The Karate Kid

The Karate Kid

****

Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

Many cherished, cult-classic Eighties movies stand the test of time, many don’t. So what about the Karate Kid? Well, if you can get past the dated first half-hour which sets the scene and features a host of naff retro tunes music fans forgot to listen to, thankfully you're still in for some magic.

Arriving in California with his single-mother, gangly teen Daniel Larusso (Ralph Macchio) soon finds himself being targeted by the local karate-practicing bullies. However, hope arrives when it turns out that friendly handyman Mr Miyagi (Pat Morita) is also a master martial artist and he agrees to train Daniel for the upcoming local karate tournament.

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Given that we've got another Italian-American underdog tale directed by John G Avildsen and scored by Bill Conti, comparisons with Rocky are inevitable. Of course, skinny Daniel is clearly no beef-pounding Italian Stallion, so here's it's more about wish-fulfilment as the alienated wimp builds up the courage and skills to face his bullies in a conveniently-timed tournament. Sure, the high-school teen-romance angle is often cheesy, but crucially, as with his Philadephia-set boxing classic, Avildsen ensures that we root for our hero in a way that 99 per cent of modern movies just don't.

Of course, credit for this also lies with Macchio, the weedy 23 year-old bringing tonnes of likeability to the stroppy 15-year-old “Daniel San”. Then there’s the wonderful Noriyuki ‘Pat’ Morita, who virtually came out of nowhere (he was a support player in Happy Days) to craft one of the most iconic screen characters with his endlessly-impersonatable Mr Miyagi (the mere mention of his name ensures someone in the room will mention “wax on, wax off”). Individually they’re good, but the movie really takes off when they come together, the pair forging a true friendship, which is occasionally heartfelt (“you’re the best friend I ever had”…“you pretty okay too”) and often heartwarming.

Okay, so the love-story in between isn’t nearly as engaging, but Elisabeth Shue is adorable and the naffness is, well, a bit charming. Plus, for every dodgy pop ‘classic’, there’s a memorable moment. The aforementioned wax-on, wax-off. Daniel realising why he’s been doing painstaking chores. The silhouetted training sequence where he’s getting the hang of it to Conti’s rousing pan-pipage. Miyagi treating a wounded leg (CLAP!). The infamous crane kick climax. It’s all wonderful stuff. And then there’s Martin Kove’s cult, love-to-hate-him sensei (“No mercy!”) and William Zabka’s hateable blond bully… true movie baddies.

When it’s a high school romance-come-bully yarn, it’s a three-star retro-fest. When it focuses on Daniel and Miyagi, it’s a five-star teacher and pupil classic..

Reviewed on: 12 Mar 2010
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A bullied youngster trains in martial arts.
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The Karate Kid