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Thursday, September 20, 2018

Fishing in the Discount Bin - The Karate Kid

Rolling along on Fishing in the Discount Bin, where I watch a movie and blog about it.  Really not much more to it than that.  This week, I'm re-visiting The Karate Kid.  I originally watched it and wrote this on March 25, 2018.

Ah, The Karate Kid.  I remembered when they announced the remake with Jaden Smith.  That's where I was kind of worried, because that was the first remake that started venturing into "violating my childhood" territory.  I went to the theatre to see the remake.  I remember liking it well enough, but thinking that it didn't really add anything new to the general story.  However, it did lead to me fishing the original film out of a discount bin to revisit it.  And I felt like revisiting it again tonight, because it seems like every week I'm seeing a new trailer on YouTube for its new follow-up series Cobra Kai

it's kind funny.  Director John G. Avildsen also did the first Rocky, and many have drawn comparisons to The Karate Kid and Rocky, mainly the big sports tournament climaxes.  But the one similarity that caught me is that the first film in these franchises are actually these small, quiet dramas, yet they exploded into these massive franchises.  The Karate Kid isn't a gigantic martial arts extravaganza, as it is a small, coming-of-age film. 

No doubt you remember the film.  Our young hero, Daniel LaRusso.  He just got uprooted from his comfortable teen life in New Jersey as his mother has just gotten a new job in California.  He seems to be settling in OK, but at a beach party getting to know the neighborhood kids, he tries to deescalate a situation between cheerleader Ali and her violent ex-boyfriend Johnny, and things start to go south.  This makes Daniel the target of Johnny and his band of bullies.  Having taken a few karate courses back home at the Y, Daniel hopes to continue his studies of karate so he can better stand up for himself.  But, after seeing that Johnny and his crew are the star pupils at Cobra Kai, the karate school in town, Daniel decides to try to teach himself with books from the library. 

As the old saying goes, "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear," and this is when Mr. Miyagi comes into Daniel's life.  Mr. Miyagi is the maintenance man in the Daniel's building.  Mr. Miyagi is intrigued by Daniel's attempts at teaching himself.  Mr. Miyagi overhears a lot of Daniel and his mother's arguments over Daniel's frustrations at his new life.  And here's where it kind of got me watching this.  Mr. Miyagi's first lessons for Daniel aren't in karate, but in the ancient Japanese art of bonsai trees, which Mr. Miyagi uses to teach Daniel to calm down and focus his frustration into something positive. 

But the bullying continues, reaching a head on Halloween.  Daniel decides to pull a retaliatory prank on Johnny, leading to Johnny and the rest of Cobra Kai laying a beating on Daniel.  When it seems that all hope is lost, Mr. Miyagi comes to Daniel's rescue.  Daniel implores Mr. Miyagi to teach him karate, but Mr. Miyagi is reluctant, hoping to seek a more peaceful solution.  Together, they head down to the Cobra Kai dojo, and Mr. Miyagi speaks with Kreese, the karate teacher, and hopes they can resolve this sensei to sensei.  Kreese, however, will have none of it, so Miyagi goes a different route.  Miyagi will train Daniel for the upcoming district karate tournament, and then Daniel and Johnny can settle this in the ring.  They even strike a truce, so Daniel can train without the threat of anymore Cobra Kai harassment. 

And now the plot kicks into high gear, with all the moments that we remember and love so much.  Wax on, wax off.  Learning about the crane kick.  And again, this is where it really is more of a character drama, as it's Daniel learning these important life lessons from Mr. Miyagi, and not just karate.  In Mr. Miyagi, Daniel soon finds a surrogate father. 

I will say that's one thing I did like about the remake more than this original.  We see Daniel's personal growth in his relationship with his girlfriend Ali, as he learns to treat her better and be more respectful.  However, Daniel's mother just kind of disappears from the film, returning at the end to cheer on Daniel at the tournament.  In the remake, the mother remains a central character and Jaden Smith's personal growth is also charted in his relationship with his mother. 

After watching the film last night, and doing some reading up as I sit to write this, I've discovered that there's a popular fan theory these days that Daniel is the true bully, and Johnny is the victim in everything.  And that theory does have a point, as Daniel does seem to be the instigator in a lot of the altercations with Johnny.  When you start applying that theory, though, the film even adds more of a redemptive arc for Daniel, as Daniel learns self-respect and discipline from Mr. Miyagi, and not to be a little prick always picking fights. 

Johnny himself even has a bit of a redemptive arc.  When talking about the bullying he's receiving, Mr. Miyagi defends Johnny a bit, saying, "There are no bad students.  Just bad teachers," and our visit to Cobra Kai shows us that a lot of Johnny's bad attitude comes from his teacher Kreese.  I do love that "What the hell have I gotten into?" look that Johnny gives when Kreese gives him the infamous order to "sweep the leg" that makes Johnny realize his sensei has led him down a wrong path. 

Leading to that classic ending where Daniel delivers the famous crane kick to win the tournament.  For the longest time, people adopting that pose in an attempt to intimidate an opponent was a stock joke in many a comedy.  "How many people remember that's from The Karate Kid?" a friend once asked in college.  Apparently, it was devised by the film's karate consultant/fight choreographer.  By his own admission, it's looks pretty, but is absolutely pointless. 

The Karate Kid is still a great movie, full of quiet lessons to be learned in life.  Still fun after all these years. 

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