In Tribute to John Avildsen: My Introduction to THE KARATE KID

Originally published on June 17, 2017

I did not think I would be writing about THE KARATE KID films almost a year to the day after I made my debut on YOMYOMF, with my 30th anniversary overview of the second film. However, with yesterday’s loss of director John G. Avildsen at age 81, it only seemed appropriate to recount my first exposure to the original film.

It was the summer of 2004. George Bush was running for re-election, social media did not exist yet, and I was about to start junior high school. It was also the 20th anniversary of THE KARATE KID, but I did not know that yet.

I was taking karate classes that summer and in between time, I decided to do some research on it; regarding its history and its significance over the ages. It was through Google that the title THE KARATE KID first popped onto my radar. Judging by the synopsis, it sounded intriguing enough and I wanted to see it. With Blockbuster still around back then, I had my dad rent a VHS copy of it for me and I watched it in one sitting one afternoon.

If reaction videos (let alone YouTube) had existed at the time, I could only imagine the facial expressions of my reactions as the film played through that first time. I remember how surprised I was to see Pat Morita in the film, for I had recognized him from a children’s show I used to watch when I was younger. I recall feeling slightly irritated at Ralph Macchio’s tendency to mumble his lines at times. I think back to Daniel (Macchio) growing frustrated over Mr. Miyagi (Morita) having him do random chores at his place, and how I was becoming just as irritated as he was. I remember the deep realization wash over me at the same time as Daniel, when Mr. Miyagi showed just how all these chores have actually been helping him learn karate.

THE KARATE KID became a pinnacle of my early adolescence, for it became an immediate favorite of mine. It was one of those films I would watch over and over again, so much so that a while after returning that VHS copy to Blockbuster, I got the film on DVD. While I can’t remember it the same way as someone who grew in the 80’s would, I do recognize and understand its significance as a classic.

That does not by any means mean that THE KARATE KID is a perfect film. Yes, Morita earned an Academy Award nomination for his performance, but it involved him in a role where he spoke broken English. I also think the film could have benefited more if it didn’t portray Ali (Elizabeth Shue) as some sort of trophy worth fighting over. I would like to believe that if the film were remade today, with the constant conscious emphasis on how certain demographics are portrayed for screen, maybe it can even outdo the 2010 remake.

THE KARATE KID is a story about an underdog rising above the odds, and that is something that its director will forever be remembered for; shining a spotlight on underdogs and their struggles to overcome all and any obstacles.

Rest in Peace John Avildsen, and thank you for making this film happen and meet the appeal of audiences across generations.

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