The Karate Kid Revisited

I watched "Karate Kid" this week for the first time in decades. 

The last time I saw it, Daniel-san was older than me. This time, I kept thinking "Awww, he’s such a cute widdow boy."

I’d like to say the movie is a timeless classic, but unfortunately, the glaringly-80s soundtrack doesn’t really permit me to write that with a straight face. No, it’s definitely time-bound, but it is still a classic coming-of-age tale in which a high school kid learns to defend himself from bullies by painting the fence, waxing a car and sanding a deck.

I noticed a number of things I hadn’t noticed about the film when I was a kid:

  • Pat Morita as Mr. Miyagi was freaking amazing. Throughout most of the movie the character remains impassive and seems to be almost the picture of a Hollywood cliche (the inscrutable Asian). Then there’s the scene where Miyagi celebrates his anniversary, gets drunk, gives high-schooler Daniel liquor and brings out the announcement stating his wife died giving birth while in a Japanese internment camp–while Miyagi is wearing a U.S. Army uniform from World War II. The scene was somewhere between chilling, nauseating and wonderful.
  • Ralph Macchio as Daniel was also pretty good. The character was written as smart enough to be fun to watch but also stupid enough to be a realistic high-schooler. He makes mistakes a high-schooler would make.
  • Elisabeth Shue as Ali Mills actually made the perfunctory love interest character interesting. Of course she was helped by the fact that the script gave her some opportunities to be interesting (for example, her interactions with her heinous ex-boyfriend), something which more recent movies don’t seem to be able to do.
  • California is a character in the movie. The beach scene with the crane kick is the iconic example, but there are a lot of other scenes that were filmed in California. It’s gorgeous.

Despite the funky 80s soundtrack and the (compared to current wham-bam movies) slow pace, the original "Karate Kid" held up surprisingly well. Still great after all these years.

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