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When Daniel LaRusso moves to the west coast
From New Jersey because of his mom,
He isn’t too pleased with the run-down apartment
And shows it and yet remains calm.
His feelings start changing when kids his own age
Invite Daniel to beach party fun.
Attracted to Ali, who’s lovely and rich,
He thinks a good thing has begun.
But then her ex-boyfriend named Johnny shows up
And pummels poor Dan to the ground.
From then on, our hero is picked on and bullied
Whenever adults aren’t around.
But Daniel begins to befriend a repairman
At home by the name of Miyagi.
He knows of karate and thrashes Dan’s foes
When the boy is all battered and groggy.
While Daniel is eager to learn how to fight,
Miyagi insists he be smart
And talk to the bullies’ karate instructor,
Who’s ruthless in his martial art.
Miyagi suggests that all fighting be done
In a tournament two months away.
The teacher agrees that the violence should stop
But only to train for that day.
The next several weeks, Daniel feels like a slave
As he’s told to do chore after chore,
Like waxing and painting and sanding and such,
Which turn out to be something more.
These tiresome tasks may at first have seemed dull,
But they train Daniel’s arms and his hands.
With time, Daniel’s balance and technique improve,
And he fathoms Miyagi’s demands.
He learns that Miyagi was in World War II
And lost both his wife and his son.
When Dan has a birthday and need of a car,
His caring sensei gives him one.
His friendship with Ali, meanwhile, seesaws
Since he fears that he’s too poor for her.
He overreacts but admits his mistake,
And they’re soon just as close as they were.
The tournament comes, and the boy does quite well,
And both Daniel and Johnny advance,
But Johnny’s sensei tries to get Daniel hurt,
And he thinks that he’s ruined Dan’s chance.
Miyagi, however, helps Daniel recover,
And, back in the ring, Daniel tries
A kick that he noticed Miyagi once doing
And wins both respect and the prize.

The Karate Kid is a typical 1980s underdog tale that is essentially a martial arts version of Rocky set in high school, even sharing the same director as the 1976 boxing classic. Nonetheless, it rises above its overfamiliar plot elements (the newbie in town, the “cool” bullies, etc.) to become an inspiring classic in its own right with a unique young/old friendship found in only a few other movies, such as Up. (I will say that the beginning bears much resemblance to 1987’s The Lost Boys, minus the vampires—one of my VC’s personal favorites.) Many scenes are time-honored favorites, from Miyagi’s “wax on, wax off” lesson to the iconic crane kick that ends the film on an undeniably uplifting note. I also like the way it deepened Mr. Miyagi’s character, pointing an oblique spotlight on the afflictions of the Japanese Americans at Manzanar, as well as the heroism of the Nisei soldiers in Europe. Plus, the soundtrack is pretty good too, featuring hits like “Cruel Summer” and “You’re the Best.”

Despite brief language and some cruel high school antics, The Karate Kid is one of the great underdog stories on film, and, though I have not seen the remake with Jackie Chan, between “Pat” Morita’s quiet portrayal of Mr. Miyagi and Ralph Macchio’s likable if immature Daniel, I doubt it can be done better.


P.S.  Sorry for the recent hiatus last week. I had to focus on my taxes, but I hope to make up for it in the (hopefully near) future.


Best line: (Daniel) “I’m not by myself. I’m with you.”  (Miyagi) “To make honey, young bee need young flower, not old prune.”

Artistry: 6
Characters/Actors: 7
Entertainment: 7
Visual Effects: N/A
Originality: 4
Watchability: 7
Other (language): -1

Tomorrow: #309: Moonstruck

© 2014 S. G. Liput