Sunday, April 06, 2014

The Karate Kid

Directed by John G. Avildsen and written by Robert Mark Kamen, The Karate Kid tells the story of a young New Jersey teenager who moves to California with his mother where he would encounter bullies who are taught a vicious form of karate. Following repeated encounters with the bullies, the young man is suddenly saved by an Okinawan handyman who would later teach him karate in order to defend himself from the bullies leading to a confrontation at a tournament. A blend of coming-of-age story and the underdog story, the film is an exploration into a young man not just standing up for himself but also find some balance in his young life with the help of an old man. Starring Ralph Macchio, Noriyuki “Pat” Morita, Elisabeth Shue, Randee Heller, William Zabka, and Martin Kove. The Karate Kid is a majestic film from John G. Avildsen.

The film is a simple story of a young teenager from New Jersey who arrives to California with his mother for a new life where he meets a girl only to be bullied by that young woman’s ex-boyfriend and his friends through a vicious form of karate. After a series of encounters where Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) tries to get revenge only to be getting a worse beating, he is saved by an Okinawan handyman named Mr. Miyagi (Noriyuki “Pat” Morita) who would teach Daniel karate and later have him confront the bullies in a karate tournament. It’s a film that has a simple premise but has so much more where there is this unique bond between Daniel and Mr. Miyagi as the former had just lost a father while the latter is a loner who likes to keep to himself yet is a master at karate. In teaching Daniel through unconventional means, he would show Daniel that there’s more to karate than just punching and kicking but also a way to find balance in the boy’s life.

Robert Mark Kamen’s screenplay plays up to that sense of the underdog in Daniel LaRusso as he’s this kid from New Jersey that just arrived to California where it’s a world full of beaches and palm trees. Upon meeting the rich girl Ali (Elisabeth Shue), it seems like the best decision to move from working-class Jersey to California until he meets her ex-boyfriend in Johnny (William Zabka) who is upset that she’s met someone else as he beats up Daniel with this brutal form of karate. Though Daniel only knows a few moves, he learns that Johnny and his friends go to school where their master is a former Special Forces Vietnam veteran in John Kreese (Martin Kove). One of the intriguing aspects of the script isn’t the fact that Johnny and his friends are really bad kids but misguided one as their teacher is the real villain. Kreese is a man who doesn’t believe in the idea of mercy or restraint as he’s all about destroying and ending the enemy.

It’s an ideal that is the opposite of what Mr. Miyagi would teach to Daniel who becomes frustrated with his encounters as he plead to his mother (Randee Heller) about wanting to go home. Yet, one last beat down from Johnny and his Cobra Kai gang would have Daniel find a true ally in Miyagi. Miyagi would meet with Kreese at the latter’s dojo as Miyagi would ask Kreese to have his boys leave Daniel alone until the tournament where it would be an uneasy decision for both Miyagi and Daniel to make. Still, Miyagi would prepare Daniel for inevitable through unconventional means in muscle memory It’s not just this relationship between the two that builds where Daniel learns more about Miyagi but his relationship with Ali would also grow as she would become his supporter where she would help both of them during the climatic tournament in the film’s third act.

John G. Avildsen’s direction is pretty simple in the way he presents the film as this coming-of-age story about a kid who learns karate in order stand up for himself. Yet, Avildsen does create moments that is very accessible in terms of its compositions and drama while injecting some moments of humor. Some of the best moments of Avildsen include some wide and medium shots of the locations that includes this gorgeous shot of Mr. Miyagi practicing the crane kick in the beach. Much of it displays that sense of peace and balance that is in Mr. Miyagi and what Daniel needed in his life as he is still dealing with the loss of his father. Especially in the third act where he learns about Miyagi’s background as it would strengthen their relationship.

While much of the film’s karate moves, that is choreographed by Pat E. Johnson who plays the tournament referee, might not be impressive in comparison to other martial arts films. They do serve a purpose to the film where it would lead to this climatic tournament where it’s not about how much one person knows. It’s more about what one knows and how it can help them without the need to do something crazy. The film’s climax is definitely memorable in the way Avildsen position his camera and captures the action where it’s very engaging as there is that sense to root for Daniel to succeed as it plays to that underdog story. Overall, Avildsen crafts a very powerful and captivating film about a young man learning the balance in life through karate.

Cinematographer James Crabe does excellent work with the film‘s cinematography from the sunny look of some of the exteriors in the film‘s locations in California to some of the usage of light in some of its nighttime exterior scenes as well as the lights for the climatic tournament. Editors John G. Avildsen, Walt Mulconery, and Bud S. Smith do amazing work with the editing in its stylistic usage of dissolves as well as rhythmic cuts to play into the film‘s action. Production designer William J. Cassidy and set decorator John H. Anderson do wonderful work with the look of the tournament arena as well as the Cobra Kai dojo that Kreese runs and the home that Mr. Miyagi lives when he‘s not working as a handyman.

Costume designers Richard Bruno and Aida Swinson do nice work with the costumes as it‘s mostly casual along with the design of the Halloween costumes at the school dance as well as the karate robes for the tournament. Sound mixer Dean Hodges does terrific work with the sound from the way some of the punches and kicks sound to other moments in the film‘s locations. The film’s music by Bill Conti is just fantastic for its score that is this mixture of orchestral music that features some lush string arrangements as well as a serene pan flute performed by Gheorge Zamfir. Music supervisors Brooks Arthur and Russ Regan create a fun soundtrack that features music by Bananarama, Gang of Four, Survivor, Shandi, Paul Davis, and Joe Esposito.

The casting by Pennie DuPont, Caro Jones, and Bonnie Timmermann is brilliant for the ensemble that is created as it features some notable small performances from Frances Bay as an old lady with a dog, William Bassett as Ali‘s father, and Randee Heller in a terrific performance as Daniel‘s mother. In the roles of Johnny’s fellow Cobra Kai gang, there’s Chad McQueen as the cocky Dutch, Rob Garrison as the mocking Tommy, and Rob Thomas as the more compassionate Bobby. Martin Kove is amazing as the very chilling and antagonistic Kreese as a man who mocks the idea of mercy as there’s also a dark sense of humor in him. William Zabka is excellent as the arrogant Johnny as this rich kid who doesn’t like the idea of his ex-girlfriend hanging around with a working-class kid like Daniel.

Elisabeth Shue is wonderful as Ali as this young woman who wants something new as she finds Daniel refreshing while dealing with the advances of her ex-boyfriend as she proves to be no pushover. Ralph Macchio is great as Daniel LaRusso as this young kid dealing with his new surroundings as well as the bullies as he finds a new surrogate father figure in Mr. Miyagi who would help find the balance in life that he needed. Finally, there’s Noriyuki “Pat” Morita in a phenomenal performance as Mr. Miyagi as this very eccentric yet humble man who is also a master in karate as he maintains a great sense of restraint as a man with some demons inside him as he helps out this young man find balance in life.

The Karate Kid is a remarkable film from John G. Avildsen. It’s a film that features an amazing cast and Bill Conti’s soaring score as it’s truly a film that doesn’t just hold up since its release thirty years ago. It still has something to offer in not just the art of karate but what it really means as all of its imitators can wither away. In the end, The Karate Kid is a sensational film from John G. Avildsen.

The Karate Kid Films: Part II - Part III - (The Next Karate Kid)

© thevoid99 2014


Dan Heaton said...

There are few movies that can suck me in when they're on TV like The Karate Kid. The final tournament sequence ("You're the Best!") still works for me. Morita does such a good job and brings a lot of heart to what could be a one-note character.

thevoid99 said...

It's a film that I can't help but watch whenever it's on TV. I just love it to death. I heard Toshiro Mifune was supposed to play Miyagi. I couldn't see it because I don't see Mifune bring that humor and sensitivity. Morita was perfect.