The Watchers

The Watchers

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Rhys’ Retro Collection #3 - The Karate Kid

The 80s are a decade full of films we who grew up through them look back on with great reverence and nostalgia. On a re-watch from this era, many fall short of our childhood memories (Teen Wolf, for one).

However, The Karate Kid is not one of those.

This is now a classic; Rocky Junior as many thought of it (as it is directed by John G. Avildsen, who directed Rocky and Rocky V). The film was released in 1984 and- for those who don’t know the real plot, only the abomination that is in the 2010 remake starring Jackie Chan- centres on young Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) who moves to California with his mother from New Jersey. He is an outsider and is treated as such; he is bullied and finds it hard to make new friends- apart from Ali (Elisabeth Shue). His building has a handyman, Mr Miyagi (Pat Morita) and an unforeseen friendship is built upon when Miyagi trains Daniel to compete in a Karate Tournament, where he will face his bullies and their sensei of the Cobra Kai.

It’s a classic underdog story, which we all know American cinema loves to make. The film- visually and tonally- is, of course, trapped in the 1980s, with more montages and inspiring music than I remember. Does this overly date the film? Yes. Is this a bad thing here? No. The film feels like a time capsule of the 80s and now watching it feels like watching a film made to be set in the 80s. It is classic timeless cinema – why? Because of the characters, the narrative and the deep heart and soul at the root of the piece.

Looking back, I noticed a few interesting things to mention. One is the relationship with Daniel’s parent- the dynamic is interesting in the way we have the central character living in a single parent family and a poor income background which leads directly into this strong young character. I’m talking strength of character not physical; he is a very likable character and obviously designed as an everyman. He’s not a ‘geek’, a ‘jock’ or any label – which is refreshing in itself.

The relationship between Daniel and Miyagi (Pat Morita was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for this role) is very well written, performed and established. It could easily be said he is the father figure that Daniel is missing- but I would say that’s too easy a conclusion. The relationship is far more dynamic; they are friends- a friendship they both were not looking for, but definitely both needed. Daniel the outsider obviously needed someone- but Miyagi for most of the movie is an enigma and mystery surrounds him. Slowly we are revealed more and more about his past. This is culminated in a great scene where Daniel- after a teenage trivial argument with Ali- goes to Miyagi to vent his frustration. But he finds this usually string and stoic man drunk, crying and dressed in full army uniform. Miyagi is a World War II veteran who lost his wife during childbirth. We see him instantly as the lonely man he is and its here that the film shows its real strength – it’s not about the karate; this film is really a character piece.

So, we have an all time classic – a classic? Yes, a classic. We have a young hero, a wise old man and the forces of evil. And what evil – the Cobra Kai, a dojo that’s lost its way under the leadership of Vietnam veteran John Kreese (played by the menacing Martin Kove). This is just a superb film and should be cherished on your DVD shelf – I will be replacing this VHS. I will even replace the franchise – all have their merits, maybe I’ll look at them with time.


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