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Naum Aksenov
Naum Aksenov

The Karate Kid

Mr. Miyagi teaches Daniel-San karate and life lessons in the "Karate Kid" saga.Sports Guy's definition for a movie trilogy: "A series of three dramas in which the first movie did so well, they couldn't help themselves, so they brought everyone back to make more money in an uninspired sequel, only that one did pretty well, too, so they brought everyone back again for a third movie, just to beat the dead horse completely into the ground."

The Karate Kid

Back to the brilliance of "The Karate Kid." For one thing, there's a terrific plot: Lovable loser Daniel moves to California, feuds with a band of moped-riding karate bullies, gets his butt kicked repeatedly, turns to a Japanese maintenance man for guidance, learns karate, learns about life, falls in love, enters a tournament against the bullies, gets injured in the semifinals, rallies back to fight his girlfriend's ex-boyfriend in the Finals, improbably gets the win. The end. Does it get any better than that?

This was also Ralph Macchio's defining movie, and that sentence is funny enough in itself. But seriously, who else could have played Daniel-San? By the end of the movie, you actually believe that 1) Daniel could beat everyone from Cobra Kai in a karate tournament, and 2) he would have no problem wooing a young Elisabeth Shue (looking yummy here, even with the extra baby fat), which remains one of the all-time movie stretches.

(And didn't you love the Cobra Kai? They were like an Aryan Karate Machine, weren't they? Why hasn't anyone opened a chain of Cobra Kai karate studios across America? If you were studying karate, wouldn't you want to study at the Cobra Kai? Couldn't they at least sell the Cobra Kai karate outfits online? Has there ever been a better roto team nickname/movie homage than Cobra Kai? I could go on all day.)

Miyagi teaching Daniel-San karate by forcing him to perform household chores like painting fences, sanding floors and waxing cars. That always killed me. Daniel-San somehow learns karate from all of this, while Miyagi gets his house remodeled. Only in Hollywood.

Why did The Rich Guy devote weeks of his life to destroying Daniel-San and Mr. Miyagi? Didn't he have anything more important on his plate than bringing down a teenage karate champion? Was he saying to himself, "You know, I feel pretty good about my stock holdings this month. ... I think I'll take some time off and browbeat an 18-year-old kid"? We might never know.

And just like that, the most memorable Sports Movie Trilogy of all-time was finally over. Maybe we never found out what happened to Daniel LaRusso when he grew up, but I can tell you this: If they ever made a "Return of the Karate Kid" movie -- with a grown-up LaRusso opening a karate studio to compete with Cobra Kai, then getting picked on by his own students and eventually pulling Miyagi out of a nursing home to help him survive -- I would be the first person in line.

Parents need to know that The Karate Kids is a classic '80s martial arts movie that's still a fine pick for families with older tweens. The Karate Kid was re-made in 2010 with a younger perspective starring Jaden Smith. It has a fair number of swear words (including "s--t"), insults, and fights -- as well as a scene of marijuana use. This is a standard new-kid-in-town flick, but it's also got soul thanks to the teacher-student relationship between wise Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) and lonely teen Daniel (Ralph Macchio). Issues of class, race, (teen) romance, and even war are explored in this coming-of-age tale, where karate is a metaphor for life.

In THE KARATE KID, fter moving from New Jersey to a small apartment complex in Southern California with his single mom, Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) finds himself an outsider at his new suburban high school. The cool guys in school drive expensive convertibles and take karate so seriously that they're more than happy to beat Daniel silly again and again. Daniel's one pretty friend Ali (Elisabeth Shue) is unfortunately also the ex-girlfriend of Daniel's chief bully, blackbelt-champion Johnny (William Zabka). Unable to adequately defend himself, Daniel turns to his apartment's Okinawan super, Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita), for help. Miyagi agrees to teach Daniel karate -- but in his own, unique way. After some unorthodox training (waxing cars, sanding floors, painting fences, catching flies), Miyagi convinces Johnny's aggressive karate instructor (Martin Kove) to make his pupils back off ... until the next karate championship.

I didn't want to see this movie. I took one look at the title and figured it was either (a) a sequel to Toenails of Vengeance, or (b) an adventure pitting Ricky Schroder against the Megaloth Man. I was completely wrong. "The Karate Kid" was one of the nice surprises of 1984 -- an exciting, sweet-tempered, heart-warming story with one of the most interesting friendships in a long time. The friends come from different worlds. A kid named Daniel (Ralph Macchio) is a New Jersey teenager who moves with his mother to Los Angeles. An old guy named Miyagi (Pat Morita) is the Japanese janitor in their apartment building. When Daniel starts to date the former girlfriend of the toughest kid in the senior class, the kid starts pounding on Daniel's head on a regular basis. Daniel tries to fight back, but this is a Southern California kid, and so of course he has a black belt in karate. Enter Mr. Miyagi, who seems to be a harmless old eccentric with a curious hobby: He tries to catch flies with chopsticks. It turns out that Miyagi is a karate master, a student not only of karate fighting but of the total philosophy of the martial arts. He agrees to take Daniel as his student.

And then begins the wonderful center section of "The Karate Kid," as the old man and the kid from Jersey become friends. Miyagi's system of karate instruction is offbeat, to say the least. He puts Daniel to work shining cars, painting fences, scrubbing the bottoms of pools. Daniel complains that he isn't learning karate, he's acting as free labor. But there is a system to Mr. Miyagi's training.

"The Karate Kid" was directed by John G. Avildsen, who made "Rocky." It ends with the same sort of climactic fight scene; Daniel faces his enemies in a championship karate tournament. But the heart of this movie isn't in the fight sequences, it's in the relationships. And in addition to Daniel's friendship with Miyagi, there's also a sweet romantic liaison with Ali (Elisabeth Shue), who is your standard girl from the right side of town and has the usual snobbish parents.

Macchio is an unusual, interesting choice for Daniel. He's not the basic handsome Hollywood teenager but a thin, tall, intense kid with a way of seeming to talk to himself. His delivery always sounds natural, even offhand; he never seems to be reading a line. He's a good, sound, interesting lead, but the movie really belongs to Pat Morita, an actor who has been around a long time (he was Arnold on "Happy Days") without ever having a role anywhere near this good. Morita makes Miyagi into an example of applied serenity. In a couple of scenes where he has to face down a hostile karate coach, Miyagi's words are so carefully chosen they don't give the other guy any excuse to get violent; Miyagi uses the language as carefully as his hands or arms to ward off blows and gain an advantage. It's refreshing to see a completely original character like this old man. "The Karate Kid" is a sleeper with a title that gives you the wrong idea: It's one of 1984's best movies.

The saga of Daniel LaRusso and Mr. Miyagi all started when producer Jerry Weintraub (Nashville, Ocean's Eleven) was watching television one day. According to Jared Cowan of LA Weekly, Weintraub saw a news story about a local kid who earned a black belt in karate to protect himself from a group of bullies. Weintraub was immediately inspired, and soon enough, Columbia Pictures hired Robert Mark Kamen (pictured above) to write a screenplay.

Now, if you've never heard Kamen's name, you've certainly seen his movies. The man has written films like Taps, Lethal Weapon 3, The Fifth Element, The Transporter, and Taken. And when he was approached with the idea of a martial arts movie, Kamen was able to draw on his personal experience while writing the script. After all, he'd been studying karate for 17 years.

Well, according to Brian Cronin of, the Chuck Norris connection is nothing more than a myth. As it turns out, Norris was never offered the role, although if someone had asked him to play Kreese, Norris says he would've passed on the part. Why? Because he thought the character cast a bad light on karate. Sure, that might sound a little silly, but it's important to remember that, despite a decade or so of ridiculous Chuck Norris joke, the man is a legitimate martial artist.

Back in the '70s, he ran multiple dojos, and he was the undefeated world professional middleweight karate champion for six years. So it makes sense that he wouldn't want to play a character that might hurt the sport. Of course, we're just dealing with hypotheticals as he was never offered the part. Still, while it's fun to imagine Walker, Texas Ranger in the role, we can all agree that Martin Kove was the best choice, as Norris can throw a kick but isn't so great at reciting dialogue.

When Ralph Macchio and company signed up for The Karate Kid, none of them knew much about martial arts. Sure, William Zabka was a wrestler in high school, but shooting for takedowns isn't the same as throwing roundhouse kicks. So to get them ready for a karate tournament, the filmmakers called in Pat E. Johnson. This guy had studied tang soo do while serving in Korea, and when he returned to America, he joined up with Chuck Norris, working at one of Norris' schools. Soon, Johnson racked up an impressive fight record, and not only would he go on to work with stars like Brandon Lee and Jackie Chan, he also had a part in Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon.

Johnson's methods were pretty clever, but his work on The Karate Kid wasn't all just behind the scenes. The next time you watch the film, pay attention during the karate tournament, and you'll see the fight choreographer playing the part of a mustachioed referee. 041b061a72


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