In the same way that Bruce Lee got people interested in Kung Fu, The Karate Kid was single handedly responsible for a generation of kids joining their local Karate class. Unfortunately, after a few weeks, when you realised that Karate mostly involves moving up and down a hall whilst punching the air and no one wears black Cobra Kai suits, the novelty soon wore off and it was back to football.
But every now and then you may catch The Karate Kid (or one of its sequels) on TV and think to yourself, ‘What if I had kept going? Could I have got one of those excessively large plastic trophies?’
Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) has just moved from 'New Joisey' to a school in California. Instead of lying low for a bit he tries his luck with Ali (a chubby Elisabeth Shue before she got anally raped in Leaving Las Vegas) and in the process pisses off a group of waspish rich kids (led by William Zabka’s Johnny Lawrence). As the full scale bullying campaign gets underway Daniel is rescued by a mysterious Japanese man (Pat Morita) who teaches him the physical and spiritual benefits of Karate. Daniel then goes about using his new found skills to defeat Johnny’s crew and humiliate their teacher; psycho 'Nam' vet John Kreese (played by cop show journeyman Martin Kove).
While Martial Arts flicks were nothing new, with its reasonable production, child friendly rating and all American 'High School' setting, The Karate Kid brought the genre to the masses. And it was The Karate Kid that refined the now familiar martial arts formula; kid gets his ass kicked, enter the sympathetic master who trains him up so that he can beat his enemies and regain his honor (preferably in a tournament style setting where the world is watching à la Van Damme, Bradley, Rhee etc) Add to the mix a group of idiosyncratic characters, Ralph Macchio thinking he’s Rocky and a few eighties tunes and you have a kitsch piece of escapism that typified the Reagan era and offered a little hope to bullied kids in school yards everywhere.
And in the eighties it shall forever stay, a time when a drunken janitor could take an interest in a young boy without arousing (too much) suspicion, a time when school kids handled their problems with the ancient art of Karate and not Uzis. And I think there may even be some social commentary shoved in there somewhere regarding the U.S treatment of Japanese-Americans during the war.
But the highlights for me have to be Mrs Larusso (Randee Heller) who seems to go out of her way to ruin her son’s life with that fucking station wagon of hers. This is not helped by the fact that Daniel dresses like a six year old boy (maybe that’s what caught Miyagi’s eye, we’ll never know). Speaking of eyes, at the tournament Miyagi nearly pokes one out with those shirt collars of his (its ’84 Miyagi not ‘74). In the meantime blonde cheerleader Ali gives us an impromptu run down of the official All Valley Karate tournament rules. If you can get past these minor glitches, there is a classic martial arts montage sequence, played out to the tune of ‘You’re the Best’ by Joe ‘Bean’ Esposito.
The Karate Kid spawned two competent sequels which has sparked an intense debate (only really inside my own head) as to who would win if you threw Mr Miyagi, Daniel LaRusso, Johnny Lawrence, John Kreese, Chozen, Sato, Mike ‘Bad Boy’ Barnes and Terry Silver into a pit and got them all to fight it out to the death?
There then came a 1989 TV series and the 1994 film 'The Next Karate Kid' both of which I refuse to watch on general principle. There is also a hideously edited version of The Karate Kid which appears on terrestrial British television whereby one minute Daniel is painting the fence and the next he’s practically at the tournament.
The only thing left to say about The Karate Kid is that under no circumstances should you ever rely on any of the film's moves out on the street. Only a handful of the actors were actual Karate practitioners and by his own admission, except for some training for the Karate Kid films, Noriyuki 'Pat' Morita has never formally practiced a martial art. 'The Crane' sequence at the beach was performed by a man in a bald-head wig and above all 'the Crane' as a technique doesn’t exist in either Karate or Kung-Fu, it was invented for the film.
And as to whether there was anything more sinister to Miyagi and Daniel’s relationship, on or off set, we’ll never know, but could a man really spend that much time ‘grooming’ a young boy and not expect anything in return? I will leave you with that thought.