I haven’t done a regular feature in awhile, so this weekend when my wife and I were watching The Karate Kid and enjoying some drinks, Cocktails and Classics was born. She thought it would be fun to do this semi-regularly, making notes on our thoughts and discussion, and blogging it. So, here’s the first of many (I hope).
The Karate Kid is a 1984 drama about a displaced youngster (Ralph Macchio) who finds a friend, and father figure in his apartment complex’s handy man, Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita). The movie’s antagonist, Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) begins a feud with Daniel Laruso, which culminates at the All-Valley Karate Tournament. It was an instant classic, and holds up against many modern retellings of similar stories.
It may be hard to believe, but I was a skinny, clumsy nerd growing up, so I instantly identified with Macchio’s character in the movie. I was also fascinated by martial arts. I never took any classes but this movie sure made me want to. I got bullied in school for everything from my glasses to my interest in gaming. This movie, more than most, made me feel like I could still go on to win despite all that. It’s a great movie for young people to learn from. Lessons in honesty, family, sticking up for what’s right, and having a sense of honor even when it’s hard.
As an adult, watching the movie is an entirely different experience. There’s so much nuance that I missed as a kid. Comparing it to modern movies, there’s much more character development and story telling. More time is spent showing us the ‘why’ of it all rather than just the action. Thankfully, the remake tried to capture that. Most people would remake this movie as a 5 minute training montage between long, highly stylized fight scenes with extra CGI.
On the pivotal moment, what we story tellers call an inciting moment, no, Daniel didn’t start it. The recent release of Cobra Kai has created a sort of Mandela Effect around this movie. I love seeing the story from Johnny’s perspective, and Cobra Kai is a great show, but I’ve had several people (and seen YouTube Videos) saying, “Yah, Daniel totally started it, he threw the first punch.” Technically true, Daniel sucker punched Johnny on the beach, but he didn’t start it. Daniel didn’t ‘steal’ Johnny’s girl, Ali with an I (Elizabeth Shue). Johnny got physical first, even with Ali, and Daniel stood up to him.
One of the things my wife and I noticed, and she specifically commented on, was how the love interest in the movie was written. Ali didn’t take any crap, from Johnny or Daniel. She was a strong character without having to demean or undermine the male characters around her. This carried over to Part 2’s love interest, Kumiko, played by Tamlyn Tomita. They weren’t just damsels for the hero to save from the bully. They were fully developed characters in their own right.
Without a doubt, the soul of the series is Mr. Miyagi, and the lovable Pat Morita almost wasn’t cast. Some of the execs in charge of the movie didn’t want a comedian to play the wise old master. Thankfully they were eventually convinced and a legend was born. Morita was a stand-up for years, and you could see some of his sense of humor come out in the character, but he clearly took the part seriously. The scene where we find out about his wife and kids is heart wrenching, and one of the most moving scenes in the entire series. Morita was brilliant, and the writers put so much nuance in the scene that was quite honestly lost on my younger self. Watching it as an adult, the loss of his child, the internment camps, and his enlistment to serve a country that would do that to his people are all very powerful dramatic elements of the story. Elements which could have been left out, and in a lesser movie, would have been. Without them, though, the character of Miyagi wouldn’t have touched us quite as much as he did. Even the subtle touch of Miyagi ‘refilling’ his glass from the bottle he left the cap on was masterful, and easy to miss.
For this movie, the nostalgia is high, but not misplaced. It still touches your heart with characters you truly care about, and a story that many of us can still relate to. It took its time to tell that story. Young and old alike, this is something everyone can appreciate. If you haven’t seen it in awhile, go back and watch it. Watch it with your kids, or other young people who might find something special in it.
We paired The Karate Kid with a Cherry Old Fashioned (for Julie), and a Whiskey Sour (for me).