Teenager Daniel LaRusso is not having the greatest of times; at the beginning of the beloved film ‘The Karate Kid’ (1984), he is overcoming the death of his father, and facing a new life with his mother in California. Daniel is what many of the kids in the eighties dreamt to be: the Karate Kid. At the start of the story is a young, rough talent in the art of karate. Unfortunately for him, he always has a bully who shows him just how meagre his karate skill really is. Daniel is the underdog, and his progress to become the better man is made all the more fun to watch with the kick-ass character moves and – most importantly – his incredibly odd teacher, Mr Miyagi.
Mr Miyagi is a war veteran from Okinawa, and working as a handyman for the apartments which Daniel and his mother have just moved in to. Fortunately for Daniel, is he also highly skilled in karate. After witnessing one of Daniel’s beatings at the hand of Johnny Lawrence of the Cobra Kai, he steps in to stop the bullying once and for all. His challenge to the Cobra Kai sensei drives the movie to its ultimate climax, where Daniel fights Johnny using all the things that Mr Miyagi has taught him. Admittedly, the way in which he taught these skills was a little…interesting, to say the least. Mr Miyagi believes that constant repetition of monotonous tasks will help Daniel to learn the most important moves of karate: “Wax on, wax off” comes from Daniel’s task to wax Mr Miyagi’s car, for example, but also teaches him a defensive blocking technique which is integral to karate. All in all, Mr Miyagi would be the sort of mentor you would wish for; his choice of words are a little frustrating and confusing, but maybe that’s all part of being a great tutor (another example would be the grammatically-odd Yoda from Star Wars). He is certainly indispensible when it comes to his pearls of wisdom for Daniel, and in the end becomes a father figure to him.
Of course, alongside the wise and honourable teacher, there must be an antagonist for the protagonist. In The Karate Kid world, this is the Cobra Kai. A karate dojo in which unethical karate moves are taught, the Cobra Kai group cut a formidable figure for Daniel to have to beat. They are trained by their sensei John Kreese; an ex-serviceman who obviously hadn’t gotten out of the habit of shouting orders at the top of his voice. The Cobra Kai are moulded in his image, a group of karate students who are both brutal and dishonourable. You may secretly wish deep down to be able fight with a Cobra Kai, but as always the bad guys get their comeuppance in the end. The Daniel LaRusso/Johnny Lawrence fight is a great moment in the film to watch, even if it’s just on its own; the final crane kick to the jaw ending the film depicting perfectly Daniel’s new found confidence and skill.
Daniel LaRusso, Mr Miyagi and the Cobra Kai are the three main elements to The Karate Kid, embodying the good, the bad and the ugly that the young protagonist meets along his journey. Because of course, not only does Daniel learn some impressive moves during the movie, but he also becomes a better person within himself. And after all, isn’t that one of the best ways to end a movie? Corny, yes, but it still makes you smile.