“Get ‘em in a body bag, Johnny!” is probably the greatest ADR line in cinema history. It comes from The Karate Kid, the 1984 film that transposed a Rocky sensibility to young adults and kicking people in the face. The film was so successful it spawned a franchise and now a reboot. At the time, the story of Daniel Larusso (Ralph Macchio) and his teacher Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) was a phenomenon in that it was a legitimate word of mouth hit and it’s easy to see why. The first sequel capitalized well on that goodwill, delivering a similar but different take on the first film. After that, not so much, but my review of The Karate Kid and The Karate Kid Part II on Blu-ray after the jump.
The first film starts with a very simple premise. A New York City boy moves to California. Dark hair, Italian, Daniel (Macchio) is nothing like the Blond surfers kids around him, and with a divorced mother, and a modest apartment, he’s a perfect fish out of water. But he gets the attention of Ali (Elizabeth Shue), which is good, and her ex-boyfriend Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), which is bad. Johnny and his friends all take karate lessons, so they make short work of Johnny. At first, even with a butt kicking, Daniel tries to get the upper hand by pranking Johnny, but they’re giving him guff at school, and after the dance they look to hand Johnny a world class ass-kicking. But then steps in maintenance man Mr. Miyagi (Morita) and he fights off the boys.
Daniel, owing a debt of gratitude, asks Miyagi to train him, and Miyagi reluctantly agrees. They go to the Cobra Kai school of Martial arts and gets their sensei John Kreese (Martin Kove) to broker a deal: no one beats up Daniel at school as long as he fights in the upcoming tournament. Daniel is skeptical of his chances, especially with Miyagi’s unorthodox training methods.
The Karate Kid is shockingly long for a formula picture. Clocking in at 127 minutes, I was a little surprised by the running time, and thought it might be padded-out or saggy. But the running time is to the film’s advantage as it gets the viewer in Daniel’s shoes, it creates a reasonable sense of class conflict, and builds on character. It’s also shockingly light on kung fu, and the action scenes are staged modestly. But this is because the film isn’t about fighting, and director John G. Avildsen knows this. Formula is often a derided word, but this is a perfect example of this sort of film where a character comes up against adversity and triumphs through persistence. It’s a movie geared to make its audience stand up and cheer, and it works like gangbusters.
The second film is more modest, in that it can’t completely recreate the first film’s successes, so after a slightly awkward prologue (after a nice “moments after” section at the beginning of the film) that removes both mother and girlfriend from the film, both Daniel and Miyagi are off to Japan, where Mr. Miyagi’s father is passing away. There, Miyagi has an old nemesis, and there’s both a new cute girl for Daniel to awkwardly romance (Tamlyn Tomita) and a new nemesis. There’s also a new kick for Daniel to master.
When I think about Karate Kid II, I also think about the Nintendo video game version, which featured fights interspersed with the training featuring the new crane kick, and trying to catch flies with chopsticks. That is my nostalgia. The film is at something of a loss because there’s no real big thing that is accomplished. It’s more of the same, but it’s charming and it’s easy to see why the goodwill of the first film and the relationship between the two leads had enough chemistry to make the second film the most successful film of the franchise. It’s telling that neither the third film, nor The Next Karate Kid (starring two-time academy award winner Hilary Swank) made the cut for Blu-ray.
The first film is presented in widescreen (1.85:1) and in DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio. The transfer is – not all that surprisingly – excellent, with the film having aged well. The film comes with Blu-pop, which is a PIP trivia track, with comments from Macchio and William Zabka along with pop up factoids for the length of the film. This is complimented by a commentary track featuring John G. Avildsen, writer Robert Mark Kamen and Ralph Macchio (originally done for the DVD special edition). There’s some overlap, but if you’re a fan… The film also comes with a making of (from the DVD edition), which offers comments from everyone previously listed, along with Pat Morita and Martin Kove, and is broken into two sections (43 min.). “Beyond the Form” (13 min.) talks about the martial arts in the film and in general with Martial arts Choreographer Pat E. Johnson, while “East Meets West: A Composer’s Notebook” (8 min.) gives Bill Conti a chance to talk about his work on the film, and rounding out the supplements is “Life of Bonsai” (10 min.), which talks about Bonsai gardens and gardening with Ben Oki. The second film comes in an excellent widescreen (1.85:1) transfer and in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio. Supplements here are much lighter, though there is a Blu-pop trivia track with no people commenting. There’s a retro featurette (6 min.) and bonus trailers.