Popcorn Unhinged: The Karate Kid (1984) Review

Popcorn Unhinged is a fantastic movie review site, and here at TRN, we’ll be syndicating some of our favorite reviews looking at movies from the ’80s and ’90s! If you like what you see here, head on over to Popcorn Unhinged for tons more reviews of great movies!

Tagline: He taught him the secret to Karate lies in the mind and heart. Not in the hands.

Wax on, right hand. Wax off, left hand. Wax on, wax off. Breathe in through nose, out the mouth. Wax on, wax off. Don’t forget to breathe, very important.

In this one, Daniel and his mom are just getting settled into California after moving from New Jersey when Daniel starts encountering bullies at school. Daniel isn’t the type of kid to take things lying down though and in an effort to defend himself, he discovers that the kids tormenting him are all more than decent at karate and are being encouraged to be brutal by their sensei. At one point after Daniel is getting his butt handed to him, he discovers the handyman, Mr. Miyagi, at his apartment knows karate and he asks if Miyagi will teach him. Can Daniel overcome his bullies, his own anger, and his pride to gain the skills he needs to find balance?

First off, I actually saw the preview for this movie while watching another movie at the theater back in 1983 or 84. I remember thinking just from the preview that it looked awesome. I wasn’t wrong. To this day THE KARATE KID (which borrowed its name from a DC comics character with their permission) is still one of the best–known movie and TV franchises in cinematic history. It has spawned 3 sequels, a reboot, and a TV show going on its 5th season as of 2022.  

Acting-wise Ralph Macchio is amazing and has an almost ageless quality to him. He was actually 22 when he shot THE KARATE KID but easily could have passed for a 16-year-old. To be honest, though, I wasn’t then and still to this day am not crazy about Daniel LaRusso as a character. I kind of always thought of him as being a bit of an a-s. Having said that, everyone in this series that isn’t his mom, girlfriend, or Mr. Miyagi is even worse so it’s hard not to root for him. Even in the show COBRA KAI which Daniel LaRusso is a major part of, I don’t find myself really liking the character. We get an amazing performance out of Pat Morita who I always liked on HAPPY DAYS. Morita speaks perfect English so he had to channel his uncle’s voice inflections to give himself the Japanese accent we see in the film. Morita plays Mr. Miyagi and aside from Morgan Freeman or Sean Connery, I kind of always wanted a dude like Pat Morita’s character Mr. Miyagi to be my dad. You know, in that child-like-wonder sense. When it comes to the rest of the cast we get outstanding performances from everyone and some of these actors are so good at what they do, you want to punch the bad guys. Metaphorically of course. William Zabka who famously plays Johnny is also the character in the show COBRA KAI and is still amazing at it, making you actually like him in many ways all these years later. Finally, Elisabeth Shue is good in this as Ali, but I would have preferred they kept Daniel’s love story and love interest Kumiko (played by Tamlyn Tomita) in KARATE KID PART II going in KARATE KID PART  III. The basic idea being, that I didn’t really miss Ali as a character after this movie. 

Cinematically this movie has beautiful sets, a fantastic score, and an awesome soundtrack. Having seen the original movie many many times it’s not something I run to these days as often as I should, but I have very fond memories of it and never pass up a chance to check it out. I will definitely be buying the full set on DVD or BLU-RAY as well as the new TV series. This movie is timeless and loaded with sound morals and great foundations for anyone young or old. We can’t all do karate, but kindness, avoiding trouble, standing up for yourself, setting goals and seeing them through, and trying to find peace in your life are all things we can aspire to. 

For me, this movie is without question a solid 7 out of 7. As a kid who ran into some bully situations in elementary and high school, I could definitely identify with Daniel’s plight as much as I didn’t really like the character. The story is well-constructed and brilliantly shot.

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