Movie Review: The Karate Kid (1984)

Your suspicions are correct, I only saw this classic for the first time today. I know, shame on me for being late to the party, yada yada yada. Now, for those who haven’t left me over this horrific revelation… let’s talk about the movie.

Ladies and gents… “The Karate Kid”.

Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) has just moved to California with his mom (Randee Heller). However, things aren’t just sunshine and palm trees for poor Daniel, as he soon starts getting bullied by a group of karate-proficient bullies. This soon leads him to befriending an older Japanese man (Pat Morita) that may or may not be able to teach Daniel how to defend himself. So you get yourself a bit of an underdog story, a bit of a coming of age story, and a bit of martial arts (and even a few drops of philosophy). It’s a narrative that encompasses a lot of things, and handles most of them with a surprising amount of grace and nuance. This does add a little bit to my main criticism with the film, which is that the runtime really could be felt at times. I wasn’t necessarily bored per se, but let’s just say that those 2+ hours do feelt like 2+ hours. Overall it is a fun story that I found myself pretty engaged with, even if it felt like it dragged at points.

The characters in this are colorful, entertaining, and surprisingly layered. Ralph Macchio plays Daniel LaRusso, the Jersey kid forced over to California. At first he can come off as that typical angsty teen, but soon shows that he is more than that. He’s charming, he’s funny, and he’s a good dude who just wants to live his life. And to see that personality get tested through Daniel’s various trials and tribulations is quite interesting, with Macchio giving a great performance. Next we have Pat Morita as Mr. Miyagi, the older man that Daniel befriends and (as you all know) agrees to train. He’s a bit of an eccentric man, which makes him a really entertaining character, with Morita being really good in the role. And I have to say, the chemistry between Macchio and Morita is stellar, and is arguably the best part of the entire movie. We also get supporting work from people like Randee Heller, Elisabeth Shue, Martin Kove, William Zabka, and more, all doing very well in their respective roles.

The score for the movie was composed by Bill Conti, and it was a lot of fun. It has a lot of familiar 1980s cheese to it with big, inspirational brass and what I’d like to call “montage synths”. You know, those kinds of synths that only show up in old underdog stories to serve as some sort of personal growth/montage thing for the character (you’ll know ’em when you hear ’em). Either way, I think his score is a lot of fun and works well for the movie. There’s also a bunch of licensed songs used through, and they work pretty well in their respective scenes.

“The Karate Kid” was directed by John G. Avildsen, and I think he did a good job. Shots have a nice flow to them, and his direction has a certain type of energy that really helps bring you into the scene. He also makes the story feel a bit more grandiose than it is. Because if you think about it, the story itself is relatively small scale, but Avildsen has a way of making it feel quite substantial. I will also say that I enjoy the way he shoots martial arts. It doesn’t show up that much in the film, all things considered, but when it does it’s nicely shot and gets properly shown off.

This movie has been pretty well received. On Rotten Tomatoes it has an 89% positive rating and a “Fresh” certification. On Metacritic it has a score of 60/100. And on imdb.com it has a score of 7.3/10. The movie was also nominated for 1 Oscar in the category of Best supporting actor (Morita).

So while it does have some mild pacing issues, “The Karate Kid” is still a highly entertaining coming of age story that I really enjoyed. It has a good story, good characters, great performances, really good music, and great directing. Time for my final score. *Ahem*. My final score for “The Karate Kid” is an 8.60/10. So while flawed, it’s still certainly worth buying.

My review of “The Karate Kid” is now completed.

You’re the best around, nothing’s gonna ever keep you down…

5 thoughts on “Movie Review: The Karate Kid (1984)

  1. Good enough to continue your journey? Does Cobra Kai beckon? I’d highly recommend it for all the reasons you outline in your review: it balances all the various elements superbly and even adds layers to the one-sided Daniel-san vs Cobra Johnny feud.

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