Wax on, right hand. Wax off, left hand. Wax on, wax off.
I think 'Rocky' and 'The Karate Kid' are some of the best underdog movies around. They even share many similarities in the way the stories unfold and arrive at their conclusions. Each movie features a good-hearted guy with a tough background, and when he finds an eccentric but skillful mentor, he discovers his talent and comes out on top in a very public display. They each also introduced incredibly rich and unforgettable characters, inspiring a generation of moviegoers to believe in themselves despite any limitations. But since 'Rocky' came first, one could argue that 'The Karate Kid' essentially borrows the same theme and places it in a coming of age story targeted at younger viewers.
Maybe it has something to do with the fact that both movies were directed by John G. Avildsen ('Lean on Me,' '8 Seconds'). He has shown a talent for telling poignant tales about individuals who are down on their luck or confronted with difficult challenges. Whether through dedicated perseverance or a deep-rooted determination to succeed, his characters endure and accomplish something worthwhile in the end. In 'The Karate Kid,' we follow a high school kid with hardly any luck at all, and his trials are something most teens can relate to today, making this 80s teen flick an enduring classic. It's a film where the journey in overcoming many of life's difficulties is sometimes the greatest reward.
As with 'Rocky,' Avildsen does excellently in having us identify and sympathize early on with Daniel Larusso (Ralph Macchio), a scrawny-looking kid from Newark. He tries to make the best of his move to California, making friends and even meeting a pretty girl, Ali (Elizabeth Shue). But during a beach party, he ends up making enemies with a group of black-belt bullies led by one of the most memorable "bad guys" of the 1980s - the Cobra Kai, blonde boy from the valley, Johnny, played perfectly by William Zabka. Next to Stan Gable of 'Revenge of the Nerds' and Steff in 'Pretty in Pink,' Johnny is really one of the best preppy villains caught on celluloid, and the sole reason, in my opinion, why Zabka landed a similar role in 'Just One of the Guys.' Sweep the leg.
Daniel soon discovers that the unusual handyman working at his apartment building is a skilled karate master and asks for his help in learning to fight. At first, Mr. Miyagi (the late Pat Morita) refuses to teach the young boy, but eventually, the quirky but humble old man takes Daniel under his wing and instructs him on the ancient ways of martial arts. Actually, they're not quite that ancient. They're more like a series of chores ranging from waxing cars, sanding decks, and painting a house. But what comes out of their time together is a unique relationship that benefits both characters in a deeply emotional way, affecting and satisfying an aspect of their lives they probably never noticed was missing.
For the new karate student, Mr. Miyagi becomes not only a wise, shrewd mentor for the boy, but also a caring father-figure who guides him into maturity and even manhood. For the karate teacher, calling the kid Daniel-san seems to carry a deeper meaning since the boy becomes the son he never had the opportunity to love and raise. The bond they share goes much further than we could ever expect while watching the movie, one that feels right and fortuitous. The script is brilliant in this regard as the story patiently evolves and slowly reveals the real heart hiding beneath the plot. It is very much like the clever, subtle lessons imparted by the prudent Mr. Miyagi, which themselves reach at a keener purpose than simple defense techniques.
'The Karate Kid' has earned its place in movie history, not only by having many endlessly repeated lines ("Man who catch fly with chopsticks, accomplish anything.") and one of the most popular montages around. But it also overcomes its cheesy title by featuring an intelligent and poignant story with strong direction and a terrific cast of actors. While I much prefer his performance in 'Crossroads,' Ralph Macchio is excellent as Daniel, and Pat Morita is superb - the finest role of his career - as the wise, meditative mentor. The film lives on as a celebrated classic of the 1980s era, and like 'Rocky,' one of the best underdog movies around.
You're the best! Around! Nothing's gonna ever keep you down.
Finally, after many video releases ranging from mediocre to okay (if I recall correctly, the laserdisc even came in pan & scan), 'The Karate Kid' hits the Blu-ray format with a good picture quality. Though it's not the type to serve as demo material, those who grew up with the film will find it quite satisfactory. Decidedly 80s and dated in appearance, the 1080p/AVC-encoded (1.85:1) transfer displays a consistent and uniform grain structure, giving the movie an appreciably cinematic appeal.
Contrast levels are nicely balanced and crisp, allowing for great visibility and clarity in the distance. Even in Mr. Miyagi's dim, murky maintenance shed, viewers can clearly make out every tool hanging in the background as well as the paint peeling off the walls. The image overall is fairly detailed and well-defined considering its age, and delineation is terrific in the darker portions, although grain is a bit more pronounced in low-lit interiors. The color palette is also in great shape, with primaries looking especially bold and attractive. Blacks are not often as deep as I would prefer them, but they're accurate and fairly uniform for most of the presentation. Flesh tones, too, appear healthy and natural although they're slightly on the warmer side. Overall, 'The Karate Kid' is a kick in high definition.
Accompanying the pleasing high-def picture is an enjoyable and satisfying audio presentation. The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is a definite improvement from previous lossy versions, and I must give kudos to Sony for not modifying or altering the original sound design too drastically.
The mostly front-heavy presentation is attractively welcoming and more active than initially expected. While dialogue reproduction is superbly clear and intelligible throughout, the mid-range is clean and expansive, showing excellent clarity and detail in the music as well as the action. There were a couple of moments where the lossless mix reached some sharp highs worth noting, but it's nothing too distracting or detrimental. I also did not expect much channel separation, but movement between the front channels is delivered well and keeps things engaging. Bass doesn't make much of an impression, but the lower frequencies are there and appropriate for this type of film. Surround speakers are put to surprisingly good use with atmospheric effects that enhance the soundfield in the background. Not only can listeners enjoy the loud cheers of spectators, but they can also hear the distant chirp of birds in Mr. Miyagi's backyard or take pleasure as Joe Esposito's montage song fills the room. It's an entertaining soundtrack.
For this Blu-ray version of 'The Karate Kid,' Sony Pictures Home Entertainment provides a good assortment of bonus material, the same found on the previous DVD release, with one new but cool exclusive feature.
When talking about 'The Karate Kid,' Mr. Miyagi put it best when he explained to Daniel-san that "not everything is as seems." The film is an intelligent and inspiring coming of age tale about discovering that the journey to success is just as rewarding as the final result. It also features one of the most memorable performances in movie history by the late Pat Morita. The Blu-ray comes with a satisfying audio/video presentation and a good collection of bonus material. Overall, it's a great package, and fans of classic 80s cinema will surely be happy with the purchase. Recommended.