The 90s were a wonderful time when movies thrived and held a unique charm that often can’t be replicated today. I can name a handful of classics off the top of my head such as Rocky, Terminator, Matrix and the focus of my opinion today Karate Kid.
Karate Kid holds the vibe of the 90s down to its core from its character interactions, buildings, lessons and not to mention the pure style of all the ways characters dress. Combine all of this with the lovable and wise Mr. Miyagi and you have the perfect plot. So much so that despite all four Karate Kid movies being the same basic plot, not once did I mind as it meant you got to see more Mr. Miyagi on screen.
I feel that a majority of people watched the original Karate Kid once or twice growing up, then never once looked back to the sequels or a rewatch. Today I am telling you the errors of your way and why that needs to change as it did for me in my binge of the franchise last week.
The first and most well-known Karate Kid set the perfect groundwork for the success of the entire franchise. The plot follows the life of Daniel Larusso, a high school student that moved to a new town and immediately found himself the easy target of bullies from the Cobra Kai dojo. Karate master and a retired veteran, NariYoshi Miyagi, finds Daniel in his time of need and begins to teach him the ways of karate. Unlike every other karate master shown throughout the series, Miyagi has an instant charm as he displays his solid belief in pacifism and only fighting when necessary.
As they make their way towards the big All Valley tournament where Daniel will face off against his bullies, the characters form everlasting bonds present throughout the series. Daniel goes on to discover the hardship Miyagi had faced throughout his life, from leaving his hometown in Okinawa to his past serving in the military. On the other side, Miyagi learns to work with a student and begins to feel he once again has family and friendship for the first time since leaving his home.
Some may question why I have talked very little about the action in the movie and that is for one reason. Despite the name Karate Kid, karate plays a more backseat role of giving Miyagi and Daniel reasons to spend time together rather than the focus. In the first film, Daniel learns all the basics of karate, including his iconic crane kick. In the second and third films, Daniel only learns one to two moves each and is only taught when it becomes necessary he defends himself. Rather than learn karate right off the bat in each movie, Miyagi first teaches Daniel how to control his emotions, problem solve and avoid fights at all costs.
The second and third film of the franchise actually doesn’t focus on the karate kid at all but rather the karate master. The whole second movie takes place in Miyagi's hometown of Okinawa, where his father is about to pass away. Daniel accompanies and supports his master as he learns the past and history of the Miyagi family. During their stay, he finds out about Miyagi’s tragic backstory where he left the love of his life and got kicked out of the village due to a petty rivalry.
The third film follows suit focusing on Daniel doing whatever he can to make his master's dream of running a bonsai tree shop come true. After taking several beatings and using the majority of his funds for college to make it happen, the movie follows Daniel and Miyagi’s journey of going from being master and student to being partners of the shop and becoming a properly functioning family.
The Next Karate Kid is where they throw the usual formula for a loop. I am unsure if the actor for Daniel was busy or if they wanted to switch things up, but this movie focuses on a family friend of Miyagi who is having problems with her granddaughter. This movie focuses on Miyagi taking on his first student since Daniel and his first girl. This movie was interesting as it was one of the few times you get to see Miyagi deal with adverse problems that were more modern instead of being beef between karate students.
This movie does a great job instantly making a similar but special bond between the new karate kid Julie Pieroe and Miyagi. Julie lost her father at a young age and it is up to Miyagi to help her deal with her grief in new and healthy ways. This movie does an excellent job of proving just how dedicated Miyagi is to putting everyone he meets on the right path, even if it is someone he will never meet again.
One of my favorite special touches of the Karate Kid franchise is that every movie doesn’t end with a credit scene or a large resolution to a story. Instead, each movie ends right as the final fight they tried so hard to avoid is over. As soon as the last kick or punch of the final fight is thrown the movie freeze frames to Miyagi's smiling face, happy that the conflict is over and that Daniel and himself can return to their life of peace and tranquility.
In the future, I hope to cover the beauty and art that is the show, Cobra Kai. I am currently on season 3 and it has already been a wonderful addition to the franchise in large part due to its ability to bring back the original actors of all the movies. The way they handle references and flashbacks to Miyagi is the most tasteful and heart-shattering way I have seen a tv show represent an actor that passed away. It has Star Wars CGI Carrie Fisher beat at the least. I have several thoughts and emotions to gush over about Cobra Kai, but that will be a story for another day.
This message of peace over conflict that is shown through the teachings of Miyagi to Daniel and Julie throughout the movies gives the whole franchise a charm that no one should be able to resist. So if you are in the mood for a throwback and a feel-good franchise, watch Karate Kid and don’t stop watching until you hit the Jaden Smith reboot that I don't want to talk about.