The Karate Kid (1984) Review

Directed by John Avildsen and written by Robert Kamen, The Karate Kid is nothing short of a classic movie that showcases style, wit and sincerity.

After moving to Los Angeles, a teenager named Daniel (Ralph Macchio) soon finds himself the target of a group of bullies belonging to the Cobra Kai karate dojo. Eventually, the initial groundskeeper of his apartment, Mister Miyagi (Pat Morita), intervenes and offers to help Daniel be rid of the bullies. How? By volunteering him into a karate tournament against the Cobra Kai and offering to mentor him in Karate. With the help of his mentor Mister Miyagi, and girlfriend Ali (Elizabeth Sue), Daniel agrees to the training, but finds that he learns from it than the ability to fight.

What makes the Karate Kid such an entertaining film to watch is almost entirely drawn from the dialogue, all of which is tailored to each character, witty, insightful and engaging. Every word said in this movie teaches us something about our characters; About Daniel’s sense of humour, of Mister Miyagi’s sunken sorrows, of Ali’s insecurities and even of Daniel’s mothers guilt for bringing him to this place where he feels so miserable. And what isn’t conveyed through dialogue is certainly conveyed through visuals, such is that case with Daniel’s bully, Johnny (William Zabka), is seen to be not only cocky and abusive in his ability to fight, but also fearful of his mentor (Martin Kove) who taught him to be that way in every facet of his life.

Be warned that if you’re going into this film expecting hundreds of highly choreographed violent karate fights, then you will be sorely disappointed. In fact the film actively shuns that version of Karate as irresponsible and reckless. The reason for this is that this film isn’t a tale of violence; It’s a coming of age story about bullying, hijinks and friendship and comeuppance. All of which is perfectly held together by chemistry between Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita, whose characters and acting elevate the story greatly. Of course that isn’t to say the action is bad in this film because it actually does deliver when it’s time to do so.

If there is one complaint I have about this film, however, it is that the ending is incredibly abrupt. Simply put, Daniel predictably wins the karate tournament, is held up in the crowd and then the credits roll. And while I am not a fan of drawn out endings or pretentious epilogues, that isn’t to say I am not willing to allow a film indulge in itself if that film is of a good standard, which this one certainly is. Did I feel proud of Daniel when he won? Absolutely. But I hadn’t a moment to process it before the ending came around.

But aside from that small notion, the Karate Kid is, by all accounts, an excellent film. It’s uplifting, smart and also tense when it needs to be. So if you haven’t seen the Karate Kid, then I would highly recommend that you do so.

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