It’s hard to believe that this is where the whole trilogy started, but Robert Mark Kamen’s 1984 premier installment starring Ralph Macchio, the legendary Pat Morita, Elisabeth Shue, and William Zabka is hard to beat when it comes to combining the tropes of a coming-of-age story with a great teen action flick.
Released at a time of relative unease in the relationship between Japan and the United States due to the former’s growing economic power, The Karate Kid also helped bridge cultural barriers between the two nations and made Karate, ninjas, and everything Japan a household name. The coming decades would prove this to be a lasting and enduring trend.
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The Movie Review
So, without spoiling things, because we definitely think The Karate Kid is a film to be experienced even now, the plot is not the most creative or out-of-the-box in terms of thinking, but it is filled with heart.
There is a kind of naivete and lack of self-awareness about some parts of the movie that make it refreshing rather than remind the viewer that it is somewhat aged. After all, we can’t pretend like the concepts introduced in The Karate Kid as new and novel are that because that isn’t the case any longer. Gone are the days when sushi was something rare and there is something lost in the film’s sense of wonder because of that.
The creative structure employed here does the important things that a compelling narrative needs to do in order to keep viewers invested and that includes compelling characters, a story that makes sense within its own logic, and the promise of something beyond the horizon.
In other words, it is the perfect adventure tale. From villains that are appropriately villainous, maybe even terrible people, to heroes that are strong yet hobbled by their human frailties, The Karate Kid is much deeper than you might notice on first viewing.
Its core message of overcoming the self and then the other “selves” in society in order to become an agent of peace and purpose can’t help but resonate with modern audiences. It is this theme of belonging and progress through life that carries the story in its most poignant scenes.
If you take this film by itself, it is near a masterpiece in its ability to take the tired and tried and make it something touching and special. Many older films don’t hold up over time, but The Karate Kid presents universal themes that continue to resonate.
That’s probably why it has spawned a modern streaming series as well as two sequels back in the day. There’s that modern reinterpretation that came out a few years back as well. All of this is to say that there is a broader world out there for you to explore should you choose to do that. Yet, if taken in its singular format, The Karate Kid shines as the classic that it is and speaks to the power of timeless storytelling, masterful acting, and a production team that knows how to bring it all together.