The Karate Kid: Is it Still a Classic?

Of all the countless classic movies from the 80s, the Karate Kid is one of the few that I haven’t seen. At least, not that I remember; if I have seen it before, I was so young that I can’t remember a thing about it. But it seemed to have all the pieces I look for in a film; a coming of age story about martial arts from the golden days of Hollywood. So I decided to check it out.

Then I got bored within twenty minutes. That was four or so years ago. So recently, I decided to try again.

I still got bored in the beginning, but I finished it this time.

Shortly after moving to Los Angeles, Daniel hits it off with Ali, the popular rich girl at school. In doing so, he makes an enemy out of her ex-boyfriend, Johnny, and all his friends from Cobra Kai dojo. Luckily, Daniel has an unexpected karate master as an ally: his apartment’s repair guy, Mr. Miyagi.

I’m split on this movie. Half of it, I find incredibly dull. The other half, I enjoy immensely! Watching this movie felt like a see-saw, constantly swinging between enjoyment and apathy.

Everything relating to the ‘karate’ part of the title is a lot of fun. Seeing Daniel grow from a winy brat to a badass is immensely satisfying. But if we’re being honest, we care more about the real main character: Mr. Miyagi. The charming karate master makes ever scene he’s in infinitely better. Seeing their budding father-son relationship is a delight. When I got bored, that was the main thing that kept me watching.

Because it sure wasn’t the school plotline.

Every time Daniel has to deal with school or girl issues, the movie becomes dreadfully uninteresting. Ali as a love interest is as boring as white bread; she has no real personality, goals, or even a reason to care about Daniel at all. Everyone else is just a spiteful asshole for seemingly no reason. The side cast is so bad that it makes Johnny, the main antagonist of the film, look like a standup guy by comparison!

Pacing is the movies biggest flaw. The actual plot doesn’t get started until near the 40 minute mark, almost halfway through the movie. Then said plot is constantly interrupted by the romance plot that ultimately amounts to nothing. Finally, the movie comes to a sudden and abrupt end right after Daniel wins the tournament. It all feels wonky and it makes the movie difficult to just sit down and watch.

That ending is pretty good, though. The crane kick is downright iconic, Johnny handing him the trophy is a nice touch, and Mr. Miyagi’s satisfied smile at the very end gives me life. The story swayed and stumbled a lot, but it managed to stick the landing.

All in all, the Karate Kid is a decent enough movie. If you can get past the generic 80s romance plot, you’ve got a solid karate coming-of-age story. It isn’t spectacular, but it’s still worth a watch.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll like it more once I get through part two. And part three. And the New Karate Kid. And the 2010 remake. And all of Cobra Kai.

Jesus, this series is way longer than I thought it was…

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