The Karate Kid (1984) Review

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Kreese: We do not train to be merciful here. Mercy is for the weak. Here, in the streets, in competition: A man confronts you, he is the enemy. An enemy deserves no mercy.

Beware: Spoilers may follow.

The Youtube series known as Cobra Kai has easily proved itself to be a far better sequel to the original movie than any of the other Karate Kid sequels (and by extension the remake). But no matter what you may think of the series it is important that we never forget the original movie. While not a groundbreaking movie, it is still a very good one.

The story involves young Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) who moves to Southern California with his mother. He finds himself being picked on by a group of bullies who study karate at a nearby dojo known as Cobra Kai run by a man named John Kreese (Martin Kove). However he befriends a maintenance man named Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) who also happens to be a martial arts master. Thus Miyagi takes Daniel under his wing and trains him to take on the bullies at a tournament.

The story is your basic underdog story having to overcome someone far bigger than him. But the movie is very solidly crafted in building up the tournament in a patient but engaging way and allows both the characters of Daniel and Miyagi to develop some interesting personalities. The movie’s heart very much comes from the magnitude and depth of the bond between the eager Daniel and the mystical Miyagi. There’s a really emotional and heavy scene halfway through the movie that reveals Miyagi’s background as a soldier in World War 2 and how he lost his wife in childbirth at an interment camp. It’s a really painful and touching scene that shows just how much Miyagi sees Daniel as a surrogate son as Daniel views Miyagi as a father figure.

The story also does well with its pacing never lingering too long on any aspect of the story but gives it just enough establishment to each aspect such as the romance, the action, Daniel’s aspirations, his relation to his mother, etc. If anything the movie manages to combine these elements and have them play well to the strength of the story and Miyagi’s life lesson of personal balance.

At times the dialogue can get a little cheesy but it never goes too far into being dated. For every dated and cheesy line of dialogue there is there is one more that manages to remain timeless.

Macchio’s performance as Daniel is really well done. His always manages to make his delivery sound natural and he gives the character of Daniel a likable appeal. He very much feels like an ordinary kid. Even through all the cheesy dialogue and when he has to be awkward still manages to sound believable making him into a likable underdog character.

However the best part of this movie goes to Pat Morita as Mr. Miyagi. He gives a sense of serenity to the character and the dialogue given to him is perfect. And even through that serenity Morita is capable of showcasing a wide range of emotions within while still staying true to the wise old mentor.

Then there are the villains: Martin Kove as Kreese and William Zabka as Johnny Lawrence are mostly one dimensional in their characters of beating up Daniel for no reason other than that they show no mercy but their performances are so over the top and a lot of fun that it makes them truly memorable (Cobra Kai would actually give more depth to Johnny).

The Karate Kid has a standard story with cheesy dialogue and underdeveloped villains but the protagonists have such a likability that engulfs the story and gives it some layers. These aspects make it timeless and set the movie apart in its underdog story.

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