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From Under A Rock – The Karate Kid (1984)

February 19, 2017 | Posted by Aaron Hubbard
Karate Kid
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From Under A Rock – The Karate Kid (1984)  

I’m always a little reluctant to pick childhood classics for this column. The last thing anybody wants to do is ruin the memory of a film that they really liked as a kid. But I think this pick holds up quite nicely.

You only get one first time, and for some people, it comes later than it does for others. This particular column is about documenting the first viewing of a “classic” movie or TV show determined at the discretion of Aaron Hubbard and Michael Ornelas in alternation.

Last week Michael chose Mulholland Drive. This week Aaron takes Michael out from under the proverbial rock to show him The Karate Kid.

The Karate Kid
Released: June 22nd, 1984
Directed by: John G. Alvidson
Written by: Robert Mark Kamen
Ralph Macchio as Daniel LaRusso
Pat Morita as Mr. Miyagi
Elisabeth Shue as Ali Mills
William Zabka as Johnny Lawrence
Randee Heller as Lucille LaRusso

Aaron Hubbard: This is one Michael wanted me to pick for him, but I was glad to do so. The Karate Kid was a pretty big part of my childhood, but I don’t think I’ve watched it since the pretty solid 2010 remake hit theaters. It’s certainly time for a rewatch.

Michael Ornelas: I’d obviously heard bits and pieces of this movie throughout the years, but I’ve had very limited exposure, surprisingly. That’s the way I like it though because watching it allowed me to enjoy it with genuine surprise at several points.

Growing Up Sucks
Aaron: For me, the “Kid” part is always what I remember more than the “Karate”. This is a coming of age story, first and foremost. Daniel has moved from one side of the country to the other, he’s in a new school with a new set of bullies to deal with. How does he deal with those issues? This nicely captures what it’s like to deal with those issues, and I’ve always found it easy to relate to Daniel’s plight. I like when he gets fed up with his mother always being happy, and when he gets a bit of revenge on Johnny with the water hose. It definitely feels like he’s hit a low point when Mr. Miyagi intervenes.

Michael: I feel that “coming of age” actually parallels the teachings of martial arts in many ways. Discipline, patience, and maturity are all components that are common in martial arts protagonists. Daniel is scrappy but a little too trigger happy at the start of the film. Mr. Miyagi helps him develop a balance to his combat, and it’s ultimately what pays off at the end of the film when he wins the tournament.

Aaron: They definitely work well as a parallel to each other. The life lessons Daniel learns are things I took to heart as a young kid, and I feel that kids today could use movies like this one. I can’t think of the last genuinely good family movie that wasn’t animated. Maybe Goosebumps, but I don’t know what you can learn from that except possibly the value of reading. I think that’s one reason this has stood up so well. I also really appreciate that Daniel has moments where he blows up in anger, at his mom, his girlfriend, and Mr. Miyagi. It just makes him feel like a real kid.

Household Chores
Michael: “Wax on. Wax off. Paint fence. Scrub floor.” I’ve obviously heard those first two before. It’s impossible to go through life as a twenty-something and not hearing that reference. That said, I did not realize how brilliant that scene would be. The pay-off in watching Daniel’s reflexes being perfect when Miyagi is practicing with him…priceless. It’s no surprise that movies are developed to have set-ups and pay-offs, but rarely are they this satisfying.

Aaron: That scene is so good, and the realization slowly dawning on Daniel’s face definitely mirrors the audience’s reaction. It’s satisfying on rewatch, but I’m sad I couldn’t see your reaction in person. Another thing I like here is that Daniel is learning the value of hard work, not just at karate, but in actual labor. Miyagi is preparing him for life, not just the tournament at the end of the film.

Michael: My only real critique with this is that I wish it would have been mentioned and used again in the tournament. And even that’s a maybe, as the scene had already served its purpose. I did love the incorporation of the crane kick though, even if Macchio’s form wasn’t exactly masterful.

Friendship Knows No Bounds
Aaron: The relationship between Daniel and Miyagi is fascinating to me. Aside from the huge generation gap, there’s a significant culture divide. I love scenes like Daniel cutting the Bonsai tree, and the great scene where he catches a fly with chopsticks. He’s learning about a totally different culture, and getting to know a man with much more life experience. It speaks well of Danny, and I think it instills young viewers with a respect for the elderly and for other cultures, which is always a plus. The fact that it does that without seeming contrived or preachy is even more impressive.

Michael: In a lot of ways, this reminded me of Marty McFly and Doc Brown. It never even felt creepy, which can sometimes (unfortunately) come into play in relationships like these because of the world we live in. There was a mutual respect between the two, and the film itself actually demonstrated to the audience why we should respect Miyagi. He proved himself to be pure of heart but also as someone not to be messed with.

Aaron: The last thing I think is worth noting is the scene in which we see Mr. Miyagi celebrating the anniversary of his wife. It’s a heartbreaking moment that genuinely brought me to tears. It also helps inform the relationship as Miyagi finally getting a chance to be the father he never got to be. Daniel’s also missing his father (something that isn’t brought up), and I think it’s one of the best scenes in the film.

Michael: This is a tough film to rate, because its cultural reach and significance is huge. Everyone knows this movie and many have seen it. It’s hard to rate anything like that without its influence playing a big role in it. So I’ll say that I truly loved the arc of Daniel, the relationship with Miyagi, and even the “they’re just kids” treatment of the Cobra Kai dojo kids towards the end of the movie. They’re not monsters, just competitive and misguided. There’s a lot to be learned from this movie as a person, but I felt the actual filmmaking is just okay.


Aaron: This actually held up better than I expected. The ending is rushed and abrupt, as it feels like we are missing ten minutes of a movie. I also would have liked another scene or two with his Mom (I noticed a glaring issue where he forgets to see his mother and then goes on a date with Ali). But the core of this film is very strong; Macchio embodies the down on his luck kid perfectly, while Pat Morita’s Mr. Miyagi is one of the great characters in cinema. Flawed, but still very, very good.


Michael: So that’s The Karate Kid, huh? I’m glad I own it. Should I check out the sequels/remake?

Aaron: I never did catch the sequels, and I have heard mixed things. Surprisingly, I have to give a shout out to the 2010 remake. Despite Jaden Smith’s lack of charisma, it has Jackie Chan in the role of the teacher and I really love it for that.

Is the 2010 remake a worthy successor?

Next week:

Michael: This week, we watched a classic that everyone and their mothers have seen. Next week, I want to bring something to the table that went under the radar a little bit despite having an all-star cast.

Aaron: I don’t believe I know anything about this movie aside from its rather memorable title. Should be a fun experience.

Michael: I’m excited to revisit it. Been a couple years for me now.

What’s your favorite Bruce Willis movie?

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The final score: review Very Good
The 411
"Iconic" is an overused word, but The Karate Kid really is at that level of transcendence in pop culture. Daniel LaRusso and Mr. Miyagi is one of the great friendships in movies. It's a great coming of age movie, and a true family movie, instilling values of respect and hard work in children while still entertaining for adults. While the filmmaking is a little pedestrian and there are some bizarre editing choices, the heart of the film stands the test of time.