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80’s. Everything about it screamed Southern California summer: The beach, the blondes, the soundtrack, and even the (outdated) slangs.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.
The Goonies (1985)
★★ / ★★★★
In Richard Donner’s “The Goonies,” a group of kids found a map containing the location of a pirate treasure. Brothers Mikey (Sean Astin) and Brand (Josh Brolin) had a week before their family were forced to move because their parents could no longer afford their home. But when Data (Jonathan Ke Quan), Mouth (Corey Feldman) and Chunk (Jeff Cohen) agreed with Mikey to search for the mythical treasure for one last adventure, they stumbled upon the hiding place of three Italian criminals (Anne Ramsey, Joe Pantoliano, Robert David) on the run from the cops. Their hiding place contained a secret passageway that led to an underground cave that housed the legendary pirate ship. “The Goonies” would appeal to kids because they would most likely be able relate to the characters’ silliness and quirkiness, the soundtrack was energetic, and it played upon the universal idea of children’s penchant for treasure hunting. Despite being a kid at heart, I wasn’t that entertained. There were far too many people in the cave. The two girls, Andy (Kerri Green) and Stef (Martha Plimpton), were completely unnecessary. The romance between Andy and Brand dragged the picture’s momentum. How could we root for their romance if they weren’t fully realized characters? The fact that the picture kept suggesting that there could be something between Andy, around sixteen years old, and Mikey, who was still in elementary school, was more awkward than funny, creepy than cute. I felt like the girls in the movie were added simply to appeal to the same sex. I wish they made their exit when they stumbled upon a well where three guys above could have taken them home. I grew tired of their whining. I enjoyed the film most when the guys accidentally triggered booby traps. It was like watching a light version of Steven Spielberg’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” exciting but we never truly felt that the characters were in any real danger. We were simply curious to see how the protagonists would adapt to the quickly changing environment. I did wish, however, that the criminals were more dangerous. Most of the time, they acted more like cartoon characters. I didn’t buy for one second that they were smart enough to pull off breaking someone out of jail as they did in the first scene. “The Goonies” wasn’t rich with subtlety. The child actors’ lines often felt forced and it was obvious when some of their lines were dubbed. They probably ran out of takes. Still, the movie was entertaining and charming in its own way. Based on Spielberg’s story, I couldn’t help but wonder how sharper and stronger it might have been under his direction.
The Breakfast Club (1985)
★★★ / ★★★★
Five high school students who personify a geek (Anthony Michael Hall), a princess (Molly Ringwald), a jock (Emilio Estevez), a basket case (Ally Sheedy) and a criminal (Judd Nelson) spent a Saturday in detention under the eyes of a begrudged principal (Paul Gleason). The picture’s argument was the fact that although we label ourselves (or others label us) to be in a specific category in the high school social strata, we can relate with each of the five characters because we share one commonality: in high school, all of us are just hoping to get by and waiting for our lives to actually begin. The film was astute in observing the teenagers while they interacted with each other and when they were on their own. Even if the characters were not saying anything or if they were just on the background, I was able to read them and I thought of things that they might have been thinking at the time. Having been released in era where typical teen flicks were abound, “The Breakfast Club” almost immediately gained a cult following because of its honesty, right amount of cheesiness, and cathartic quality. My favorite scene was toward the end when the five were in a circle and decided to share why they were sent to detention. I liked the fact that it wasn’t a typical “sharing time” where everybody was solemn and serious all the time. They were actually able to make jokes toward and around each other in between discussing their issues. It made me think of me and my friends when would do the same thing. Out of the five, I could relate to Hall’s character the most (and a bit of Ringwald’s because of her slight conceitedness). It made me think of the way I was in high school concerning my penchant (or perhaps even obsession) for getting straight A’s. It got to the point where getting straight A’s was something that I expected of myself instead of something that I had to strive for. I remember being so hard on myself for making small mistakes when, looking back on it, I didn’t really need to. Now that I’m older, I just think of grades as letters on a piece of paper and nothing more. They don’t define us and they certainly don’t dictate what we can offer the world. The difference between me and Hall’s character was my parents did not pressure me into getting the perfect grade point average. However, I can just imagine how it must have been like for other students who were not so lucky–those that jumped off buildings in college because they felt a need to have the “perfect academic record” to have a “secure future.” Written and directed by the legendary John Hughes, I thought he did a wonderful job capturing the essence of teenagers despite their place in the high school hierarchy.