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The Karate Kid

From Academic Kids

The Karate Kid, a 1984 John G. Avildsen film, is a youth-oriented karate version of the hit boxing movie Rocky (also directed by Avildsen).

The Karate Kid is about a teenage boy, Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio), who moves with his mother from New Jersey to Reseda, a Los Angeles suburb in the San Fernando Valley. The handyman of their apartment building is a kindly and humble Okinawan immigrant named Mr. Kesuke Miyagi (Pat Morita, stunt work by Fumio Demura).

The last night of summer, Daniel and his new friends, including Ali Mills (Elisabeth Shue), are at the beach, when Ali's boyfriend Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) and his friends, pull up on motorcycles. Johnny and Ali begin arguing, and Ali blasts a radio. Angered, Johnny throws the radio to the ground. Daniel moves to pick it up, and ignores Johnny's warning not to get involved. Soon Daniel and Johnny fight, but Daniel loses. Unwittingly, Daniel has made an enemy of one of Cobra Kai karate dojo's best students. This "Cobra Kai" dojo is an arguably over-the-top portrayal of a sadistic, macho, and prideful form of martial arts, perhaps a symbolic representation of the "dark side" of martial arts.

Johnny and his cronies torment Daniel as much as they can. When Daniel retaliates with a prank at a Halloween dance, he is pursued by Johnny and his friends, who proceed to beat him until he can barely stand. Just then, Mr. Miyagi intervenes and rescues Daniel in a surprising display of karate. Daniel, upon learning this, asks Mr. Miyagi to be his teacher, or sensei.

With some persuasion, Miyagi agrees to accompany Daniel to confront the sensei of the Cobra Kai dojo and insist that he tell his students to stop their harassment of Daniel. However, the sensei, John Kreese (Martin Kove), is a vicious fighter who regularly barks out condemnations of mercy or restraint. To settle the matter, Miyagi announces Daniel will enter a Valley-wide tournament where Cobra Kai students can fight Daniel on equal terms. Miyagi also requests that Johnny and his friends stop bullying Daniel in the interim while the boy is trained. Kreese assents and orders his students to leave Daniel alone, but threatens that if Daniel does not appear at the tournament, the harassment will resume and Miyagi himself will be targeted as well.

Mr. Miyagi becomes Daniel's surrogate father, but Daniel is impatient and sometimes puzzled by Miyagi's teaching methods and behavior. For instance, instead of standard instruction, Miyagi initially has Daniel spend the day performing laborious chores (most famously, waxing the car) which he insists must be done with specific hand and arm movements. Eventually, Daniel angrily confronts Miyagi about this labor and Miyagi shows him that in doing those chores with those movements, Daniel has in fact been subconsciously learning his defensive blocks, the vital first step in karate training. As the training continues, Miyagi instructs Daniel in such techniques such as the famous arms-spread-like-wings one legged kick to the chin called the Crane Kick. As the story and the training move on, Daniel learns from Miyagi not only karate, but also about life, and the role of such values as balance. This reflects the belief that martial arts training is about training of the spirit as much as the body.

At the tournament, Daniel is still an underdog. Miyagi has trained him well, however; in a final scene made in true Avildsen fashion, an injured Daniel, barely able to stand, beats his final opponent, none other than Johnny, by using the Crane Kick. At the end of the movie, Johnny acknowledges Daniel respectfully while Miyagi looks on approvingly.

The Karate Kid spawned an entire franchise of related items and memorabilia, such as action figures, head bands, posters, t-shirts, etc. It also had three sequels, and it launched the career of Macchio, who would turn into a teen idol featured on the covers of magazines such as Tiger Beat. It enhanced the careers of both Morita (previously mostly known for his role as the owner of Arnold's, than hamburger hangout in Happy Days), who made several other movies including the three sequels, and Elisabeth Shue. It has also been credited with renewing youth interest in martial arts, with an emphasis on personal discipline rather than the often gratuitous and cinematic violence that martial arts films are known for. The characters of Daniel and his mother are also noteworthy as positive media portrayals of Italian Americans.

On a funny side, the scene where Mr. Miyagi is trying to catch a fly with chopsticks and Daniel comes to try it, you can clearly see a string tied to the fly as it goes from one side to the other.

Its last sequel, The Next Karate Kid (1994), launched the career of actress Hilary Swank, who played Mr. Miyagi's new female student Julie Pierce.

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