On my birthday this past Sunday, I decided to start watching “Cobra Kai.” I was almost at the end of the first season when I realized, to my embarrassment, that I had never watched “The Karate Kid” all the way through. I had watched the remake, but I had never seen the original. So, I decided to take a break from binging the show that is the main reason I have YouTube Red right now and see this classic for myself.
I liked it much more than I thought I would. I loved every second of it. It warmed my heart as a purple belt in Tae Kwon Do and as a film lover in general.
As a purple belt in Tae Kwon Do, I can appreciate what this film did for the martial arts community. My instructor told me that after this film came out martial arts exploded in popularity in the United States. It brought dojos all over the nation new business and established martial arts in the national consciousness.
Nonetheless, the film does exaggerate a bit when it comes to learning martial arts. Most people do not learn martial arts as fast as Daniel did. One of my instructors has told me that even if you’re talented it usually takes three years to earn a black belt. I myself have been studying Tae Kwon Do for five years and still have a long way to go. Daniel should not have had a chance in a tournament against brown and black belts.
But pushing that aside, this was still a great movie. That means a lot coming from me since I do not usually like sports movies. “The Karate Kid” is a great example of a sports movie done right.
For one thing, Daniel is a likable and realistic character. He is a teenager who has a big mouth that gets him in trouble, but he is still bold, confident, and kind enough to the people he cares about to make him relatable. Mr. Miyagi has to humble Daniel sometimes when he gets frustrated, but it’s understandable. He’s a teenager who likes to think he knows everything, yet he still needs his mentor and best friend.
Speaking of which, Mr. Miyagi is a boss. I love everything about this guy. He’s wise, cool-headed, completely confident in his own skin, and restrained even though he’s more than capable of killing if he wanted to. In addition, he is at peace with himself and harbors no bitterness despite his wife’s horrible mistreatment in the Japanese Internment Camps. He is like Yoda, a wise master that people aspire to be. Mr. Miyagi is an iconic movie mentor to generations of fans, and now, I completely understand why. Pat Morita certainly earned his supporting actor Oscar.
It may be an odd thing to comment on, but I also love how respectfully Mr. Miyagi and his cultural background are treated. I was not alive in the 1980’s, but I know that it was not the best time for representing people of diverse backgrounds well. That is not true for this movie.
Mr. Miyagi is an Okinawan immigrant who is very proud of his cultural heritage. That heritage is a large part of who he is, and as such, it is represented accurately with respect and dignity. As Daniel and the audience get to know Mr. Miyagi and these traditions, the more we get to understand Mr. Miyagi himself, the world he comes from, and by extension, karate. This understanding and resulting friendship between Daniel and Mr. Miyagi are what gives the movie most of its strength.
Everything else in this movie is great, too. The acting in this film is remarkable for how natural all the performances feel. Almost all the characters and their chemistry feel realistic. Daniel’s mother, Lucille, is believable as an approachable mother who makes mistakes and doesn’t always consider Daniel’s feelings but still cares. Ali is believable as a supportive love interest with attitude. Everyone else in this film feels natural, too.
It helps that “The Karate Kid” is paced unbelievably well. Everything moves along so naturally in this story. I don’t think that any edit or piece of directing could have made this movie any better. Overall, the directing and acting is so natural and well-paced that at times you can forget that you’re watching a movie.
The exception comes whenever the Cobra Kai crew comes along, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Johnny and his sensei Kreese are threatening but fun as the resident bullies/psychopaths who Daniel and Mr. Miyagi must stand up to. Their intensity is so over-the-top that it’s ridiculous. It’s hilarious how ridiculously intense they are. Nevertheless, it doesn’t take away from the overall experience. It adds a fun element to it. I can’t explain exactly why it works as well as it does, but it does and makes the film more memorable.
In conclusion, “The Karate Kid” is a fantastic flick that deserves its status as a cultural benchmark and an example of an underdog story done right. If you haven’t seen it for yourself by now, do yourself a favor and check it out. You’ll walk away with an appreciation of martial arts and Mr. Miyagi’s awesomeness.