The Karate Kid, get him a body bag…yeah!!!!
Looking back at the Karate Kid I see it as less of a martial arts movie and more a film about friendship. I love the Karate Kid; it was one of the first box-sets I bought on DVD and still habitually watch it now and then. For the purposes of this article I watched it again with fresh eyes and an open mind and I can say I still love it.
The first movie is a story about a handyman and Karate master who decides to teach a young boy karate so he can win a tournament. The young man in question is Daniel Larusso (played by Ralph Macchio). He moves from New Jersey to California because of his mother’s new job.
Initially when we meet Daniel he is a whiney weed of a boy, he might be a little charming and caring but he has no real backbone. When trying to be chivalrous he gains the attention of a local gang – is that even correct, could they be classed as a gang? They are also trained in karate by local teacher John Kreese (Martin Kove) but more about him later.
This unwanted attention escalates until Daniel tries to fight back, when they chase him down and damn near beat him to death Mr Miyagi (Noriyuki “Pat” Morita) jumps down, kicks ass and takes Daniel home. Initially, Miyagi is reluctant to teach Daniel anything but upon taking him to John Kreese’s Cobra Kai dojo they realise that not only will the boys not lay off Daniel, their sensei is a bit of a douche too – teaching them things like ‘the enemy deserves no mercy’. This essentially makes Miyagi teach Daniel not only karate but its proper uses.
I’m not going to say too much more about the film, otherwise I might wreck it for folk who have yet to take a dive into cheesy 80’s inspirational movies.
This to me was one of the first films that showed karate or any martial arts in a defensive light, most films before this showed karate as something that teaches you to kick ass and take no prisoners. Whereas this has that aesthetic but also teaches the inner peace and calm that comes with it, also it gives the moral that even if you know how to kick someone’s ass doesn’t mean you should.
Miyagi has a certain way of teaching Daniel which is genius on celluloid but lacks in real life, sanding the floor or waxing a car aren’t going to teach you any moves, they probably won’t build much in the way of muscle mass either so if you really want to learn just go to a dojo, don’t paint the fence and wax a car.
I also loved the use of the crane technique, this supposedly unblockable kick (which turns out to be highly blockable) helped cement the film in cult history with many people taking up the pose when play fighting.
Speaking of the cult aspects of this film, its full of great 80’s songs that are highly singable – ‘You’re the Best Around’ and ‘Cruel Summer’ among a few – it also has the classic saying ‘Wax on, wax off’ which I’m sure has upset many a car detailer over the years.
My absolute favourite has to be the phrase ‘Get him a body bag…yeah!!!’, said in the final minutes of the film, and so over acted it hurts, has been flash frozen into my brain forever, probably removing important information.
The film does slowly move from teenage fighting drama to a tale of friendship but it does take its merry time, and with a running time of 2h 6min, time is something this film has in droves.
Clearly the best scene of the film was one that got Pat Morita an Oscar and Golden Globe nomination – in it he remembers his late wife and child who died when he was in the army. He is drunk, singing old songs and dressed in his military garb. Daniel goes to his house ready to moan like he does for half the film, but upon entering finds Mr Miyagi drunk, they converse a little and Miyagi falls asleep leaving Daniel to find a medal of honour and a few news clippings.
The tone changes from this moment and we see a friendship blossom between two people, at the end you can see that Miyagi cares a lot for Daniel and has become the father figure that Daniel is lacking since his own fathers passing.
The tournament when it arrives is fast paced and mostly in a montage until the last few fights, it teaches us what it is to be fair and shows Daniels tenacity. The film ends with little resolve but I doubt at the time they thought there would be any sequels.
I’ve always been a fan of the first film, not only did it bring karate back in a big way especially in the States; it showed what teenage inspirational films could be. It may have started as an inspirational sports movie of sorts but ended up as a strange friendship film. It has been accidently remade or maybe even plagiarised a few times (‘Never Back Down’ anyone?) so it must have some redeeming features that still ring true today.
I didn’t speak at all about Elizabeth Shue’s character Ali because I personally didn’t think much of her, she was an ill fit to Daniel, their chemistry was almost nil and I just couldn’t properly believe them as a couple.
John Kreese is the unsung hero of the film, a truly evil sensei who teaches only pain and stands for everything karate is not about, but you have to admit Cobra Kai never die is just a genius tag for a company. Go anywhere in the world and if you look hard enough I’m sure you’ll see a few movie geeks wearing a Cobra Kai t-shirt.
The film has its place set in cult phenomenon with highly quotable lines, movements and moments. It might not show karate very well but it’s not really what it was all about considering the title of the film. At 22 years old Ralph Macchino plays a great Daniel and looks the part – apparently during filming no one believed his age and thought he was joking.
I highly suggest watching it for nostalgia sake, and if you haven’t seen it then get on it.