John G. Avildsen’s The Karate Kid, released in 1984, follows teenage Daniel LaRusso moving to Receda, Los Angeles, romancing a young woman, being severely bullied by an envious group known as Cobra Kai, and training under an old Japanese man in the ways of karate so as to defend himself.
Cutting out the formalities, I’ll just get straight to the point: this film is amazing. Its true strength lies in the characters. Daniel is a sympathetic yet compelling protagonist, Allie is a charming love interest, Mr. Miyagi is an extremely mysterious and interesting character, while simultaneously being very entertaining. Additionally, Johnny Lawrence and his sensei John Kreese serve as extremely threatening yet riveting antagonists.
This film excels in both the writing and directing, not surprisingly, considering the fact that Avildsen won best picture for his direction of Rocky. The script delves into each of the characters in such a way that deepens the story and strengthens the audiences’ investment in the narrative. The dialogue is likewise a formidable asset to the execution of The Karate Kid. Miyagi’s dialogue in particular is one of the most compelling additions to the movie.
The audiences’ investment in the characters is amplified and exhibited by the fantastic choreography. The action is filmed with such grit that I audibly shouted many times throughout the film in response to various punches, kicks, etc. This aspect of the film truly magnifies the magnificence of the third act finale: the All Valley Karate Tournament.
What exceptionally ascends The Karate Kid to more than a simple karate movie with amusing jokes and entertaining action is it’s exploration of ideas and their relationship to morality. The central conflict of the story is the collision of Miyagi Do Karate being taught to Daniel and Cobra Kai, under which Johnny trains. It’s an exhibition of how ideas are not amoral, and can either elevate an individual’s virtue or disgrace them to a state of hyper-corruption. This principle is extremely relevant to modern political and social dialogue with the rise of postmodernism and multiculturalism, claiming that all ideas and all cultures are equal. If I decided to write about every ideological metaphor that can be ascertained from this movie, however, this review would be pages long.
The Karate Kid is an excellent work that charms as a heartwarming tale with irresistible characters, entertains as a gripping martial arts movie, inspires as a story about a young man who comes of age, and provokes as an intellectual exploration of ideas, morality, and the relationship between them.