I revisited The Karate Kid last week which I had not seen since I was a teenager. For those counting (I used my abacus) it had been at least 25 years between viewings! Yes, I am old. Despite the years between viewings, I remembered much of the film because I watched the movie over and over between the ages of 8 and 13. So, you would be correct to call me a fan. On the flip side because of the years between viewings, there were elements of the film that I didn’t recall such as the social gap between Daniel and Ali. Daniel got beat up more than I remembered, too. So, I rewatched the movie both as a nostalgic fan and with a new-ish perspective of being an adult. Fair warning: the following will be as much rambling (it’s our namesake after all) as a review.
Almost 40 years have passed since The Karate Kid premiered and it is still a good movie! Side note: I was born several years before the movie was released… did I mention that I’m old? The plotline which drives the movie is Daniel’s conflict as a young teenager with Johnny and the local school bullies. Although this element pushes the story forward there is much more to the film. The Karate Kid excels in this regard and wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable if the movie focused only on Daniel vs. Johnny/bullies.
The film explores many of the challenges a teenager experiences such as moving to a new city/state, attending a new school, making new friends, dating, etc. all of which receive appropriate screen time without neglecting the main plot. These difficulties are common experiences for any generation. This is one reason The Karate Kid remains timeless and appeals to a wide audience. Chances are you will relate to several problems Daniel faces over the course of the film. The movie is a coming-of-age story hidden amidst the karate/fighting.
Ralph Macchio’s portrayal of a somewhat awkward teenager standing up to bullies is done well. But let’s be honest, The Karate Kid is a classic because of Pat Morita as Mr. Miyagi. Pat Morita was perfect casting as his appearance helped everything about the character work; Morita’s short stature, older age, and unassuming physique were vital to the character and ultimately the movie’s success. As such scenes like the confrontation between Mr. Miyagi and Kreese in the Cobra Kai dojo are even better. The juxtaposition between the tall, muscular, intimidating Kreese and the short, slightly rotund, unassuming Miyagi is simply perfect.
The movie is smart to gradually reveal information about Mr. Miyagi. At first, you are not sure what to make of this eccentric old man. But as the movie progresses they slowly pull back the curtain. The more you learn about Mr. Miyagi, the more you like the character. The friendship between Daniel and Mr. Miyagi is absolutely the best thing in the film. This makes the movie shine instead of the fight sequences or some other element you might expect from a film of this nature.
That being said, The Karate Kid isn’t perfect. Even 9 or 10 year old me could recognize that some of the fight sequences look staged. You can tell that certain blows were not landing. But ultimately this doesn’t pull the film down. The fight sequences are not great, but they are good enough. And while the fights are important to the film The Karate Kid remains relevant today because of everything else. Also, there are occasional moments of poor acting, but nothing pervasive.
I very much enjoyed returning to this excellent film. The Karate Kid is a movie that is still worth watching today even if you don’t feel any nostalgia for the film. I believe the movie will especially capture the attention of boys today the same as it did for me when I first saw the film. That is an impressive feat. But the movie does so much so well that anyone can and should enjoy it regardless of age/gender.