The Karate Kid is iconic. There’s no beating around the fact that most of you reading this have already seen this movie before; it’s a staple of anyone who grew up with a VCR, DVD Player or Cable TV’s film watching experience. But, since Cobra Kai is crane-kicking it’s way onto Netflix next week, and because I wanna go into rewatching the under-rated YouTube Premium series with a fresh memory, I figured a review of the original series was only appropriate.
I’ll also be covering The Karate Kid on our next episode of my podcast, Media Obscura, so be sure to tune in on your favorite podcast player if you’re jonzing for more Karate Kid content!
The original Karate Kid follows fish-out-of-water Daniel Larusso (played by Ralph Macchio) after him and his single mother have moved from New Jersey to sunny California. Once there, he befriends and falls for a girl named Ali Mills (Elisabeth Shue). Unfortunately though, this puts him on the radar of her ex-boyfriend Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) and his Cobra Kai being-kickass-is-a-personality friends, who quickly make his life a living hell. Thankfully, Daniel befriends his apartment’s handyman Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita), who teaches him how to defend himself/fight just in time for a local karate tournament.
It’s a classic underdog story with an 80’s high school twist. And I mean a classic underdog story. In fact, this movies blueprint very closely matches Rocky, wouldn’t you say? An Italian-American has to earn the respect of someone with way more training/fights under his belt while balancing a burgeoning romantic relationship and training under an older mentor. It applies to both movies pretty well, don’t you think? It certainly doesn’t help that this movie was directed and scored by John G Avlidsen and Bill Conti respectively, two names that also graced the original Rocky. Even Survivor has a song in this movie, Moment of Truth, which was originally written for a Rocky sequel!
And I only bring this up because, and this might be a hot take, I think I actually prefer The Karate Kid to Rocky. I think Rocky is the better, more important, movie between the two (and the Rocky franchise has certainly had a bigger impact on my life for the record) but The Karate Kid is definitely more charming and fun to me.
The Karate Kid comes packed with a fun, bouncy soundtrack (Cruel Summer, You’re The Best, Bop Bop (On The Beach) and Feel The Night are all iconic as far as I’m concerned), as well as a light and playful tone that makes it extremely easy to watch. And, much like in Rocky the highlights of this movie for me have always been the scenes outside of the fight at the climax of the movie. For example, Daniel using a hose on Johnny during the Halloween party and running away from them to New Wave music is incredible and reminds me of when Biff and his Goons chased Marty around Hill Valley in Back to the Future. And Daniel/Ali’s date scene is, I kid you not, one of my favorite date montages in any movie ever. It may actually be tied for the top spot there with the “Just Like Heaven” scene in Adventureland, honestly.
And that’s not to say that the action in this movie slouches either. The fighting definitely serves its purpose here and was probably responsible for a lot of TV’s getting kicked over the last 35 years. But movies like The Karate Kid have always been more about the journey than the actual confrontation and, honestly, that’s just the way it should be. More than anything, this movie is about Miyagi and Daniel’s budding friendship and how Miyagi instills discipline in his life. The best comparison I can make (outside of Rocky/Mickey’s relationship in the Rocky series, obviously) is that their friendship is a lot like Doc and Marty in Back to the Future.
So is The Karate Kid worth watching today? Well, yeah! Watching it is still a delight and it’s an insanely charming movie! Daniel is a mostly likable protagonist and him and Miyagi’s chemistry is a lot of fun to watch.
Definitely check this one out if you haven’ seen it before/haven’t seen it in a while! It’s worth your time!
Check out Media Obscura on your favorite podcast player for more retro movie/TV reviews. And check out our episode on The Karate Kid when it’s out next week if you wanna hear us get into detail over why this is such a fun movie!
We also have a full video version of our podcast episode on The Karate Kid over on our YouTube channel!