Friday, November 13, 2015

Movie #333: The Karate Kid

The Karate Kid is an 80s teen drama/quasi-action flick about a boy who learns karate in two months in order to get a gang of bullies off his back. It stars Ralph Macchio, Pat Morita, Elisabeth Shue, and William Zabka.

Daniel (Macchio) and his mother (Randee Heller) move to Los Angeles from Newark. Daniel is salty about the move, but that's probably to be expected. He immediately meets a group of guys and makes friends, and at a beach party, lays eyes on Ali (Shue). All goes well until her ex-boyfriend Johnny (Zabka) shows up with a gang of his buddies from Cobra Kai, the local dojo, and Daniel starts some shit (in fairness, Johnny was being an ass), and gets his ass kicked.

From there, we get a couple of months of cat and mouse; most the older kids screwing with Daniel when they get a chance, until they throw him down a hill on his bike. He also meets the handyman at his apartment complex, Mr. Miyagi (Morita), who teaches him how to clip bonsai trees and is generally cool. Then one night at the Halloween dance, he pranks Johnny by spraying water on him, and the Cobra Kais chase him down and beat the shit out of him. Miyagi jumps in and takes out the gang, and then agrees to teach Daniel karate so he can compete against the gang at a tournament. And then, of course, Miyagi trains him using household chores, he deals with Ali's family being rich and his poor, he wins even though the Cobras cheat, roll credits.

This is one of these movies that years of overanalysis has kind of ruined. Like, for instance, much is made of how Daniel learns karate over the course of two months (assuming that the Halloween party was late October and the tournament is December 19th). But it's not like he's an expert. He's trained in a different style than his opponents and he's terrified, so he's paying attention. And it's not like he wins decisively, he fucks up quite a bit. In a real fight, he'd probably have lost.

Also, there's a video floating around about how Daniel is a bully and Johnny is the real hero, and on a watch, it seems convincing...but then watch the movie again. Johnny talks about how senior year he's going to quit being a screw-up, but he hasn't learned important lessons like "respect the girl's wishes when she wants to be left alone" and "if she's nice enough to grant you a dance, don't kiss her just to fuck with the other guy," not to mention "getting water poured on your head is no excuse for assault." So, no, Daniel makes some stupid choices, but he is by no means a bully.

And finally, there's a stupid meme going around that Daniel shouldn't have won the tournament because he kicks Johnny in the head, and that's against the rules. Except Ali says quite clearly in explaining the rules to Daniel that anything above the waist is a point (that's why the knee strike is a big deal and disqualifies the Cobra that employs it).

Anyway, with those points out of the way, I think this movie holds up decently. The soundtrack is kind of awful and the score is worse, but the movie itself was a cultural touchstone, spurred a lot of imitators and lazy memes, and apparently launched an interest in kids learning karate, if some of my more martial-artsy friends are to be believed.

My grade: B+
Rewatch value: Medium-low

Next up: Ladyhawke