Monday, June 7, 2010
Original "Karate Kid" Still Kicking
The Karate Kid (1984)
Running time: 126 minutes (2 hours, 6 minutes)
DIRECTOR: John G. Avildsen
WRITER: Robert Mark Kamen
PRODUCER: Jerry Weintraub
CINEMATOGRAPHER: James Crabe (director of photography)
EDITORS: John G. Avildsen, Walt Mulconery, and Bud Smith
COMPOSER: Bill Conti
Academy Award nominee
Starring: Ralph Macchio, Noriyuki “Pat” Morita, Elisabeth Shue, Martin Kove, Randee Heller, William Zabka, and Larry B. Scott
It has been more than 20 years since I last saw the 1984 film, The Karate Kid (maybe even longer), so with the upcoming 2010 remake due to hit theatres shortly, I decided to see the original again. I saw The Karate Kid in a theatre, and I remember liking it a lot at the time, but back then, I’d like anything that entertained me – even bad movies.
However, I was delightfully surprised to find that The Karate Kid still had me rooting for its underdog hero, Daniel LaRusso. I cringed when he was in trouble, fretted with him over typical teen problems, and cheered when he became the victor. Some of the movie is still standard teen movie fare – even the listless romance between Daniel and Ali. It may not be perfect, but this movie is mostly a winner.
The Karate Kid is the story of Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio), who is the new kid in the California town of Reseda. Daniel moved from Newark, New Jersey with his mother, Lucille LaRusso (Randee Heller), because of Lucille’s new job. It doesn’t take long before Daniel falls afoul of a gang of bullies from a local martial arts school, the Cobra Kai dojo. When Daniel befriends a new classmate, Ali Mills (Elisabeth Shue), he angers her ex-boyfriend, Cobra Kai stud and karate student, Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka). Daniel knows a little karate, but that doesn’t protect him from a few beatings at the hand of Johnny and his cronies.
Luckily, the manager of the apartment building where Daniel lives, Kesuke Miyagi (Noriyuki “Pat” Morita), is a martial arts master, and he rescues Daniel from one particularly bad beating. Hoping to resolve the situation, Mr. Miyagi and Daniel visit the Cobra Kai dojo, but the sensei (teacher), an ex-Special Forces thug named John Kreese (Martin Kove), refuses to defuse the situation between Daniel and his students. Mr. Miyagi and Kreese agree to settle the conflict between Daniel and Johnny at the “All Valley Karate Tournament.” Mr. Miyagi begins Daniel’s training, but Daniel is shocked to discover just how strange the training regimen is. Can he handle it?
Pat Morita earned an Oscar nomination for his performance as Mr. Miyagi, one certainly well deserved. Morita took what could have been an odd-duck, wizened martial arts master and turned Mr. Miyagi into a complex supporting character and guardian to the hero. Morita made Mr. Miyagi a friend when Daniel needed one, and a surrogate father even when Daniel didn’t know he needed one.
Ralph Macchio was equally as good, personifying the typical American high school teenager with skill and depth. Macchio captured the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of Daniel LaRusso in a variety of shades and colors. One of the best parts of Macchio’s performance is how he depicts Daniel’s uncertainty about how and when to confront his Cobra Kai bullies. Macchio plays those moments by giving Daniel a mixture of fear and craftiness that really defies firm description, but it exemplifies the sense of verisimilitude Macchio’s performance gives Daniel.
Morita and Macchio’s performances are why The Karate Kid resonates with audiences, then and now. They make their characters recognizable, likeable, and believable, and together, they are the kind of winning father-son and best friends dynamic duo that can make audiences love a movie enough to turn it into a franchise.
7 of 10
1985 Academy Awards: 1 nomination: “Best Actor in a Supporting Role” (Noriyuki “Pat” Morita)
1985 Golden Globes: 1 nomination: “Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Noriyuki “Pat” Morita)
Monday, June 07, 2010