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Review: The Karate Kid (1984)

So, hey, confession time. I've never seen The Karate Kid (1984). I know, I know, curb your murderous disbelief. Not seen it.

Well, that's partly true. I'm a few moments away from the end, as I start this, and by the time I post this journal I'll have seen it all. There're a few things that've sprung to mind as I watch this classic at long last, and I thought I'd toss a few of the thoughts out there.

First off, this movie is good. Better than I expected by far. Also a lot more mature and darker than I expected, too. Growing up in the nineties, I'd thought I'd basically seen all of this stuff. I've seen the western infatuation with eastern martial arts go through a few phases already, and it's almost painful to watch. (Karate -> "Ninjas" -> Kung-Fu -> etc... see: the remake of this movie.)

So expected to know what I was going to see. The truth is, though far from perfect, The Karate Kid isn't half bad. And while still flirting with the awkwardness I saw in the 90s, it seems that in the 80s people took karate and martial arts in cinema a bit more seriously.

I never expected to see blood. To see realistic-appearing effects of blows. I never expected to see drug use. Somewhat believable dialogue and confrontation scenes. I never expected to see this sort of vicious bullying portrayed in a way that actual victims of it would recognize it.

Mind you, I've never heard of anybody being terrorized by gangs of martial artists. This might be where the bullshit myth that martial arts leads to violent kids comes from; I've never in my entire life seen or heard of anything like that outside of Asian countries in 3rd-hand, anecdotal stories.

Aside from that, The Karate Kid dials "Adults are Useless" up to eleven.

This trope is important. The scary thing about it is that the logical extension of this trope is that the system is useless, that society is useless and that kids are left completely alone and without support in an insane world. It's frickin' worrying how this resonates so strongly with some of them, but... Daniel's situation is batshit bizarre. It's like he stepped into a portal to Bonkerland, Narnia's lesser known, even crazier neighbor, where the elusive Logic rabbit was hunted and shot to extinction last ice age.

The amount of times I saw either no adults around, or doing fuck all in situations that would behoove them to step in, blew my mind. It's not "adults are useless." It's "adults are insane and just let you get brutally assaulted."

Now, first off, it's true that a simple phone call to the police from Daniel would've ended this whole thing. But it's a nice touch that this isn't even considered - getting a bullying victim to confess to being bullied is not easy, and they often don't seek help.

But like I said, this was nuts. Perhaps my favorite parts were when some prick shoved intrepid young Daniel in the back and threatens him and a tournament official goes: "Hey, save it for the ring."

... What the fuck?! No, you don't save it for the ring. It happens ONLY in the fucking ring. That's assault. It's disqualification immediately and an escort off the grounds with a permanent fucking ban, at a minimum. Just try it, go on, try it! Assault another competitor in the changing rooms of a (kids) martial arts tournament!

As for the "bad sensei" (Kreese?) himself, oh my god. What fucking world does this guy live in? How many times has he been arrested?! Can we see his Working With Children license, by the way? Did that exist then?

I understand there was a dual purpose to the character - he is illustrating a twisted, aggressive take on the philosophy of Karate (for which I'd state there is no singular philosophy, but nevermind) as well as the idea of looking beyond the bully/criminal to see what role-models they have that encouraged their behavior. But it just doesn't work.

Where are his students' parents? How often have his students been arrested, too? Do they have no other role-models or authority figures in their lives to see what's happening? Do they suffer no consequence for their actions? Is the implication that California is some kind of crazy "law of the street" wildland like the Brazilian favelas or Chinese ghettos? What the shit, damn guy?!

At any rate, he's just whacko insane. To the point I can't see how he would function in real life. He's a walking, living, breathing Morality Tale more than a possibly realistic character. He only exists to eventually get figuratively beaten down by Miyagi.

He also completely suberts his motivation, by the way, when he asks one student to maim Daniel for the next fight. As psychotic as he is, isn't his entire reason for pushing this situation and not reigning his students in supposed to be the fact that the street is tough and unforgiving and merciless? But they're not on the street now, he's asking one student (the most empathetic and decent of them all) to sacrifice in order to cripple Daniel so that the blonde fuckwit prized pupil won't have a challenge. Wouldn't this, by his own logic, be pointless on one hand and going easy on his student on the other?

It's interesting I'm analyzing this so much, given I gave so much leeway to "Never Back Down", reviewed by a competent and amazingly charismatic film expert right here, which is basically the exact same movie. But the reason for that is that The Karate Kid is just the superior movie, so the flaws stand out more. The scene has been set much better, and it makes the few oddities stick out even more.

Mind you, I'd like to point out that NBD would've been waaaay improved if it starred teenagers instead of much older guys trying to pass as high school students when they're easily college age. They could've straight up done a more modern Karate Kid, with MMA, and it would've been better than the weird ass compromise they tried to make us buy.

Okay, as for the actual demonstration of "karate" in this film, well. Let's not expect too much. Realism and keeping true to the various styles is picking up steam nowadays, but back then, it was almost like they actively avoided it to showcase some daft looking, unimpressive choreography.

There were a few moments in TKK where I applauded the choreography, but most of the time I have to admit it was kind of disappointing. Maybe the fighting was a draw back in the 80s, but to me right now it's definitely not the best thing about the film. Most of the actors are simply not very good at... whatever they're doing. I've seen better form from much younger kids in real life, in tournaments even.

That said, the end matches of the tournament were really cool, especially considering this is basically a "kids" movie from the 80s.

The actual tournament struck me as extremely violent for what it was. Karate tournaments can be pretty hard-core. Even with the rules in place, there are a few key differences from other contact sports, including MMA, that can result in things being even bloodier. But that's only the top-level tournaments that are very rare outside of Japan. I've never seen minors fight in full-contact tournaments/kumite without protection and gloves, and with blows to the head allowed. Despite the dialogue, we see several punches straight to the face, and, Jesus, Daniel even scores a knifehand/shutto to the back of the head/neck of a downed opponent. Here's a hint: that's not allowed in anything, because it's deadly as fuck.

Dude, these minors are bare-knuckle punching each other in the EYES. Gah! Seriously!

The ending was abrupt, but enough was said. I know there's a sequel, but I'll get to that later, it doesn't seem related. The "bad sensei" asshole probably lost all his best students, at least I hope he did. That "You're all right, LaRusso!" at the end almost made me cry. I'll admit it. Fuck you. I don't need your permission! >:C

I also liked the nice touch of hinting at Miyagi's lost family, and that Daniel was now his surrogate son. It was surprisingly touching, and I didn't expect it.

Definitely a way better movie, more mature with a more relevant story, with less punches pulled, than I expected. I see why this movie was considered so important, and was so well received.

I do agree with David Wong of Cracked.com however; the movie skirts over the fact that Daniel basically taught himself how to be awesome in the space of a few weeks, and somehow managed to defeat an opponent that was not only more developed physically but also had likely been studying contact karate for over a decade at that point, stomping all challengers.
Things don't work that way. It's not impossible to imagine Daniel winning, but the way it was portrayed just skims over the reality that Daniel would've needed to match Johnny's training and experience somehow.

You can't just do that lightly. It would take hundreds of hours, many individual losses and wins, self-reflection, trial-and-error, and correction, instruction, etc. Unless Daniel was such an absurd prodigy, the likes of which don't exist outside of movies and anime, that it makes no sense to root for him. He's not the under-dog if he's actually just a God of Fighting waiting to reach maturation.

People shouldn't think like this. It's ingrained in our culture now, but we need to fight it.

Still though. It's awesome. 10/10. Love taking that little step back in time, too. The costumes and dialogue (ironic lack of cursing, btw), the sheer liquid 80s-ness dripping from it all. Love it. Nice half-thigh cut-offs, guys! Gahaha!
Viewed: 42 times
Added: 5 years, 7 months ago
5 years, 7 months ago
i'm glad you like it and it is a totally over the top macho kids movie for the time frame. I like this movie when i was a kid in karate and i like it now. Here is hoping you'll like the sequels. I've even heard the Jaden smith version of this isn't too awful to sit through, haven't seen it myself.
5 years, 7 months ago
The Adults Are Useless trope fit how Generation X saw the world to a tee back in the 1980s. Have you ever heard of Strauss-Howe generational theory, perchance?
5 years, 7 months ago
Actually, no. At least I don't think so. Should I wiki it?

... Gotta love the internet!
5 years, 7 months ago
Wiki-ing it would help give you a primer on it, sure. Reading some of their books would be better, especially if it intrigues you, given that Wikipedians have apparently been quite skeptical of the theory.
5 years, 7 months ago
I remember my Mom letting me watching the movie if I promised not to try the martial arts and being immediately banned thereafter from watching martial arts films for trying crane kicks before the movie finished =D  Thanks for posting the nostalgia.
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