Note - This review is for the “The Karate Kid/The Karate Kid, Part II” Box set. Part II will be in a separate review to give each movie a full review.
Karate Kid is a movie about a teenage kid being uprooted from his Newark, New Jersey home and moving to sunny Reseda, California, where the scenery is better, but just about everything else is worse. Daniel Larusso (Ralph Macchio (My Cousin Vinny, The Outsiders) feels lost and alone, missing his home, unable to talk to his busy mom Lucielle (Randee Heller) and to top off his misery he is being bullied by a group of karate students out to make him pay for flirting with the leader’s (William Zabka) beautiful blonde ex-girlfriend Ali (Elisabeth Shue, Hollow Man). Daniel keeps getting up from his beatings, but his spirits dwindle until he meets his apartment complex’s janitor Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita, Happy Days, Karate Kid II) takes an interest in the young teen. After saving Daniel from a brutal beating, Miyagi continues to refuse to teach him karate until he meets the bully’s Karate teacher John Kreese (Martin Kove) and learns that the odds are truly stacked against young Daniel. Finally agreeing to teach Daniel karate so he can defend himself, Miyagi also teaches the teen about life, that sometimes two wrongs don’t make a right and revenge benefits nobody. But it is the life lessons that make Karate Kid as relevant today as it was back in 1984.
Director John G. Avildsen never seems to get enough credit for his amazing work here, but this could be seen as, arguably his best film. Sure Rocky was a bigger box-office success and launched Sylvester Stallone’s career into the atmosphere, but Avildsen’s hand is far deeper in this film, molding it to his vision. Not to take away from Robert Mark Kamen’s wonderful script, but ultimately a director decides how good or bad a film will be. Avildsen brings Kamen’s script to life, but seemingly does so in such a positive light that it can only be seen as an improvement. Simply put, Avildsen is a master of telling the under-dog’s story and making him overcome all odds so that you feel good in the end. Even with the original Rocky, where he didn’t win but merely went the distance with the champ that was good enough to be a feel-good moment and Avildsen tops that here with an even bigger feel-good moment.
Actors Pat Morita and Ralph Macchio bond unlike any two actors playing surrogate father and son, what makes it even more amazing is nobody seems to notice the racial difference. The two actors blend their performances together so naturally that you forget difference in race and nationality, these are simply two lonely males, a lonely boy looking for a father-figure and vice versa. A good example of this is when Miyagi gives Daniel a car for his sixteenth birthday and Daniel beams with happiness because it was a car he worked hard on polishing up and that he secretly desired, but thought was unattainable. Miyagi does far more than give a present here, he shows Larusso that if he puts his mind to it and puts in the hard work, he can accomplish anything. Actress Elisabeth Shue does a wonderful job of playing the love-hate relationship with Daniel. She feels for him and likes him, but when he lashes out at her because of his fears of Johnny, her ex, she wonders if she is wasting her time on him like her friends say she is. Not to be outdone both Kreese and Johnny play the bad guys to perfection, they are the perfect characters you love to hate. The contrasts here might seem simplistic, but it runs deeper when you see that even though Kreese’s students are bad kids, part of what makes them that way is having a bad teacher. In a way it’s a metaphor for everyone being a product of their environment, from Daniel being the outcast/newcomer in town to the bullies learning their ways from their master.
Karate Kid is up there with the best any 80’s movie has to offer. Films like The Terminator & Predator are both technically better, and more unpredictable, but Karate Kid’s feel-good atmosphere rings true in many ways and is far more relatable than any other 80’s flick. Who can’t relate to either being bullied or being a bully? We’ve all been there at one point or another. I had a kid who was older, bigger and coincidently looked just like Johnny who tried bullying me around this time. My dad taught me a move that actually worked much like Miyagi’s lessons and it wasn’t so much an offensive move as a defensive, so I can really relate to The Karate Kid. I took Karate lessons as a kid thanks in part to Karate Kid as well as Bruce Lee films.
From the beginning you can see that The Karate Kid is vastly improved. The opening scene on VHS, DVD and the re-release on DVD in the boxed set, they all looked pretty bad in the opening scene, specifically when Daniel and his mother are in the car and head out toward California, as they drive down their street in Newark, New Jersey there is a blur that is thankfully no longer there. The quality throughout is amazing. Specifically in the beach scene at night the “fog” from the smoke machine can be seen with a clarity I had never before seen in the Theatrical or any other release.
Karate Kid’s Blu-ray extras are a delight, specifically when you consider that there wasn’t much done in the past. The Bonsai feature was on the last DVD release and maybe one other extra here, but for the large part this is fresh material that is fun to watch. Particularly the commentary was fun to hear Pat Morita one last time alongside Ralph Macchio and others. They tend to speak over one another, but it’s done in an enjoyable way. This commentary was put together rather than the standard sit in the room and watch the movie together commentary, but it sure beats nothing which is what we had before. The “Blu-pop” feature is a nice new addition that adds a lot in the vein of VH1’s “Pop-up video” but besides trivia you get video content as well as secrets about the film throughout. Karate Kid on Blu-ray gets an 8 ½ stars but since I have to choose I round it up because of how well this release was done. It’s a must-buy for Karate Kid, Pat Morita/Ralph Macchio and karate movie fans as well as a mainstream audience, can be purchased alone or as part of a Box set with The Karate Kid Part II. Very highly recommended!
Special Features -
- Blu-pop - Activate the exclusive Blu-Pop feature to reveal pop-up trivia, interviews and more secrets from the film!
- Commentary with Director John G. Avildsen, Writer Robert Mark Kamen and Actors Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita
- “The Way of the Karate Kid” Multi-part making of featurette
- “Beyond the form” featurette
- “East Meets West: A Composer’s Notebook”
- “Life of Bonsai” featurette
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