The Karate Kid Explained

The Karate Kid
Director:John G. Avildsen
Producer:Jerry Weintraub
R. J. Louis (executive producer)
Bud S. Smith (associate producer)
Starring:Ralph Macchio
Noriyuki "Pat" Morita
Elisabeth Shue
Martin Kove
William Zabka
Randee Heller
Music:Bill Conti
Cinematography:James Crabe
Editing:John G. Avildsen
Walt Mulconery
Bud S. Smith
Distributor:Columbia Pictures
Released:June 22, 1984
Runtime:127 min.
Gross:$90,815,558 [1]
Followed By:The Karate Kid, Part II

The Karate Kid is a 1984 film directed by John G. Avildsen and written by Robert Mark Kamen, starring Ralph Macchio, Pat Morita and Elisabeth Shue. It is a martial arts film and an underdog story in the mold of a previous Avildsen success, the 1976 boxing film Rocky. It was a commercial success upon first release, and has retained its popular following. It also received favorable critical attention, earning Pat Morita an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.


Teenager Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) moves with his mother (Randee Heller) from Newark, New Jersey to Reseda, a neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley region of Los Angeles, California. The family is in search of a new beginning, after the death of Daniel's father. Their new apartment's handyman is an eccentric but kindly and humble Okinawan immigrant named Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita).

Daniel meets a potential girlfriend, Ali Mills (Elisabeth Shue), but earns the enmity of her ex-boyfriend, Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), a karate student. Johnny is the best student at the Cobra Kai karate dojo, where he is taught an unethical, vicious form of martial arts. Daniel knows some karate from books and the YMCA in New Jersey, but is the target of repeated severe beatings from Johnny and his friends.

When Mr. Miyagi witnesses one of the beatings, he intervenes and, in a surprising display of karate skill, defeats all 5 Cobra Kai with ease. Awed, Daniel asks Mr. Miyagi to be his teacher. Mr. Miyagi initially refuses, but agrees to go with Daniel to the Cobra Kai dojo to see if they can resolve the conflict. They confront the sensei of the Cobra Kai dojo, John Kreese (Martin Kove), to stop the harassment. However, Kreese, an ex-Special Forces Vietnam Veteran, sneers at the concepts of mercy and restraint. Kreese suggests a new match between Johnny and Daniel, which Miyagi deflects by announcing that the match should take place in two months' time at the “All Valley Karate Tournament”, where Cobra Kai students can fight Daniel on equal terms. Mr. Miyagi also requests that the bullying stop while the boy trains. Kreese orders his students to leave Daniel alone, but threatens that if Daniel does not show up for the tournament, the harassment will resume and Miyagi will also become a target.

Mr. Miyagi becomes Daniel's teacher and, slowly, a surrogate father figure. He begins Daniel's training by having him perform laborious chores such as waxing many cars, sanding a wooden floor, and painting a fence. Each chore is accompanied with a specific movement, such as clockwise/counter-clockwise hand motions, "Wax on, wax off". Eventually, Daniel becomes frustrated, believing that he has learned nothing of karate, whereupon Mr. Miyagi reveals that Daniel has unknowingly been learning defensive blocks, through muscle memory learned by doing the chores.

Daniel then learns that Mr. Miyagi lost his wife and son in childbirth at Manzanar internment camp while he was serving overseas with the U.S. Army during World War II. The loss of his family and Daniel's loss of his father further strengthens the father-son surrogacy. Daniel also discovers that the outwardly peaceful and serene Mr. Miyagi was a recipient of the Medal of Honor for heroism against German forces in Europe, presumably while serving with the 442nd Infantry Regiment.

Through the teaching, Daniel learns not only karate, but also important life lessons, such as the importance of balance, reflected by the belief that martial arts training is as much about training the spirit as the body. Daniel applies the life lessons that Mr. Miyagi has taught him to strengthen his relationship with Ali.

At the tournament, Daniel surprises everyone by reaching the semifinals. Kreese instructs Bobby Brown, one of his more compassionate students and the lesser of Daniel's tormentors, to disable Daniel with an illegal attack to the knee. Bobby reluctantly does so, initially successful with Kreese's intended goal. With Daniel injured and unable to continue, Mr. Miyagi assures him he has already proven himself. Despondent, Daniel believes that if he does not continue, his tormentors will have gotten the best of him. He therefore persuades Mr. Miyagi to use his special pain suppression technique to allow him to finish the tournament. As Johnny is about to be declared the winner by default, Daniel hobbles into the ring. Kreese directs Johnny to repeat unethical moves to achieve victory, but no matter what is done and how many times that Daniel is knocked down, he gets up again each time.

In the final scene, Daniel and Johnny are tied, both one point away from victory. Daniel, barely able to stand, assumes the "Crane Kick" stance, and delivers a blow squarely to Johnny's chin, winning the tournament. Johnny, having gained newfound respect for his adversary, takes Daniel's trophy from the emcee and presents it to Daniel himself.


See main article: List of characters in The Karate Kid.

Pat Morita

Chuck Norris purportedly turned down the role of John Kreese because he did not want to portray a character that reinforced a negative stereotype of martial arts. However, Norris disputed this story during a February 9, 2006 appearance on The Adam Carolla Show. Norris insisted that he was not offered the role, and that he was already acting in leading roles at that time anyway.[2] Additionally, 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. Mako was also considered for the role of Mr. Miyagi, but was not available due to prior commitments to film the Conan sequel, Conan the Destroyer.


The Karate Kid spawned an entire franchise of related items and memorabilia, such as action figures, head bands, posters, T-shirts, a video game, etc. A short-lived animated series spin-off aired on NBC in 1989. The film also 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, who was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his performance as Mr. Miyagi; he had previously been best known from his role on Happy Days as Arnold, the owner of the local hamburger hangout. ESPN's Bill Simmons called Morita's nomination "the 1984 equivalent of Mr. Belding from Saved by the Bell being nominated for an Oscar in 2005". [3] Morita made several other movies including the three sequels, one of which would help launch the career of two time Oscar winner Hilary Swank; additionally, it launched the career of Elisabeth Shue. It has also been credited for both advancing the art of bonsai and for renewing youth interest in martial arts, with an emphasis on personal discipline rather than the often gratuitous and cinematic violence for which martial arts films are known. The characters of Daniel and his mother are also noteworthy as positive media portrayals of Italian Americans.

This movie ranked number 31 on Entertainment Weeklys list of the 50 Best High School Movies. The film retains an 88% freshness at Rotten Tomatoes.



References in popular culture


The original soundtrack album (containing songs from the movie) was released on Casablanca Records. Of particular note is Joe Esposito's "You're the Best," featured during the tournament montage near the end of the first film. Bananarama's 1984 hit song "Cruel Summer" also made its first U.S. appearance in the movie; however, it was excluded from the film's soundtrack album. Other songs featured in the film were left off the original soundtrack album as well, including "Please Answer Me," performed by Broken Edge, and "The Ride" performed by The Matches. Other than its in-film appearance during the beach scene when the Cobra Kai arrive by motorbike, "The Ride" has never been released on any known albums.

The instrumental scores for all four Karate Kid films were composed by Bill Conti, 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[5] . This was the first official release of the original recordings — before, bootleg CDs would sell for $40-$120.

Track listing for 1984 soundtrack

  1. "Moment of Truth" (Survivor)
  2. "(Bop Bop) On the Beach" (The Flirts, Jan & 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)

Track listing for 2007 Varèse Sarabande score

  1. "Main Title" - 3:30
  2. "Fight Nite" - 2:01
  3. "A Bumpy Ride" - 1:37
  4. "Dan Ducks Out" - 0:55
  5. "Bonsai Tree" - 0:43
  6. "Decorate the Gym" - 0:39
  7. "Miyagi Rattles Bones" - 2:21
  8. "Miyagi Intercedes" - 1:28
  9. "On to Miyagi's" - 1:33
  10. "The Pact" - 2:12
  11. "Feel the Night" - 1:56
  12. "Troubled Lovers" - 0:33
  13. "Japanese Sander" - 1:26
  14. "Paint the Fence" - 3:11
  15. "Daniel Sees the Bird" - 2:38
  16. "Fish & Train'" - 2:28
  17. "Training Hard" - 2:29
  18. "The Kiss" - 1:02
  19. "Japanese Hand Clap" - 0:40
  20. "No Mercy" - 0:23
  21. "Daniel's Moment of Truth" - 1:52

Upcoming Film

On November 10, 2008, Variety reported that work on a new Karate Kid film has begun. Variety states that the new film "has been refashioned as a star vehicle for Jaden Smith" and that it "will borrow elements of the original plot, wherein a bullied youth learns to stand up for himself with the help of an eccentric mentor."[6] On January 13, 2009, Variety announced that Jackie Chan is in final negotiations to join the film, with Harald Zwart directing.[7]

Macchio spoke out about the film stating that he feels the film will be a flop and no one can replace Pat Morita.[8]

External links

Notes and References

  1. Web site: The Karate Kid. 2007-03-13.
  2. Web site: Chuck Norris. 2007-03-15.
  3. Bill Simmons: Holy trilogy of the 'Karate Kid'
  4. Sweeptheleg.Com
  5. Web site: The Karate Kid. 2007-03-15.
  8. theDISH Magazine