The Karate Kid (1984)

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Directed by John G. Avildsen
Written by Robert Mark Kamen

Rated PG

Ralph Macchio as Daniel LaRusso
Noriyuki “Pat” Morita as Keisuke Miyagi
Elisabeth Shue as Ali Mills
William Zabka as Johnny Lawrence
Randee Heller as Lucille LaRusso
Martin Kove as John Kreese

It’s hard to believe The Karate Kid was released 30 years ago. There have been three sequels, and successful 2010 remake (with Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan). But the first film is by far the best, as is so often the case. It’s no coincidence that John G. Avildsen is the director. He won an Oscar for directing 1976’s Best Picture, Rocky, and this film follows a similar formula.

Ralph Macchio is first-rate as Daniel LaRusso, a high school student who relocates from Newark, New Jersey, to Reseda, near Los Angeles. There is no father, and his mother (Randee Heller) is a free spirit, which annoys Daniel – especially since she never asked him his feelings on leaving his home in Newark.

Daniel tries his best to fit in, but he immediately becomes the target of bullies after he flirts with the ex-girlfriend (Elisabeth Shue) of the school heartthrob, Johnny. He is an accomplished student of “Cobra Kai,” a violent and unethical form of karate.

Daniel’s one consolation is his budding friendship with his building’s handyman, Mr. Miyagi (Noriyuki “Pat” Morita) – and fortunately for Daniel, Mr. Miyagi is a masterful student of karate himself.

Daniel pleads with Mr. Miyagi to teach him karate, and Mr. Miyagi finally agrees after thwarting a savage attack on Daniel by Johnny and his goons.

Johnny’s sensei is the smug, malevolent Kreese (Martin Kove), who agrees to Miyagi’s request that Daniel is to be left alone. The catch: Daniel will meet with Johnny and the Cobra Kais to settle the score in a local tournament.

The training sequences are well done and entertaining, and the tournament scenes are suspenseful, despite the inevitable (but no less triumphant) outcome. The film’s strength is the relationship between Daniel and Mr. Miyagi. They are unlikely friends, but they both learn from each other. Macchio is believable as Daniel, looking and sounding like a real teenager. We feel for Daniel, trying to acclimate to a new culture. Mr. Miyagi is the father figure and friend he needs, and Morita gives one of the year’s best and most memorable performances.

The Karate Kid is a classic that has stood the test of time.

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