The Karate Kid
The Karate Kid is a 1984 American martial arts drama film written by Robert Mark Kamen and directed by John G. Avildsen. It is the first installment in The Karate Kid franchise, and stars Ralph Macchio, Noriyuki "Pat" Morita, and Elisabeth Shue. The Karate Kid follows Daniel LaRusso (Macchio), a teenager taught Gōjū-ryū karate by Mr. Miyagi (Morita) to help defend himself and compete in a tournament against his bullies, one of which is the ex-boyfriend of his love interest Ali Mills (Shue).
|The Karate Kid|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||John G. Avildsen|
|Produced by||Jerry Weintraub|
|Written by||Robert Mark Kamen|
|Music by||Bill Conti|
Delphi II Productions
Jerry Weintraub Productions
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|Box office||$91 million|
Kamen was approached by Columbia Pictures to compose a film similar to Avildsen's previous success Rocky (1976), after signing the director. Kamen drew inspiration from his own life when writing the film. As a result, he maintained strong opinions regarding cast, and petitioned heavily for Morita's inclusion. Preparations for the film began immediately after the final edit of the script was complete, and casting took place between April and June 1983. Principal photography began on October 31, 1983 in Los Angeles, and filming was complete by December 16, 1983.
The Karate Kid was theatrically released in the United States on June 22, 1984. The film received universal acclaim from critics, many of whom praised the action sequences, writing, storyline, acting performances, and music. The film was also a commercial success, grossing over $91 million worldwide, making it among the highest grossing films of 1984.
The film is also notable for kickstarting the career of Macchio, as well as revitalizing the acting career of Morita, who was previously known mostly for comedic roles, and earned Morita a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. The Karate Kid subsequently launched a media franchise, and is credited for popularizing karate in the United States.
Daniel LaRusso moves with his mother Lucille from Newark, New Jersey to Reseda, Los Angeles, California. Their apartment's handyman is an eccentric, but kindly and humble Okinawan immigrant named Mr. Miyagi.
Daniel befriends Ali Mills, a high school cheerleader, which draws the attention of her arrogant ex-boyfriend Johnny Lawrence, a skilled practitioner and top student from the "Cobra Kai" dojo, where he studies an unethical and vicious form of karate. Johnny and his Cobra Kai gang continually bully Daniel. On Halloween, they pursue Daniel down the street after he plays a prank on Johnny and, after pulling him down from a fence he attempts to climb, savagely beat him, until Mr. Miyagi intervenes and single-handedly defeats them with ease. Amazed, Daniel asks Mr. Miyagi to teach him karate. Miyagi declines but agrees to bring Daniel to the Cobra Kai dojo to resolve the conflict. They meet with the sensei, John Kreese, an ex-Special Forces Vietnam veteran who callously dismisses the peace offering. Miyagi then convinces Daniel to enter the All-Valley Karate Championships, where he can compete with Johnny and the other Cobra Kai students on equal terms, and requests the bullying to cease while Daniel trains. Kreese agrees to the terms but warns that if Daniel does not show up for the tournament, the harassment will continue on both Daniel and Miyagi.
Daniel's training starts with menial chores that he believes only makes him Miyagi's slave. When he becomes frustrated, Miyagi demonstrates that these actions have helped him to learn defensive blocks through muscle memory. Their bond develops, and Miyagi opens up to Daniel about his life that includes the dual loss of his wife and son in childbirth at the Manzanar internment camp while he was serving with the 442nd Infantry Regiment during World War II in Europe, where he received the Medal of Honor. Through Mr. Miyagi's teaching, Daniel learns not only karate, but also important life lessons such as the importance of personal balance, reflected in the principle that martial arts training is as much about training the spirit as the body. Daniel applies the life lessons that Miyagi has taught him to strengthen his relationship with Ali. On Daniel's birthday, Miyagi presents him with a Karate gi for the tournament and his own car as birthday gifts.
At the tournament, Daniel surprises everyone by reaching the semi-finals. Johnny advances to the finals, scoring three unanswered points against Darryl Vidal. Kreese instructs his second-best student Bobby Brown, one of his more compassionate students and the least vicious of Daniel's tormentors, to disable Daniel with an illegal attack to the knee. Bobby reluctantly does so, severely injuring Daniel and getting disqualified in the process. Daniel is taken to the locker room, with the physician determining that he cannot continue, but Daniel believes that if he does not continue, his tormentors will have gotten the best of him. He convinces Miyagi to use a pain suppression technique to allow him to continue. As Johnny is about to be declared the winner by default, Daniel returns to fight. The match is a seesaw battle, as neither is able to break through the other's defense.
The match is halted when Daniel uses a scissor-leg technique to trip Johnny, delivering a blow to the back of the head and giving Johnny a nose bleed. Kreese directs Johnny to sweep Daniel's injured leg, an unethical move. Johnny looks horrified at the order but reluctantly agrees. As the match resumes, Johnny seizes Daniel's leg and delivers a vicious blow, doing further damage. Daniel, standing with difficulty, assumes the "Crane" stance, a technique he observed Mr. Miyagi performing on a beach. Johnny lunges toward Daniel, who jumps and delivers a front kick to Johnny's face, winning the tournament. Johnny, having gained newfound respect for his nemesis, presents the trophy to Daniel himself, as Daniel is carried off by an enthusiastic crowd.
The Karate Kid is a semi-autobiographical story based on the life of its screenwriter, Robert Mark Kamen. At age 12, after the 1964 New York World's Fair, Kaman was beaten up by a gang of bullies. He thus began to study martial arts in order to defend himself. Kamen was unhappy with his first teacher who taught martial arts as a tool for violence and revenge. So he moved on to study Okinawan Gōjū-ryū karate under a Japanese teacher who did not speak English, but was himself a student of Chōjun Miyagi.
As a Hollywood screenwriter, Kamen was mentored by Frank Price who told him that producer Jerry Weintraub had optioned a news article about the young child of a single mother who had earned a black belt to defend himself against the neighborhood bullies. Kamen then combined his own life story with the news article and used both to create the screenplay for The Karate Kid. Additionally, given John G. Avildsen's involvement with both films, Sylvester Stallone often joked with Kamen that the writer had "ripped off" the Rocky films with The Karate Kid.
A number of actors were considered for the part of Daniel, including Sean Penn, Robert Downey Jr., Charlie Sheen, Emilio Estevez, Nicolas Cage, Anthony Edwards, and Eric Stoltz. Ultimately, Ralph Macchio was cast due to his performance in The Outsiders (1983). Macchio later commented that, "the character was originally named Danny Weber. As soon as I walked in the room, it changed to LaRusso." The studio originally wanted the role of Mr. Miyagi to be played by Toshiro Mifune, who had appeared in the films Rashomon (1950), Seven Samurai (1954), and The Hidden Fortress (1958), but the actor didn't speak English. Pat Morita later auditioned for the role, but was rejected for the part due to his close association with stand up comedy, and for the character Arnold on Happy Days. After a few failed attempts, Morita grew a beard and patterned his accent after his uncle, which led to him being cast in the role.
Crispin Glover was considered for the role of Johnny, but the studio later opined for William Zabka. After his audition, Zabka saw Macchio, who noted "[Zabka] scared the shit out of me" during his audition to the studio. When he was cast, Zabka was a wrestler with no previous training in the martial arts. Demi Moore was also considered for the role of Ali, but Elisabeth Shue was cast based partly on a Burger King commercial that became widely popular in the early 1980s. The film marks the debut roles of both Zabka and Shue. Late in production, Valerie Harper was considered for the role of Lucille, but the studio later instated Randee Heller for the role.
The musical score for The Karate Kid was composed by Bill Conti, a frequent collaborator of director John G. Avildsen since their initial pairing on Rocky (1976). The instrumental score was orchestrated by Jack Eskew and featured pan flute solos by Gheorge Zamfir. On March 12, 2007, Varèse Sarabande released all four Karate Kid scores in a 4-CD box set limited to 2,500 copies worldwide.
A soundtrack album was released in 1984 by Casablanca Records containing many of the contemporary songs featured in the film. Of particular note is Joe Esposito's "You're the Best", featured during the tournament montage near the end of the first film. Originally written for Rocky III (1982), "You're the Best" was rejected by Sylvester Stallone in favor of Survivor's hit song "Eye of the Tiger". Coincidentally, Survivor also performed the main theme ("The Moment of Truth" Music & Lyrics: Bill Conti, Dennis Lambert, Peter Beckett) for The Karate Kid.
Bananarama's 1984 hit song "Cruel Summer" also made its U.S. debut in The Karate Kid but was excluded from the film's soundtrack album. Other songs featured in the film but left off the album include "Please Answer Me" performed by Broken Edge and "The Ride" performed by The Matches.
- Track listing for 1984 soundtrack
- "The Moment of Truth" (Survivor)
- "(Bop Bop) On the Beach" (The Flirts, Jan and Dean)
- "No Shelter" (Broken Edge)
- "Young Hearts" (Commuter)
- "(It Takes) Two to Tango" (Paul Davis)
- "Tough Love" (Shandi)
- "Rhythm Man" (St. Regis)
- "Feel the Night" (Baxter Robertson)
- "Desire" (Gang of Four)
- "You're the Best" (Joe Esposito)
The film received an approval rating of 88% on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes based on 43 reviews, its consensus reads: "Utterly predictable and wholly of its time, but warm, sincere, and difficult to resist, due in large part to Pat Morita and Ralph Macchio's relaxed chemistry."
On its release, Roger Ebert called the film one of the year's best, gave it four stars out of four, and described it as an "exciting, sweet-tempered, heart-warming story with one of the most interesting friendships in a long time." Janet Maslin of The New York Times also gave a positive review.
Upon release of the 2010 remake, Dana Stevens wrote,
"The 1984 original ... may have seemed like a standard-issue inspirational sports picture at the time, but (as with another box-office hit of the same year, The Terminator) a generation of remove reveals what a well-crafted movie it actually was. Rewatched today, the original Kid, directed by Rocky's John G. Avildsen, feels smart and fresh, with a wealth of small character details and a leisurely middle section that explores the boy's developing respect for his teacher."
|1985||Academy Awards||Best Actor in a Supporting Role - Pat Morita||Nominated|
|Golden Globes||Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture - Pat Morita||Nominated|
|Young Artist Awards||Best Family Motion Picture - Drama||Won|
|Best Young Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture Musical, Comedy, Adventure or Drama - Elisabeth Shue||Won|
|Best Young Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture Musical, Comedy, Adventure or Drama - William Zabka||Nominated|
The first film led to The Karate Kid franchise.
Film sequels and remakeEdit
The original 1984 film 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 revitalized the acting career of Morita, previously known mostly for his comedic role as Arnold on Happy Days, who was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as Miyagi. Morita reprised his role in three subsequent sequels, while Macchio returned for two.
- The Karate Kid Part II (1986): A sequel in which Daniel accompanies Miyagi on a trip to Okinawa, where he is reunited with loved ones, and is challenged by an old adversary.
- The Karate Kid Part III (1989): A sequel in which Kreese seeks revenge on Daniel and Miyagi with the help of new allies.
- The Next Karate Kid (1994): A revamp sequel in which Hilary Swank appears as Miyagi's new student, Julie Pierce.
- The Karate Kid (2010): A remake of the original film set in Beijing which stars Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith.
Television animation and sequelEdit
- The Karate Kid (TV series) (1989): A short-lived animated series spin-off also called The Karate Kid aired on NBC.
- Cobra Kai (2018): A comedy-drama web television series which follows Daniel and Johnny rekindling their old rivalry after Johnny reopens the Cobra Kai dojo. The show was created by Kamen, and airs on YouTube Premium.
The music video for the song "Sweep the Leg" by No More Kings stars William Zabka (who also directed the video) as a caricature of himself and features references to The Karate Kid, including cameo appearances by Zabka's former Karate Kid co-stars. The yellow classic automobile that Daniel polishes in the famous "wax-on/wax-off" training scene, then later offered by Mr. Miyagi as Daniel's birthday gift, was actually given to Ralph Macchio by the producer, and he still owns it. The car is a 1948 Ford Super De Luxe.  Kove and Zabka appeared on an episode of Tosh.0 as their original characters for "Board Breaker Web Redemption".
Macchio and Zabka made a guest appearance as themselves in the How I Met Your Mother episode "The Bro Mitzvah". In the episode, Macchio is invited to Barney Stinson's bachelor party, leading to Barney shouting that he hates Macchio and that Johnny was the real hero of The Karate Kid. Towards the end of the episode, a clown in the party wipes off his makeup and reveals himself as Zabka.
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