Our final instalment in the Michael Owen film club is this karate klassic from the director of Rocky.
Undeterred by Owen’s future review of Rocky (“It’s rubbish”), director John G. Avildsen rekindles the underdog magic for this 1984 tale of a boy (Ralph Macchio) from New Jersey who moves with his mum (Randee Heller) to California. After falling for a girl (Elisabeth Shue) he finds himself targeted by her ex (William Zabka), the school bully with a black belt in karate. Luckily the caretaker (Pat Morita) at their apartment building is on hand to train Daniel from zero to hero, like that Michael Owen kids show but in reverse.
The Karate Kid doesn’t stray far from the Rocky formula but elevates itself through sparkling dialogue, local flavour and character growth. Macchio is sympathetic as the kid and impressive at the karate, while Morita gives a belter of a performance as the iconic handyman/sensei/spiritual guidance councillor. Their surrogate father/son relationship feels simultaneously traditional and quirky, pulling us in with their warm chemistry and humorous scenes of Mr. Miyagi training Daniel through the means of manual labour.
The pacing could be choppier and for some reason the mother character disappears halfway through the movie, but there are plenty of colourful scenes along the way, including a fun sequence where Daniel goes to a Halloween dance dressed up as a shower. Unless you’re Michael Owen you’ll likely get a kick out of this family classic with a few tricks up its sleeves – at least more than the 2010 remake with Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan, where the karate is changed to kung fu but the title kept the same. Where’s the sensei-n that?