‘The Karate Kid’ (1984): An Appreciation

❉ We Are Cult’s Nick Clement revisits an ’80s teen classic.

When a movie works it works. And that’s The Karate Kid – it’s so well calibrated that no matter how many times you’ve seen it you’re left with a lump in your throat when that final freeze frame of Mr. Myiagi appears on screen.

Released in 1984 and becoming an immediate blockbuster, the film was heroically directed by John G. Avildsen (Rocky, The Formula), from a triumphant screenplay by the extra-prolific Robert Mark Kamen. Ralph Macchio was presented with the role of a lifetime in Daniel LaRusso, for better or for worse in regards to the rest of his career, projecting the perfect amount of innocence and potential for underdog success.

Noriyuki “Pat” Morita delivered one of the most iconic screen performances in the history of the medium as young Daniel’s semi-reluctant mentor, and when push comes to shove, isn’t afraid to lay the smack down on some beer bottles and high school hooligans. And let’s talk about those hooligans for a moment; this film absolutely nailed the fear that some kids have when confronted by bullies, and I love how the story feeds off intense emotions for all of the characters, so when the action arrives, all the kicks and chops mean something to everyone.

Led by the menacing William Zabka as the infamous Johnny Lawrence, he and his evil sensei John Kreese (the amazing Martin Kove) and a band of other karate-kicking bad-asses making life a living hell for poor Daniel, until he decides enough is enough, and that someone needs to get their face crane-kicked into oblivion. Elisabeth Shue made for one of the ultimate early screen crushes for my personal generation, and in retrospect, it’s a wonderful and warm performance that mildly transcends the stock-girlfriend role that’s required by these types of narratives.

Bill Conti’s soaring, totally engrossing musical score hit every single note of sonic perfection, going hard in the most dramatic of moments, and allowing for silence during some crucial spots. Morita would rightfully receive an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, while the film would spawn multiple sequels (two of them also directed by Avildsen), and a surprisingly successful reboot from 2010. But nothing will ever match the honest passion and clear-eyed sentiment of the original Karate Kid. Avildsen knew how to exploit the material for all it was worth, and as a result, the film became critically acclaimed, and has resonated for years with various generations of moviegoers. Finish him!

❉ ‘The Karate Kid’ (1984) Director: John G. Avildsen. Cast includes Ralph Macchio, Noriyuki ‘Pat’ Morita, Elisabeth Shue, Martin Kove. Run time: Approx. 122 minutes. Available on Amazon Prime Video from £4.99, YouTube from £7.99, Google Play Movies & TV from £7.99.

A regular contributor to We Are Cult, Nick Clement is a journalist for Variety Magazine and motion picture screenplay consultant, as well as a critic for Back to the Movies. He wrote the introduction to the book Double Features: Big Ideas in Film, which was published by The Great Books Foundation, and is currently working on a book about the life and work of filmmaker Tony Scott. 


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