The Karate Kid (1984)

(Second viewing, On TV, March 2017) I remember seeing The Karate Kid as a kid, being entertained for most of it but mystified at some sequences such as the spaghetti-spill. Seeing the film in middle age makes for a different experience—the theme of surrogate fatherhood seems more obvious now, and the spaghetti spilling now makes perfect sense in a “when everything goes wrong…” sense. Surprisingly enough, my middle-age jadedness also leads to a better appreciation of the formula at the heart of the script. There is little that’s new or revolutionary about The Karate Kid (although the interracial component of the main relationship still remains almost unusual today), but it is exceptionally well-executed, with numerous telling details that help ground the film in reality … and still make for cultural references even thirty years later. Noriyuki “Pat” Morita is terrific as the older man taking our teenage protagonist under his care (the script even allowing him a few moments of ornery frustration), while Ralph Macchio is unpolished but likable in the lead role. The Karate Kid isn’t a perfect film—it ends far too soon without the luxury of a coda in which to enjoy its triumph, occasionally zigs and zags without control and often veers into overplayed on-the-nose moments. But it’s well-balanced, and strong enough in its assets to overcome its imperfections. No wonder it’s still relatively popular even today.

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