument, let’s choose a random number: three. There’s Mr. Miyagi who goes from this slightly crazy handiman to caring unconditionally for Daniel and serving as his father figure, Ali (Elisabeth Shue) going from hating and not speaking to Daniel to completely forgiving him, and Johnny (William Zabka) showing no mercy against Daniel in the karate tournament to laughing it off and pretending it never happened afterwards. The problem isn’t the change in character, it’s how sudden and abrupt it is. Plus there’s no gray area in between; one moment a character acts a certain way and the next, they’re totally different. The film is littered with examples like these and the overall result is that it makes the film feel cheap and lazy, like the filmmakers couldn’t bother putting the work in to show real change that comes naturally throughout the film.

But as I said, a lot of this doesn’t seem to matter. My opinion of the film changed in very much the same way: at times I thought it was cheesy and poorly made and the next moment I’d be full-on rooting for Daniel and moved by the lessons Miyagi teaches him. The director, John G. Avildsen - who also directed Rocky - has a knack for creating empathy, through which we can imagine ourselves in similar situations. Again, it’s not without it’s problems, but often you can’t think of anything besides Daniel triumphing over his adversaries. Underdogs are easy to root for and Avildsen gives us a reason to root for Daniel.

The Karate Kid is one of those classics that most people have at least heard about if they haven’t seen it and I think it’s deserving of that reputation. There’s issues, it’s by no means the best film ever made or even the most entertaining, a swell endorsement I know. But still, watching The Karate Kid will deliver it’s punch, it’s striking blow through the wisdom of Mr. Miyagi, the determination of Daniel, and the universal dislike towards sensei Kreese (Martin Kove) and the entirety of Cobra Kai.

RATING: 4 out of 5