Wax on, Wax Off
Despite being made back in the 80s, "The Karate Kid" is still as enjoyable today as it was back on its release in 1984; well it must be good as it had sequels and now a remake. Predominantly aimed at a younger market, it still has much of the same appeal today as it did then, as well as now having older fans who remember it from their formative years. The basis of the plot is the typical David and Goliath/ underdog story, used in scores of other movies, where the character of Daniel overcomes the bigger, stronger Johnny.
Having been forced to move from his home in New Jersey to Reseda, Daniel Larusso (Ralph Macchio - Crossroads) is less than impressed with his new surroundings. His mood is slightly improved when he meets the beautiful Ali (Elizabeth Shue - Hollow Man), but that improvement is soon quashed when her ex Johnny (William Zabka - European Vacation) and his friends from the Cobra Kai karate school decide to bully Daniel making his life a misery. Fortunately apartment handyman Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita - Honeymoon in Vegas) spots Daniel being bullied and having scared off Johnny agrees to teach Daniel how to defend himself using karate and prepare him to fight in the All Valley Karate Championship.
The fact that the underdog story is very predictable does not matter, especially as "The Karate Kid" is a movie for the younger market. The important factor is that you are able to sympathise with the character of Daniel and are willing him on to win and beat the character of Johnny, whose arrogant persona works to make him a bad guy. On top of this, the individual sections, the small sub plots, are surprising very clever and entertaining, most notably the training scenes at Mr. Miyagi's house with Daniel learning the basic karate moves through doing mundane tasks, many of which are now favourites with the quote "Wax on, Wax Off" still resonating all these years later.
Alongside the major storyline there are 2 very minor sub plots. The first one is the relationship between Daniel and Ali as they come from the opposite side of the tracks. This is mainly used in the movie as the lead for the main story to take over, but does give "The Karate Kid" some slight depth. The second sub plot is between the characters of Daniel and Mr. Miyagi. Although the absence of Daniels father is never explained a relationship between the two forms and although it starts as teacher and pupil, it has grown to a predictable but enjoyable father/son relationship by the climax of the film.
The main character of Daniel Larusso is played by Ralph Macchio and although this was not his first big screen outing, it was the one which shot him to fame. Macchio is perfect in the role as he displays Daniels qualities and emotions with relative ease. Although Daniels character is not given a significant amount of depth you are won over by his charm, spirit and general fun loving nature. Alongside Daniel you have his mentor, Mr. Miyagi, played by Pat Morita who was nominated for an Oscar for his performance. Basically he is a Yoda like character, passing on his wisdom but interspersed with brilliant and subtle humour. The partnership of Daniel and Mr. Miyagi as well as that of Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita has to be one of the best to have come out of the 80s delivering the subtle humour which makes the relationship so more enjoyable.
Although the character of Ali, played by Elisabeth Shue, is important for the main story to work, the only other character worth serious mention is that of Johnny, played by William Zabka. His performance typifies the persona of a person who has it all, the looks, the physique and the money, who enjoys picking on people who he can easily bully. All the characters in "The Karate Kid" are adequately portrayed, from Daniels single mother Lucille to the tough karate mentor, John Kreese, at the Cobra Kai karate school.
Directed by John G. Avildsen who brought us the Oscar winning "Rocky", he manages to transpose many of the scenes from "Rocky" into a film aimed at a youthful audience. Although different, the use of unorthodox training methods works brilliantly in "The Karate Kid" and provides us with some of the most memorable scenes. He also manages to demonstrate the fight scenes with out the over use of real violence, which being aimed for a younger audience is very important.
What this all boils down to is that despite being in it's twenties, "The Karate Kid" is still as good as back in the 80s, although it does feel a bit dated. All the scenes and dialogue which were so memorable all those years ago still have the same magic about them. Whether younger viewers will enjoy it as much is hard to say, as compared to modern films it could seem a bit lack lustre. But as an attempt to make a sporting under dog film which is suitable for younger audiences, it is truly a very good film. Spawning several sequels and a remake, the original is easily the best and most memorable and will remain a favourite of mine for years to come.