The Karate Kid (1984) / Drama-Action

MPAA Rated: PG for violence and language
Running Time: 126 min.

Cast: Ralph Macchio, Pat Morita, Elisabeth Shue, William Zabka, Randee Heller, Martin Kove, Ron Thomas, Rob Garrison, Chad McQueen
Director: John G. Avildsen
Screenplay: Robert Mark Kamen
Review published July 28, 2005

Daniel LaRusso (Macchio, Crossroads) and his mother (Heller, Fast Break) move from New Jersey to Reseda, CA , to start a new life.  It seems promising at first, but soon Daniel hates his new environs, thanks to a few run-ins at school with a group of karate-trained bullies.  He does manage to really irk the leader of the bullies, Johnny (Zabka, Just One of the Guys), when he starts seeing his ex-girlfriend, Ali (Shue, Back to the Future Part II).  Johnny and gang belong to a no-holds-barred karate school in town that has a slogan of "no mercy", run by ex-Vietnam vet John Kreese (Love, Death Race 2000).  After the landlord to Daniel's apartment complex, Mr. Miyagi (Morita, "Happy Days"), saves him from the gang one day, he decides to teach the young man some karate, except in the ways of the honored Japanese tradition.  Miyagi and Kreese form a pact that Daniel is to be "off limits" until the day of the big karate tournament in town, where the different styles of karate come to clash, but Daniel is far from ready for the match.  With help from Miyagi, he prepares every day for the event, but he finds the teaching methods unorthodox, monotonous, and strenuous.

Director John G. Avildsen would return to familiar territory, offering up a juvenile version of his wildly successful 1976 classic, Rocky.  It's a classic underdog makes good story, with all of the highs and lows that kind of film implies.  It's very familiar, but the formula works nevertheless, and with a solid performance by 22-year-old Macchio playing much younger, plus an Academy Award nominated supporting role for Pat Morita, it is always engaging and very entertaining. 

One of the film's biggest strong points is by not coloring the villains in too bad a light.  While it is true that they can occasionally act like a bunch of immature hooligans, the gang that antagonizes Daniel isn't always looking to pick on him, except when it look like Macchio isn't going to learn his place in life as the new guy.  By the same token, isn't content to be the neighborhood punching bag, and he irks them right back, not above pulling a prank or two on them to save face, although all it ends up doing is shaking up the hornets' nest more. 

Perhaps it's a little corny by today's standards, but the core of The Karate Kid definitely works, especially for young kids.  It's popularity made it a huge hit back in 1984, and it has become a bit of a family classic over the years, although the formula would continue in many films since  including spawning three sequels of its own.  Worth viewing, especially for children and those nostalgic for the 1980s.

-- Followed by The Karate Kid Part II (1986), The Karate Kid Part III (1989), and The Next Karate Kid (1994).   Remade in 2010.

Qwipster's rating:

2005 Vince Leo