Tuesday, May 09, 2006

"Wax on, wax off..."

John G. Avildsen’s The Karate Kid (1984) is one of the best-known 80s films and something of a cult classic. Danny LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) is desperately eager to learn karate because he’s being tormented by bullies at his new high school. Unfortunately, these bullies happen to be students at the local dojo, where the philosophy is “strike hard, strike fast, no mercy.” Mr. Miyagi, Danny’s kindly neighbor, agrees to teach the boy karate himself after witnessing a particularly brutal episode of harassment. The elderly Japanese handyman convinces the dojo to leave Danny alone until the upcoming karate tournament, where they will settle their differences once and for all.

Miyagi (Pat Morita) teaches Danny that karate should be used for defense, never for intimidation. The strength, discipline, and self-confidence gained through karate training enable one to avoid engaging in physical fights except when absolutely necessary. This contrasts markedly with the dojo’s philosophy.

Both Miyagi and Danny are outsiders. Miyagi’s broken English and first-generation immigrant status set him apart, while Danny, having recently moved to California from New Jersey, has yet to find acceptance among his peers. Compared to his classmates, Danny doesn’t have much money, either.

Mr. Miyagi becomes a mentor and father figure to Danny, whose own father is absent. Although Danny’s mother clearly cares about her son, she is a minor character and rarely seen.

As a coming-of-age film, The Karate Kid focuses on the relationship between teacher and student and shows Danny’s transformation from a scared kid into a more confident and mature young adult. This is a film that anyone can relate to, and I highly recommend it.

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