The Karate Kid [retro review]

“Wax on, wax off!”

The Scoop: 1984 PG, directed by John G. Avildsen and starring Ralph Macchio, Pat Morita and Elisabeth Shue

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

Summary Capsule: New kid learns karate from a wise old sage in order to win the girl and beat up the bullies.

Justin’s Rating: I never did the boat balance thing as part of my Tae Kwon Do training!

Justin’s Review: The Karate Kid is a movie that will mean something significantly different depending on how old you are. For those of you born on or after the late 80’s, it’s merely a quotable piece of pop culture history, and perhaps nothing more. However, The Karate Kid was especially important to my generation as we grew up, because of a few key elements:

1. It Turned Us On To Martial Arts

Like rap, martial arts wasn’t considered the domain of the honkey until the late 80’s, when The Karate Kid and its ilk stirred up so much interest in the sport that dojos and wise old Japanese men became beseiged by kids wanting to become INVINCIBLE! I mean, c’mon. Forget about that crap that most martial arts people tell you about learning control and learning how to fight in order to avoid fighting… everyone wanted to be able to deflect bullets with snappy wrist motions and drive bullies unconscious with a sole pinky. So The Karate Kid equals the young teens’ dream of unstoppable killing power.

2. It Became One Of The Figureheads Of Eighties Lore

Past its karate fighting facade (pronounced “fa-kahd”), this film ties together so many of the things that makes the eighties… well if not great, at least unique. That bizarre fixation for making California the be-all, end-all of existence. Beach parties. The arcade (do kids even hang out at arcades any more?). Cool cars. Hot chicks… well, a hot chick (Elisabeth Shue). Blaring rock music (ooh! Bananarama!). The evil bully with his headband. The underdog in high school fighting for respect. The rich kid/poor kid romance. And that crippling fixation that the U.S. had for the Japanese culture.

3. Okay, So The Quotes Are Cool, Too

The strange bedfellows (not literally) matchup of a smartass kid and an Oriental karate instructor/janitor made for some of the best and most memorable one-liners that still endure today. “BONZAIIIIII!” “Sweep the leg” “After after!” “Strike first! Strike hard! No mercy Sir!” And of course, “Wax on, wax off”

So what’s it about?  A poor thin kid from New Jersey named Daniel moves to California and promptly gets on everyone’s bad side. He hits on the wrong girl, who naturally is dating the leader of some sort of karate motorcycle gang, one of apparently many that were roaming the beachfront at the time. Alone and deeply missing the toxic fumes of the Garden State, Daniel befriends the strange maintenance guy named Mr. Miyagi in his apartment complex.

Naturally, fitting in with screwy movie logic, the old guy turns out to be a super-wise, super-skilled karate master in disguise. He trains Daniel, Daniel enters the local karate tournament, and eventually faces his arch-nemesis. The plot might not be too thick if you need it to insulate your walls or anything, but it’ll do pig, it’ll do.

The funny thing about this and most other sports movies (and yes, I’m lumping karate into the sports genre) is that the community portrayed is anally obsessed with that sport, and no other. Everyone in this film talks karate, digs karate, and anyone non-karate might as well be a nobody. Forget that this is the California coastline, there are no other sports that exist. Yet for a self-titled karate movie, there is a remarkable lack of actual martial arts in this movie, save for a few minutes at the end.

What I most love about The Karate Kid is about nothing from this film would really fit in today’s environment. It’s just a little movie era unto itself. Daniel’s the epitome of the downtrodden weakling, Allie (Shue) is still the most incredibly cute chick (compared to most of the other 80’s babes), and Mr. Miyagi needs no introduction. Give him some chopsticks and he’ll kick yer butt. We all wish we had cool mentors like Mr. Miyagi who would train us to fight, provide us with wise advice and free cars, and patch up a dislocated knee (where was he when I was golfing?). And the scene at the end, right before Daniel delivers his final move… that still gives me serious chills as one of the greatest movie scenes of all time.

While the sequel to this movie is equally good, its foreign location denies the fascinating study of 80’s teen culture that The Karate Kid provides. Bonzai!

Two seconds later, the finger was missing and Mr. Miyagi was munching contentedly


  • Check out the happenings outside the window of the restaurant when Daniel and his mom are talking
  • Bananarama makes great “bummer” music
  • Everyone likes their bikes, motor or otherwise
  • The fight scene involving Mr Miyagi and Kreese that starts off Karate Kid Part II was originally intended to be the end of Karate Kid I.
  • Mr. Miyagi is named for Chojun Miyagi, who became the forerunner of karate-jutsu in Okinawa, Japan. ‘Sensei Miyagi’ as he was called, created his own style of karate-jutsu, which he dubbed ‘Goju Ryu’, which means ‘hard and soft style’. Miyagi Sensei taught Yamaguchi Sensei in the 1920’s, who eventually left Japan in 1930 and set up a dojo of his own, which was the first one to be established in Western Japan. Miyagi Sensei died in 1953.

Groovy Quotes

Miyagi: Fighting fighting. Same same.

Miyagi: Then why train?
Daniel: [thinks] So I won’t have to fight.
Miyagi: [laughs] Miyagi have hope for you.

[Miyagi karate-chops the tops off three beer bottles]
Daniel: How did you do that? How did you do that?!
Miyagi: Don’t know. First time.

Miyagi: Now, ready?
Daniel: I guess so.
Miyagi: [sighs] Daniel-san, must talk. Man walk on road. Walk left side, safe. Walk right side, safe. Walk down middle, sooner or later, get squished [makes squish gesture] just like grape. Same here. You karate do “yes,” or karate do “no.” You karate do “guess so,” [makes squish gesture] just like grape. Understand?
Daniel: Yeah, I understand.
Miyagi: Now, ready?
Daniel: Yeah, I’m ready.

Miyagi: In Okinawa, all Miyagi know two things: fish and karate.

Miyagi: Karate come from China, sixteenth century, called te, “hand.” Hundred year later, Miyagi ancestor bring to Okinawa, call *kara*-te, “empty hand.”
Daniel: I thought it came from Buddhist temples and stuff like that.
Miyagi: You too much TV.

Daniel: Hey, wouldn’t a flyswatter be quicker?
Miyagi: Man who catch fly with chopsticks accomplish anything.

John Kreese: Fear does not exist in this dojo, does it?!
Karate Student: No, Sensei!
John Kreese: Pain does not exist in this dojo, does it?!
Karate Student: No, Sensei!
John Kreese: Defeat does not exist in this dojo, does it?!
Karate Student: No, Sensei!

Mr. Miyagi: First wash all cars, then wax. Remember deal: no questions. Wax on, right hand, wax off, left hand. Breathe in through nose, out of mouth, don’t forget to breathe, very important.

Mr. Miyagi: Bonzai, Daniel-san!

Mr. Miyagi: Look eye! Always look eye!

Daniel: You got a name?
Ali: Ali with an i. Hey, what’s your name?
Daniel: Daniel with an l.

Mr. Miyagi: First learn stand…then learn fly…nature’s rule..Daniel-san, not mine.

John Kreese: Mercy is for the weak. Here. On the street. In competition. A man confronts you, he is the enemy. An enemy deserves no mercy what is the problem Mr. Lawrence?

Daniel: What belt do you have?
Mr. Miyagi: Canvas. You like? J.C. Penny $3.98.

If You Liked This Movie, Try These:

  • The Karate Kid part II
  • Gymkata
  • Rocky


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