- Movie Rating -

The Karate Kid (1984)

| June 22, 1984

There are moments when I am watching some movies when I wish that it would settle down, take a step back and be about more than just sugar-fueled phrenetic action.  The Karate Kid is a movie about a kid who learns karate but it is also a movie that settles down, steps back and is allowed to be about more than whirling kicks.

The Kid in the title is Daniel (Ralph Macchio) who has just moved from Newark, New Jersey to Recede, a sub-district of Los Angeles.  Times are tough.  Daniel’s mother Lucille is a divorce workaholic and Daniel almost immediately becomes a punching bag for a bunch of tough kids from the local karate school.  Worse, one of the boys has an ex-girlfriend (Elizabeth Shue) who has fallen for Daniel.

Unable to cope, Daniel complains that he wants to move back to Newark.  At that moment he strikes up a friendship with Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita), a Japanese maintenance man who takes pity on the kid and later reluctantly offers to teach him karate.  What is special is that his training does not come from teaching punches and kicks but from the philosophy of karate, of the nature of fighting and of the balance of both the body and the mind.  Through this training, a strong bond forms between the Daniel and Mr. Miyagi that isn’t built on plot gimmicks but on what the old man is willing to teach the kid not only about karate but about life.

I walked out of this movie grateful.  Yes, it ends with the big fight with the jilted ex-boyfriend but what leads to that fight is thoughtful, generous and very intelligent.  The movie was directed by John G. Avildson who won an Oscar for directing the first (and best) of the Rocky movies.  With that film, as with this one, he has created a relationship in a genre movie where it would have been easier to simply go with the checklist of our expectations.

This is a surprisingly good movie, featuring two wonderful performances.  Ralph Macchio as the kid is smart, but also insecure and often self-defeated.  Pat Morita is wonderful as the old man who manages to pull his teaching from what is in the heart and in the mind rather than what is in the fist.  He’s not afraid to tell the kid what he’s thinking nor afraid to train his mind so that he can think for himself.  That’s a very special lesson, and this is a very special movie.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1984) View IMDB Filed in: Drama