Sentimental and predictable but also mildly enjoyable, “The Karate Kid” is thematically a similar movie to the 1976 Oscar-winner “Rocky”, and for a good reason: Both pictures were directed by John C. Avildsen.
Avildsen became famous for launching two popular series, Rocky, starring Sylvester Stallone, which won Best Picture and Best Director in 1976, and "The Karate Kid," starring the likeable Ralph Macchio.
Despite dealing with different sports and different protagonists, the two movies (and series) are very similar, thematically and ideologically. They are uplifting stories about upward mobility, featuring working class heroes who are underdogs.
In this tale, based on a workable script from Robert Mark Kamen, Macchio plays Daniel (Ralph Macchio) and his mother (Randee Heller) move from Newark, New Jersey, to southern California, where the whole world seems blond and brutal to this hapless ethnic kid. Daniel is immediately set upon by bullies, led by a tyrannical youth, Johnny (William Zabka).
Daniel's new life grows increasingly unpleasant, and even intolerable–until he meets Miyagi (Pat Morita), a friendly aged Japanese janitor. The sagacious Miyagi takes the kid under his wing and begins to teach him about life and karate, while getting him to do some chores around the house.
The climax, despite its predictability, is still quite stirring, depicting a big tournament where Fair Play has a showdown with Dirty Tricks.
Occasionally the film overcomes its manipulative nature, offering some genuine moments of warmth, humor and excitement.
Made for a relatively small budget, ”The Karate Kid” became a sleeper, a blockbuster that led to several sequels, none as good as the original; the young, unknown Hilary Swank starred in the last one, in 1994.
You can spot in the cast Elizabeth Shue, who would become a lead actress (“Leaving Las Vegas”) a decade later.
Oscar Nominations: 1
Supporting Actor: Noriyuki "Pat" Morita
Oscar Awards: None
The winner of the Supporting Actor Oscar was another Asian, Haing S. Ngor, for “The Killing Fields.”
Daniel (Ralph Macchio)
Miyagi (Noriyuki "Pat" Morita)
Ali (Elizabeth Shue)
Kreese (Martin Kove)
Lucille (Randee Heller)
Johnny (William Zabka)
Bobby (Ron Thomas)
Tommy (Rob Garrison)
Dutch (Chad McQueen)
Jimmy (Tony O'Dell)
Running time: 126 Minutes