The Karate Kid
The Karate Kid is a 1984 American martial arts drama film written by Robert Mark Kamen and directed by John G. Avildsen. It is the first installment in The Karate Kid franchise, and stars Ralph Macchio, Pat Morita, and Elisabeth Shue. The Karate Kid follows Daniel LaRusso, a teenager taught GĆjĆ«-ryĆ« karate by Mr. Miyagi to help defend himself and compete in a tournament against his bullies, one of which is the ex-boyfriend of his love interest Ali Mills.
Kamen was approached by Columbia Pictures to compose a film similar to Avildsen's previous success Rocky, after signing the director. Kamen drew inspiration from his own life when writing the film. As a result, he maintained strong opinions regarding cast, and petitioned heavily for Morita's inclusion. Preparations for the film began immediately after the final edit of the script was complete, and casting took place between April and June 1983. Principal photography began on October 31, 1983 in Los Angeles, and filming was complete by December 16, 1983.
The Karate Kid was theatrically released in the United States on June 22, 1984. The film received universal acclaim from critics, many of whom praised the action sequences, writing, storyline, acting performances, and music. The film was also a commercial success, grossing in the United States and Canada, making it one of the highest-grossing films of 1984 and Hollywood's biggest sleeper hit of the year.
The film is also notable for kickstarting the career of Macchio, as well as revitalizing the acting career of Morita, who was previously known mostly for comedic roles, and earned Morita a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. The Karate Kid subsequently launched a media franchise, and is credited for popularizing karate in the United States.
PlotIn 1984, Daniel LaRusso and his mother Lucille move from Newark, New Jersey, to Reseda, Los Angeles, California. Their apartment's handyman is an eccentric, but kind and humble Okinawan immigrant named Mr. Miyagi.
Daniel befriends Ali Mills, a high school cheerleader, which draws the attention of her arrogant ex-boyfriend Johnny Lawrence, a black belt and the top student from the "Cobra Kai" dojo, where he studies a vicious form of karate. Johnny and his Cobra Kai gang continually bully Daniel. On Halloween, after Daniel sprays water on Johnny with a hose, he and his gang pursue Daniel down the street and savagely beat him, until Mr. Miyagi intervenes and single-handedly defeats them with ease. Amazed, Daniel asks Mr. Miyagi to teach him karate. Miyagi declines 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 for both Daniel and Miyagi.
Daniel's training starts with days of menial chores that he believes only serve to make him Miyagi's slave. When he becomes frustrated, Miyagi demonstrates that repetition of these chores 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. On Daniel's birthday, Miyagi presents him with a Karate gi for the tournament and one of his own cars as birthday gifts.
At the tournament, Daniel surprises everyone by reaching the semi-finals. Johnny advances to the finals, scoring three unanswered points against Darryl Vidal. Kreese instructs his second-best student, Bobby Brown, who is 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 himself disqualified in the process. Daniel is taken to the locker room, where the physician determines that he cannot continue; however, 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 continue. As Johnny is about to be declared the winner by default, Daniel returns to fight. The match is a seesaw battle, with neither able to break through the other's defense.
The match is halted when Daniel uses a scissor-leg technique to trip Johnny, delivering a blow to the back of the head and giving Johnny a nosebleed. Kreese directs Johnny to sweep Daniel's injured leg â an unethical move. Johnny looks horrified at the order but reluctantly agrees. As the match resumes and the score is tied 2-2, Johnny seizes Daniel's leg and deals a vicious elbow, doing further damage. Daniel, standing with difficulty, assumes the "Crane" stance, a technique he observed Mr. Miyagi performing on a beach. Johnny lunges toward Daniel, who jumps and executes a front kick to Johnny's face, winning the tournament. Johnny, having gained newfound respect for his nemesis, presents the trophy to Daniel himself, as Daniel is carried off by an enthusiastic crowd.
- Ralph Macchio as Daniel LaRusso
- Pat Morita as Mr. Miyagi
- Elisabeth Shue as Ali Mills
- Martin Kove as John Kreese
- Randee Heller as Lucille LaRusso
- William Zabka as Johnny Lawrence
- Chad McQueen as Dutch
- Ron Thomas as Bobby Brown
- Rob Garrison as Tommy
- Tony O'Dell as Jimmy
DevelopmentThe Karate Kid is a semi-autobiographical story based on the life of its screenwriter, Robert Mark Kamen. At age 17, after the 1964 New York World's Fair, Kaman was beaten up by a gang of bullies. He thus began to study martial arts in order to defend himself. Kamen was unhappy with his first teacher who taught martial arts as a tool for violence and revenge. So he moved on to study Okinawan GĆjĆ«-ryĆ« karate under a Japanese teacher who did not speak English, but was himself a student of ChĆjun Miyagi.
As a Hollywood screenwriter, Kamen was mentored by Frank Price who told him that producer Jerry Weintraub had optioned a news article about the young child of a single mother who had earned a black belt to defend himself against the neighborhood bullies. Kamen then combined his own life story with the news article and used both to create the screenplay for The Karate Kid. Additionally, given John G. Avildsen's involvement with both films, Sylvester Stallone often joked with Kamen that the writer had "ripped off" the Rocky films with The Karate Kid.
DC Comics had a character called Karate Kid. The filmmakers received special permission from DC Comics in 1984 to use the title for the first film.
CastingA number of actors were considered for the part of Daniel, including Sean Penn, Robert Downey Jr., Charlie Sheen, Emilio Estevez, Nicolas Cage, Anthony Edwards, Tom Cruise and Eric Stoltz. Ralph Macchio was ultimately cast on the strength of his performance as Johnny Cade in The Outsiders. Macchio has stated that his performance as Johnny influenced the development of Daniel LaRusso in his next film, The Karate Kid.
Macchio later commented that, "the character was originally named Danny Weber. As soon as I walked in the room, it changed to LaRusso."
The studio originally wanted the role of Mr. Miyagi to be played by Toshiro Mifune, who had appeared in the films Rashomon, Seven Samurai, and The Hidden Fortress, but the actor didn't speak English. Pat Morita later auditioned for the role, but was rejected for the part due to his close association with stand up comedy, and for the character Arnold on Happy Days. After a few failed attempts, Morita grew a beard and patterned his accent after his uncle, which led to him being cast in the role.
Crispin Glover was considered for the role of Johnny, but the studio later opined for William Zabka. After his audition, Zabka saw Macchio, who noted " scared the shit out of me" during his audition to the studio. When he was cast, Zabka was a wrestler with no previous training in karate.
Demi Moore was also considered for the role of Ali, but Elisabeth Shue was cast based partly on a Burger King commercial that became widely popular in the early 1980s. The film marks the debut roles of both Zabka and Shue. Late in production, Valerie Harper was considered for the role of Lucille, but the studio later instated Randee Heller for the role.
FilmingFilming began on October 31, 1983, and wrapped on December 16, 1983.
The film's fight choreographer for the combat scenes was Pat E. Johnson, a Tang Soo Do karate black belt who had previously been featured in Bruce Lee's AmericanâHong Kong martial arts film Enter the Dragon and worked with Chuck Norris at American Tang Soo Do martial arts schools. Johnson also makes an appearance as the referee in The Karate Kid. Pat Morita's stunt double for Mr. Miyagi, Fumio Demura, is also a karate black belt who had previously worked with Bruce Lee, who learnt some nunchaku techniques from Demura.
SoundtrackThe 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. The instrumental score was orchestrated by Jack Eskew and featured pan flute solos by Gheorge Zamfir. On March 12, 2007, VarĂšse 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, "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 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
- "The Moment of Truth"
- " On the Beach"
- "No Shelter"
- "Young Hearts"
- " Two to Tango"
- "Tough Love"
- "Rhythm Man"
- "Feel the Night"
- "You're the Best"
Critical responseOn the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 88% based on 43 reviews. The website's critical consensus reads, "Utterly predictable and wholly of its time, but warm, sincere, and difficult to resist, due in large part to Morita and Macchio's relaxed chemistry." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 60 out of 100, based on 15 critics, indicating "Mixed or average reviews".
On its release, Roger Ebert called the film one of the year's best, gave it four stars out of four, and described it as an "exciting, sweet-tempered, heart-warming story with one of the most interesting friendships in a long time." Janet Maslin of The New York Times also gave a positive review. The Karate Kid ranked #31 on Entertainment Weeklys list of the 50 Best High School Movies.
Upon release of the 2010 remake, Dana Stevens wrote: "The 1984 original... may have seemed like a standard-issue inspirational sports picture at the time, but, a generation of remove reveals what a well-crafted movie it actually was. Rewatched today, the original Kid, directed by Rockys John G. Avildsen, feels smart and fresh, with a wealth of small character details and a leisurely middle section that explores the boy's developing respect for his teacher."
MerchandiseThe 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.
In 2015, toy company Funko revived The Karate Kid action figures. Two versions of character Daniel Larusso, a version of character Johnny Lawrence and a version of Mr. Miyagi were part of the line. The toys were spotted at retailers Target and Amazon.com.
Cultural influenceThe series has been credited for popularizing karate in the United States.
The 2007 music video for the song "Sweep the Leg" by No More Kings stars William Zabka as a caricature of himself and features references to The Karate Kid, including cameo appearances by Zabka's former Karate Kid co-stars.
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.
Sequels and adaptations
Broadway adaptationOn January 22, 2020 it was announced that The Karate Kid would be adapted into a Broadway musical. The show will produced by Kinoshita Group and directed by Amon Miyamoto.
Film sequelsThe 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 the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as Miyagi. Morita reprised his role in three subsequent sequels, while Macchio returned for two.
- The Karate Kid Part II
- The Karate Kid Part III
- The Next Karate Kid
- The Karate Kid
- The Karate Kid
- Cobra Kai