The Karate Kid (1984)
★★★ / ★★★★
Daniel Larusso (Ralph Macchio) was uprooted from New Jersey because his mother (Randee Heller) was hired by an up-and-coming company in California. When he started to have a crush on rich girl, Ali (Elisabeth Shue), who lived in a rich neighborhood, he found himself bullied by Ali’s ex-boyfriend, Johnny (William Zabka), and his meathead friends. We just knew they were a bunch of kids that were up to no good because they were only in high school yet they rode bikes–not the kid-friendly type but the kind with a motor and goes “Vroom!” Written by Robert Mark Kamen and directed by John G. Avildsen, “The Karate Kid” was deliciously 80’s. Everything about it screamed Southern California summer: The beach, the blondes, the soundtrack, and even the (outdated) slangs. It wasn’t difficult to root for Daniel because he was so scrawny and nice. Daniel being bullied by Johnny, who desperately needed anger management classes, was like watching an adorable puppy get thrown around for no reason. The polarized good versus evil worked because its target audience was the younger demographic. It had enough touching moments and it took the issue of bullying seriously. At times, however, the conflict involving the division of class felt forced. We needn’t be constantly reminded in conversations that Daniel was poor. We could see it from where he lived, his clothes, and his determination to prove himself. Although Daniel had a healthy self-esteem, Ali’s snobby friends constantly looked at him like he was dirt. So the new kid in the neighborhood began to feel like he wasn’t good enough for the girl next door. We all know how it feels to feel like we’re not be good enough because we think someone else having more is tantamount to superiority. Daniel initially wanted to learn karate from the enigmatic Mr. Miyagi (Noriyuki “Pat” Morita) because he wanted to fight his tormentors. Over time, in a non-heavy-handed way, Daniel’s motivations evolved. Fighting and winning meant a way for him to alter people’s perceptions and expectations. That was the reason why, I think, the film resonated to its audience. The screenplay was able to successfully tap into our insecurities and convince us that we are in control of our bodies and minds. I admired that the picture wasn’t just about the karate training disguised in household chores like scrubbing the floor and painting the house. It had a lot of surprising humor embedded in those scenes. I loved how Morita kept his constant poker face yet was able to deliver laugh-out-loud one-liners with precision. There was an air of authority about him but he remained lovable. The supporting scenes, such as when Daniel and Ali went on their first date, were cute but never syrupy. Its simplicity made us feel like we were watching a real date, awkwardness and all. “The Karate Kid,” despite its predictable plot, was a joy to watch because it managed to avoid hammering us over the head with the life lessons it had to impart. Most importantly, Daniel maturing just enough over one summer felt believable.