The Karate Kid (1984)

The Karate Kid is a 1984 American martial arts drama film produced by Jerry Weintraub, directed by John G. Avildsen, and written by Robert Mark Kamen. It stars Ralph Macchio, Pat Morita, Elisabeth Shue, and William Zabka. It is an underdog story in the mold of a previous success with Rocky (1976), which Avildsen also directed. The film features the Gōjū-ryū, Gōjū Kai style of karate. The Karate Kid was a commercial success upon release and garnered critical acclaim, earning Morita a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

In September 1984, 17-year-old 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 Keisuke Miyagi.

Daniel befriends Ali Mills, an attractive high school cheerleader, which draws the attentions of her arrogant ex-boyfriend Johnny Lawrence, a skilled practitioner from the “Cobra Kai” dojo, where he studies an unethical and vicious form of karate. Johnny and his Cobra Kai gang continually torment Daniel, savagely beating him until Mr. Miyagi intervenes and single-handedly defeats the five attackers with ease. Amazed, Daniel asks Mr. Miyagi to be his teacher. Miyagi refuses, 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 proposes that Daniel enter the All-Valley Karate Championships, where he can compete with Johnny and the other Cobra Kai students on equal terms, and requests that the bullying 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.

At the tournament, Daniel surprises everyone by reaching the semi-finals. Johnny advances to the finals, scoring three unanswered points against a highly skilled opponent. Kreese instructs 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 can’t 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 finish the tournament. As Johnny is about to be declared the winner by default, Ali tells the master of ceremonies that Daniel will fight. The match is a seesaw battle, as neither is able to break through the other’s defenses.

The match is halted when Daniel uses a scissor leg technique to trip Johnny, deliver a blow to the back of the head and give 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 under Kreese’s intimidation. 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 the beach. Johnny lunges toward Daniel, who jumps and delivers a front kick to Johnny’s chin, winning the tournament. Johnny, having gained newfound respect for his nemesis, takes Daniel’s trophy from the Master of Ceremonies and presents it to Daniel himself as Daniel is carried off by the enthusiastic crowd.

Cast

The production needed to obtain permission from DC Comics to use the Karate Kid title due to DC’s existing ownership of the character, Karate Kid.

According to the special-edition DVD commentary, the studio originally wanted the role of Mr. Miyagi to be played by Toshiro Mifune, but writer Robert Mark Kamen was opposed to that casting choice feeling that Mifune’s interpretation of the character lacked the warmth and humor that the role needed. Mako was also considered for the role of Mr. Miyagi, but was not available due to prior commitments to film Conan the Destroyer (1984), though he would eventually play a similar role in the film Sidekicks (1992). According to Randee Heller, two days after she was cast, Jerry Weintraub informed her that they intended to replace her with Valerie Harper. John G. Avildsen said that after seeing Harper’s audition they decided not to replace Heller after all.

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
  1. “The Moment of Truth” (Survivor)
  2. “(Bop Bop) On the Beach” (The Flirts, Jan and Dean)
  3. “No Shelter” (Broken Edge)
  4. “Young Hearts” (Commuter)
  5. “(It Takes) Two to Tango” (Paul Davis)
  6. “Tough Love” (Shandi)
  7. “Rhythm Man” (St. Regis)
  8. “Feel the Night” (Baxter Robertson)
  9. “Desire” (Gang of Four)
  10. “You’re the Best” (Joe Esposito)

The film spawned a franchise of related items and memorabilia such as action figures, head bands, posters, T-shirts, and a video game. A novelization was made by B.B. Hiller and published in 1984. The novel had a scene that was in the rehearsal when Daniel encounters Johnny during school at lunch. Also at the end, there was a battle between Miyagi and Kreese in the parking lot after the tournament which was the original ending for the film and used as the beginning of The Karate Kid Part II.

The film has been credited for popularizing Karate in the United States.

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.

Kove and Zabka appeared on an episode of Tosh.0 as their original characters for “Board Breaker Web Redemption”. The skit was inspired by a viral video made by Josh Plotkin, where he talked about accomplishing goals through believing in yourself. The skit spoofed the final fight of the movie. At the end of the skit, Daniel Tosh, dressed as Mr. Miyagi, honks Kove’s nose, a reference to Mr. Miyagi’s action in the scene at the beginning of The Karate Kid, Part II.

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.

In 2015, toy company Funko released new The Karate Kid action figures as part of their ReAction line. The six-piece line saw two versions of Daniel Larusso, Johnny Lawrence, Mr. Miyagi, John Kreese and Ali Mills represented in three and a half inch action figure form. The toys were sold via retailers such as Target and Amazon.com. Additionally, Funko has released several The Karate Kid figures within its popular Funko Pop! line.

To celebrate the 35th Anniversary of The Karate Kid, Sony Pictures has fully restored the original 35mm negative film elements to be used for a limited theatrical re-release, along-side a new 4k UHD Blu-ray home media release on April 16, 2019. The home release will also include bonus materials including a new anniversary featurette containing new interviews from the original surviving cast, named “Remembering The Karate Kid”.

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 a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his performance as Mr. Miyagi. Morita reprised his role in three subsequent sequels.

  • The Karate Kid Part II (1986): A sequel in which Daniel accompanies Miyagi on a trip back to Okinawa (Japan), where he is reunited with loved ones, and is challenged by an old adversary.
  • The Karate Kid Part III (1989): A sequel in which Kove reappears as Kreese, seeking revenge on Daniel and Miyagi with the help of allies played by Thomas Ian Griffith and Sean Kanan.
  • The Next Karate Kid (1994): A revamp sequel in which Hilary Swank appears as Mr. Miyagi’s new student, Julie Pierce.
  • The Karate Kid (2010): A remake starring Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith.

A short-lived animated series spin-off also called The Karate Kid aired on NBC in 1989.

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