Irresistible wish fulfillment. There is something undeniably sweet about The Karate Kid, even if much of the movie hinges on teens kicking the crap out of each other. When New Jersey transplant Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) has trouble with the karate-trained yuppies at his new Los Angeles school, the reserved Japanese maintenance man (Pat Morita) at his apartment building takes him under his wing – and teaches him how to kick back. What elevates the movie is the endearing relationship formed by the two leads. Macchio is charming, never more so than when he looks genuinely scared, while Morita’s Mr. Miyagi emerges as a caring individual, not a wise-old-man cartoon. Their scenes together are filled with real warmth, not manufactured sentimentality. The Karate Kid may have come out in the Star Wars era, but this was a fact-based fantasy kids could believe in. Directed by John G. Avildsen (Rocky), whose overwrought visuals – Daniel balancing on a rowboat in silhouette, while the water glistens around him – only heightened the movie’s mythological stature.
So much for Jeremy Renner