All right, it is “Sports Month” here at the JOE-DOWN, where we will review sports movies. Why? Because it is summer, and I associate summertime with sports. And for the third installment of this theme for the month, I picked “The Karate Kid.”
The Movie: “The Karate Kid”
Starring: Ralph Macchio, Pat Morita, Elisabeth Shue
Director: John G. Avildsen
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) A martial arts master agrees to teach karate to a bullied teenager.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 90 percent
Froemming: It was bound to happen. We have been training for this day since the beginning of the JOE-DOWN. Training our snark to take no mercy on any film we watch, even sweeping the legs of plot holes when necessary. And now it is our time to take on a film about a whiney kid from New Jersey who somehow finds the sunny warmth of California to be a personal hell. A hell that includes him picking fight with fellow teens who happen to know karate, thus beating the (REDACTED) out of him. A hell where he is tricked into doing an old man’s chores under the guise that he is somehow learning martial arts via painting fences and waxing cars.
That’s right, we are reviewing “The Karate Kid” for this installment of the JOE-DOWN! But before we dig into this ‘80s classic, Brown what are your first thoughts on this film?
Brown: Was there this much karate in your high school, Froemming? Because there was NO karate in my high school. After watching this movie, I feel cheated.
Froemming: Fun fact: I took two years of Tae Kwon Do in junior high and high school, so this wasn’t really out of the realm of reality for me.
Brown: I imagine your fighting moves are as impressive as Mac’s from “Always Sunny.”
I mean, I remember this movie being a sort of staple of my childhood, with the bandana and the crane move and all. But I’ll be damned if I remembered any of it until a couple years ago when I bought this movie on DVD in the clearance box at Wal-Mart.
There are some things I completely forgot about, namely how whiney Ralph Macchio’s character is. But what I do remember is this movie is painfully ‘80s, and in a delightful way.
Why don’t you get our cross-country trek from Jersey to California on track, Froemming?
Froemming: Oh man, I felt like I almost overdosed on ‘80s nostalgia watching this.
We begin with Daniel LaRusso and his mother moving from New Jersey to California because she landed a dream job as a waitress at an Orient Express. (checks notes) Yup, that was why they moved there, and it troubled me throughout the rest of the film because I had never taken notes watching this movie before, and there was a lot of weird stuff I picked up on.
At their new apartment complex, which his mom assures Daniel that there is a really neat pool, they find that their new home is kinda gross and ill managed. Ill managed by our friend Mr. Miyagi, a man too busy catching flies with chopsticks to be bothered about throwing some chlorine and water into that pool he is paid to take care of.
Brown: Going to the mom’s job, there is one point where Daniel mentions his mom with computers (Rocket Computers was the name of the company). But then later in the movie, the mom says she left computers to come out to California. You left a computers job in the ‘80s for a (REDACTED) Chinese restaurant?! Hindsight is 20/20, but holy hell, you are dense, woman.
The mom also bugs me because she fawns over California so much that I swear this was a modern-day remake of “Grapes of Wrath.” All we needed was a dust bowl.
Now that the LaRussos are in California, Daniel makes a friend immediately and heads to the beach on his second day there. It’s there where we meet the apple of Daniel’s eye in Ali (Shue). And the two engage in ‘80s flirting, which involves a soccer ball and a lot of stalker-like glances at one another. If you put shrill music instead of the poppy ‘80s tunes, this would be an entirely different movie.
Then as the night winds down, we meet our antagonists: Johnny and the Cobra Kai!
Froemming: Well, that is open to interpretation, Brown.
Anyway, Johnny and his good-time buddies arrive at the beach when they notice Johnny’s ex-girlfriend (Johnny never seems to pick up on this “ex” part, much like Stacy in “Wayne’s World”) Ali is talking to some doofus with a soccer ball. This creates some tension, and Johnny makes a giant ass of himself when he and Ali start arguing in front of everyone at the beach.
Then Daniel has to insert himself into this situation, and frankly, sort of deserves the ass whoopin’ the Cobra Kai’s star pupil lands on him.
Brown: When you think about the movie, yeah, the antagonist bit is kind of skewed. I think Daniel’s right to defend himself (and there are times where he antagonizes the Cobra Kai and deserves what he gets). Johnny and Co. are more antagonists because they are spineless cowards who take their cues from a crazed Vietnam vet. But we’ll touch on that later.
After taking a beating and sporting a nice shiner, we see Daniel head to his new high school where he locks up his bike by the tire, assuring that his bike will be stolen by the end of the day.
And you see both the pros and cons of Daniel LaRusso. He is a charmer with Ali and does have a sense of charisma about himself that not many high schoolers possess.
And then he takes a slide tackle in soccer practice and decks the kid who did it. And he’s booted from the team because, well, he punched a kid. You deserved that one, Daniel-san.
Daniel is getting bullied. So while visiting his mom’s server job at a Chinese restaurant, he goes across the street to the Cobra Kai karate dojo and sees sensei
John Rambo John Kreese.
Froemming: Look, John Kreese has his flaws, but he is teaching these young men to fight, not yoga. But since, like you mentioned, he is on-par with the psychosis of John Rambo, he doesn’t teach this as self-defense. No, he is teaching karate as a way to start and end fights. Which goes against everything I learned in my brief stint in martial arts.
Brown: I was confused as to why John Kreese went to violence so quickly. He seemed like such a quirky, fun-loving guy in Monty Python.
*Checks name on Google* OHHH, that’s John Cleese… I’m an idiot.
Froemming: Growing up, I for some reason thought this actor was Harrison Ford’s ugly brother.
Brown: Watching this movie now, John Kreese seems like the kind of villain, from look to voice, that Will Ferrell would play.
Froemming: Of all the karate dojos run by warped sociopaths in all of California, Daniel just so happened to walk into the one where Johnny is training with his pals. So what does Daniel do? He decides to learn karate by reading books. Hey, at least he is reading something. Thank goodness people still read back in the ‘80s. Judging by Facebook comments, the art of reading and grammar is truly lost in 2017.
As he is practicing his moves in an era when YouTube didn’t exist to turn him into a viral sensation, Mr. Miyagi finally shows up to fix the family’s sink and witnesses Daniel making a mockery of something that is truly important to the old man.
Brown: Because Daniel had the gall to show up to the Cobra Kai dojo, Johnny and his band of pawns decide to kick Daniel off his bike when he goes home. Confirmed: People from California hate people from New Jersey.
In frustration, Daniel throws his bike in the dumpster and complains to his mom about how he needs to learn karate, because that is the only way to fend off bullies that were taught karate from a possibly homicidal vet.
Froemming: So, the parents of those training at the Cobra Kai are totally cool with this crazed man training their children to be unstoppable killing machines?
Brown: Absolutely! When the Reds try to take the west coast, they’re going to get a face full of roundhouse kicks! It’s a world Chuck Norris would be proud of. Move over, Coast Guard, Cobra Kai is the true defenders of our shores.
The next day, Daniel sees his bike out of the dumpster, completely refurbished by Mr. Miyagi. He goes to thank Miyagi then gets into this weird philosophical moment about bonsai trees. Daniel LaRusso is the only kid ever who overthinks trees.
Froemming: Again, Mr. Miyagi has time to fix a bike and wax poetic about bonsai trees, but can’t do anything about that dirty, dilapidated pool? He is the complex’s handyman!
Brown: After this scene, we do something that bugs me about “Karate Kid”: Jump time because reasons. Here comes Mr. Miyagi to give the LaRussos a carved pumpkin. How about you give them a pumpkin they can carve as a family. You know, so they can bond in what we’ve seen is kind of a rocky relationship?
Froemming: The man is trying, Brown. The fiasco with the pool has probably made things tense at that apartment building.
Now this leads to a school event that really makes me think Daniel is as crazy as our friend John Kreese. Daniel, who doesn’t want to be recognized because whatever, shows up to the Halloween dance as a shower.
Yup, the ‘80s made a shower a Halloween costume. One I have seen at many bars during the holiday over the years, and am tickled pink every time I see it.
Now, Johnny is rolling him and his buddies a joint, which is probably a good thing because most of the time these guys act like pure steroids so this can calm them down. Daniel, seeming to want to play Russian Roulette with his life for kicks, decides to spray Johnny and his joint with water. This, I have to state, was an unprovoked moment on Johnny’s end. I too would want to beat the (REDACTED) out of the doofus in the shower costume.
As Johnny and his friends start chasing Daniel…
Brown: A chase that looks straight out of “The Warriors.” Since Johnny and Co. look kind of like the Baseball Furies.
Froemming: Or a terrible Misfits tribute band.
So LaRusso runs into oncoming traffic causing multiple car accidents. Look, Daniel, this is all on you now. Johnny, his friends, the people whose cars are now wrecked, all have a reason to hunt you down and knock some sense into you.
Brown: Which the Cobra Kai does. Until an old Japanese man decides enough is enough and assaults a group of minors. This movie is chock-full of grown-ass adults ordering the beating of teenagers. You could get away with ANYTHING in the ‘80s.
Miyagi helps Daniel heal and decides he will teach the bullied teen karate, in the same way his fisherman father taught him as a young man. Apparently Miyagis are known in Japan for their fishing and their karate. These are comparable skills after all. Many times in my youth, I went to Sturgeon Bay, Wis. and performed straight-legged kicks to catch salmon on Lake Michigan.
Froemming: First, Miyagi goes to the Cobra Kai to try to talk reason to a man who only sees blood and anger in his mind’s eye. Kreese is not having any of this, and to be fair, Daniel did start that fight after months of peace. Mr. Miyagi did beat the living crap out of his students. You play with fire, folks, you’re eventually going to get burned.
But Miyagi cuts a deal: This mess will be put to bed at the karate championship two months from this time. Miyagi may be tough, but he can’t watch Daniel 24-7 and save his bacon from these teens with too much testosterone and karate moves.
Brown: Well, Miyagi’s decision making is suspect. This is a man who has an unlicensed Daniel drive him to the dojo because he also doesn’t have a driver’s license.
Daniel’s first bit of training: Waxing every one of Mr. Miyagi’s cars, which leads to the most quotable moment of the movie.
There’s karate, sure, but we still need a love story in this movie. And what’s a movie without some classism thrown in? Ali agrees to go out with Daniel. Ali lives in the Hills, and Daniel is in trashy Reseda. Ali’s parents look down on the Jersey export. It also doesn’t help that Daniel and his mom have to push their beater car that breaks down in front of the rich folks’ house.
The first date they go on is at a mini-golf place, and Ali wants to play bubble hockey first. It’s at this point where I wish Ali was my high-school girlfriend because bubble hockey is awesome. Moments later, in a scene that bugs me more than it should, Ali is leaning over Daniel, teaching him how to play mini-golf. You’re a high schooler and you don’t know how to play mini-golf? Really?! I teach my nieces this now and they’re in elementary school!
Froemming: Look, everything we know about Daniel up to this point shows that he is pretty dim. He picks fights with guys with black belts, complains nonstop, his Halloween costume was a shower, even though Miyagi corrects him all the time he still mispronounces the old man’s name, everything tells me the guy is not heading to higher education after high school. So the mini-golf thing was just the icing on that cake.
And we see Ali has a friend who drives a sweet ride, just pouring more of that classism on us, a plot point we really do not venture back to.
Also, my favorite part of this scene: The mini-golf place is called “Golf ‘N Stuff.”
Brown: A name that simple belongs in the “No Holds Barred” script.
Because we need more things that are completely impossible, we see Daniel go to Mr. Miyagi’s home the next day and catch a fly with chopsticks within the first minute of trying. Miyagi has been trying to do this his whole life and Daniel does it in 45 seconds? Way to dump all over a man’s life dream.
indentured servitude karate lessons continue as he sands the floor in Mr. Miyagi’s backyard. Then he paints the fence (both sides). Then he eventually paints the house. And I know the movie will link this all together somehow, but this is a load of (REDACTED). This teaches Daniel NOTHING other than Miyagi sold him a bill of goods.
Something I want to address: When Daniel finishes one of his days of chores, we see Miyagi leave his house in a Hawaiian shirt and a cabbie hat. What’s that story? Why aren’t we following Miyagi there? I demand answers!
Froemming: Miyagi probably has a weird, interesting life outside of Daniel’s story. I too want to know what was up with that.
Now, one night after his chores that-in-no-way-will-teach-him-karate, but sets him up to be a decent maintenance man, Daniel walks into Miyagi’s home and finds his old friend smashed on whiskey and singing to a picture of his late wife. See, Miyagi has had a hell of a life, and while he was in the army during WWII, his wife and son died in childbirth while in an internment camp. And Daniel just sits there staring at the old man in a moment I thought was supposed to be private to our Okinawan buddy.
Brown: It just dawned on me that both our karate teachers in this movie are traumatized war veterans. Now I’m scared for all the kids in this movie.
And, we get a scene where Daniel is supposed to meet Ali for a date, but she’s running late because she’s surrounded by WASPs at a dinner party. Johnny dances with a clearly-not-into-it Ali and when he sees Daniel watching, he plants a kiss on his ex. She slugs him, but not after Daniel tries to bolt, runs into a kitchen worker and spills a bunch of spaghetti all over Daniel. As all these rich people are laughing at a child’s misfortunes, I kept hearing a motherly voice saying “They’re all gonna laugh at you” like in “Carrie.” This movie would be improved if Daniel set the country club on fire with his mind.
Quick aside about Miyagi’s drinking scene. First, Daniel isn’t old enough to drive a car yet and you’re feeding him whiskey? No! Then, as Miyagi is falling asleep, Daniel puts his sensei in bed. And he puts him on his back. No! Put Miyagi on his side, Daniel. If he chokes on his vomit and dies like Hendrix, that’s on you, Daniel-san.
Froemming: Life comes at you fast when you hang out with Mr. Miyagi.
Well, after his fourth “training” exercise, which was painting Miyagi’s house, Daniel is at his wits end. After yelling at the old man about not learning anything (as I have stated, Daniel is too dumb to learn), Miyagi shows him that those chores did show him some basic self-defense moves. Which, I mean, good on Miyagi for getting his household chores done on the cheap, but Daniel has little time now to learn how to kick and punch without breaking his hands and feet. So, they go to a lake where Miyagi has Daniel balance on a boat while he fishes. They also go to a beach and kick on posts and whatnot.
I’m starting to think Mr. Miyagi was the world’s first internet troll.
Brown: In another time jump, we see Daniel celebrate his 16th birthday. And in the moment that made me the most angry, in celebration of his birthday and getting his driver’s license, Mr. Miyagi just gives a vintage car to Daniel. (REDACTED) you, Daniel LaRusso. You’ve been nothing but a whiny twerp and you get a car out of it?! AND, he gets a girl out of it because Miyagi gives Daniel some spiel over finding balance in life, so he should get Ali back after they had a fight over the whole country club spaghetti massacre (or something).
Because he’s a charmer and admits he was an overreacting jerk, Daniel wins Ali back. She abandons her friends at the arcade and hops into Daniel’s new ride.
And because time doesn’t play by any rules in this movie, we have arrived at the karate tournament!
Froemming: And Miyagi just makes up his dojo on the spot to the person registering them to get into the tourney! I mean, aren’t there rules here? Anyone can walk in off the street and claim to be a karate student and sensei? It is madness I say, MADNESS!
Even worse, they get signed up and Daniel and Miyagi have no idea what the (REDACTED) rules are of the competition!
Brown: But NONE of that matters, because after Daniel’s first win, we get a karate montage set to the BEST montage song of the ‘80s. Yep, it’s better than “Hearts on Fire” from “Rocky IV.”
Froemming: This song gets me so pumped! It is my go-to at the jukebox when I am out at the bars, because that’s just how I roll.
And Daniel is somehow Gumping his way through the tourney, magically beating people who have trained for years to be there, only to lose to this doofus who has trained for two months via waxing cars and painting houses.
Brown: Well, none of those other chumps had Joe Esposito backing their run to the top!
Froemming: That is true. They also don’t have a mysterious old man teaching them karate in unorthodox ways and handing out vintage cars to any schmuck off the street.
But the Cobra Kai dudes are excelling because, again, they are pure testosterone being lead by a man who probably kills hobos for fun. And during a match in the semifinals with Bobby, who Daniel viciously attacked on the soccer field for no reason earlier in the film, Kreese informs Bobby to take out Daniel’s leg, because he gets his kicks watching teenagers brutally hurt one another. So Bobby kicks Daniel in the leg, injuring the kid. But it doesn’t take Daniel out of the game, it only gets Bobby disqualified from the rest of the tourney, thus probably being the moment in his life he regrets the most as he drowns his sorrows in rum and Cokes at a local watering hole.
Brown: We learn throughout the movie that Cobra Kai are sniveling cowards that blindly follow their sensei’s orders. I feel like Kreese is the kind of guy who got a lot of people killed in Vietnam because he ordered them to their deaths like Zapp Brannigan in “Futurama.”
Also, not only did Bobby (regrettably) kick Daniel in the knee, he jump-kicked him in the knee! The kid in me that played “Street Fighter” in the arcade was elated to see such strategic use of a jump kick. If only he could throw a Hadouken at Daniel’s knee.
The doctor tells Daniel his tournament is over, probably because he tore more ligaments in his knee than Teddy Bridgewater. That doesn’t sit well with Daniel, who wants to stand up to Johnny in the finals. So, Mr. Miyagi pulls some (REDACTED) that somehow makes Daniel’s knee feel better.
Look, Mr. Miyagi does the same thing earlier in the movie: He rubs his hands and puts it on a hurt area and that somehow makes it feel better. I’m willing to suspend my disbelief in this helping with minor sore muscles. But for ligament damage?! NOPE. That witchcraft is NOT working.
Froemming: It wouldn’t be an ‘80s movie without some (REDACTED) racial stereotypes. Mr. Miyagi is, for the most part, a pretty great character that at times mocks a lot of stereotypes. But this goofy mysticism stuff is just odd and out of place with the character to me.
Brown: No more magic. We paid for blood! LaRusso is gonna fight! Daniel and Johnny will go one-on-one in the finals. And in the best-of-five series, LaRusso scored the first two points. This is not OK with his sensei, who gives Johnny some sage advice: Sweep the leg.
You would think a top student in a karate dojo that emphasizes “Strike first, strike hard, no mercy” would have already done that. So, Johnny attacks the injured leg twice and ties the match. Sudden death time! In the build-up, we get the best line ever uttered by a background character.
Froemming: And we see what is to become an iconic, and to people in martial arts a very troubling, karate move that is not even real. Troubling because it serves no purpose and is completely stupid. Iconic because most people have no idea if it would actually work and it just looks cool: The Crane Kick.
Brown: I’d believe the Crane Kick more if LaRusso did it right. He’s supposed to land on the same foot he kicked Johnny with. Instead, he lands on his hurt leg.
In the most improbable sports victory in the ‘80s since a caddy helped Rodney Dangerfield shut up a golf course elitist, Daniel LaRusso is the Valley’s karate championship. And he gains Johnny’s respect in the process.
Meanwhile, I imagine Kreese is going to take his anger out of a small Oregon town’s police force.
Froemming: Well, the original ending is used at the beginning of “The Karate Kid 2,” where Kreese is beating up his pupils in the parking lot after this big upset and gets owned by Miyagi, thus furthering his descent into madness and heading off to Oregon.
Brown: The Karate Kid: The series that encourages grown-ass men to beat up teenagers! Let’s move to recommendations before I need to quell my bloodlust at the local high school
Would you recommend?
Froemming: For sure. I love this movie. I love it, despite it being pretty ridiculous. It is a fun ‘80s flick that I grew up on and still enjoy.
Brown: Absolutely. This movie is an ‘80s staple for a reason. I still want Daniel LaRusso’s headband and I’m 31 years old.