Rating: PG (language)
Recommended for: Ages 10 to Adult
There is more to karate than fighting. This is the lesson that Daniel (Macchio), a San Fernando Valley teenager, is about to learn from a most unexpected teacher: Mr.Miyagi (Morita), an elderly handyman who also happens to be a master of the martial arts. So when he rescues Daniel from the Cobra Kai, a vicious gang of karate school bullies, Miyagi instills in his young friend the importance of honor and confidence as well as skills in self-defense, vital lessons that will be called into play when a hopelessly outclassed Daniel faces Johnny, the sadistic leader of the Cobra Kai, in a no-holds-barred karate tournament for the championship of the Valley.
"Wax on, wax off." There's a lot about this movie that is iconic. It's one of the good movies that came out of the 80's. There were some really great films, and then...there are those "PG" films you have to turn off because the content is just THAT bad. Fortunately, this is one of those good ones. Aside from some language in a scene or two, there's not even much to warn about. Even the relationship drama isn't over the top. (Now I have some significant complaints about the girlfriend situation in 2 and 3, but that's another story.) We rewatched this recently when a friend spent the night, and I really enjoyed it.
It's a pretty well made movie. It's well written, well acted, and the guy who created it actually knew karate, so I'm pretty confident the karate is even accurate. Now, Sensei does at times seem a little too evil and mean, but that's probably the point. And the ending might be a bit predictable, but SPOILER who doesn't expect the hero to win in the end against all odds? END SPOILER
I wasn't alive in the 80's, but it was contemporary fiction for the time, and I've never heard my parents complain about it being inaccurate. Yet it's still a setting that feels applicable to this day and age. Because whatever the time period, a high school where a boy gets constantly bullied and has to do what he can to stop it is relevant.
Daniel has to move to a new city where he has no friends and is a prime target for the bullies. And his solution is to run away from a fight. He wants someone to get him out of his problems, but Mr. Miyagi finds him a different solution. Much of the plot centers around Daniel learning karate--in a very unconventional way. This is where "wax on, wax off" comes in. Daniel doesn't get what's going on, and he gets mad about it (that's the scene with the language).
But in spite of being a movie about a teenager learning karate to fight in a tournament, it's very much a movie about people. About human problems that people face. About bullying. About doing the right thing. About friendship. And even though I've never been to public school or taken karate, it's still a story that I can enjoy.
Character Development: 5/5
Really, all the characters in this movie are well developed. And well acted. They all feel very real. While Daniel's attitude keeps him from being one of my favorite characters, I still feel like I know him well. Sometimes I might want to smack him, but he eventually gets it all right. Mr. Miyagi. He's kind of eccentric, sort of Yoda-ish, but a good teacher and the perfect person to fill in the father figure space that's left empty in Daniel's life. They don't give much of a reason for why Sensei is such an evil jerk, but since Johnny is more of the direct antagonist, I guess it doesn't matter.
The Karate Kid is a good movie. It's not perfect, but it is good. I very much enjoy it.