Thursday, October 18, 2007 

Remember The Time

Daniel La Russo vs. Johnny Lawrence, The Karate Kid (1984)

I like to keep you guys on your toes and choose the unpredictable so here goes:

Forget the sequels. Forget Hilary Swank. It was Ralph Macchio as the bullied and big-hearted Daniel LaRusso who made us believe.

This movie came up with some friends and myself the other day while discussing Steve McQueen. (Before you start asking how we made that leap, McQueen's son, Chad played Dutch, the Cobra Kai with the curly blonde hair. "Points or no points, you're dead meat. DEAD MEAT!" He was 24 at the time, looking every bit of it, too, playing a high schooler. And who do you think introduced that random bit of trivia?) This movie has so many unforgettable moments and images, I'm sure I'll forget more than a few as I type. People talk about Cinderella For a kid that was my age when this was released, The Karate Kid was INSPIRATIONAL.

It was 1984 and Big Brother didn't have complete control of us yet as Orwell had predicted. I was 8 years old. EIGHT years old. In the twenty-one years that have passed since then, I don't believe I've ever forgotten one frame of this movie. This is as big a part of my generation's pop culture as John Hughes movies.

Daniel (Macchio) was the ultimate underdog. Watching the movie again recently, I felt even worse for him than I ever did when I was eight. Not only does he move to a new town with his single mother with no friends but everyone at his new school, for some reason, doesn't like him, is rich and knows karate. So on top of not being able to compete with them for girls' affections (Elisabeth Shue, 21, in this case) financially, he gets his ass kicked on a daily basis, too, much like the guy who gets sand kicked in his face in those old bodybuilding ads. It's so sad to watch. Every time something seems to be going right for Daniel, it goes terribly wrong. He gets embarassed at the beach by his chief rival, Johnny Lawrence. He gets gang stomped by the Cobra Kai's on Halloween. He finally gets to go out on a date with Shue, but his mother has to drive them. And assist in pushing the car just to get it started. As he's being ribbed by the other kids for not having a car, his mom shows up, right on cue, to pick them up. She doesn't even realize how embarassing she is to him with her broken down jaloppy.

Enter Pat Morita.

He teaches Daniel about LIFE. And through various and seemingly pointless chores, he teaches Daniel KARATE. They even bond (Danny puts Miyagi to bed after he has some sort of liquor-induced war flashback). For his birthday, he gives Daniel one of his many vintage cars. But all of this doesn't end the relentless Cobra Kai's who are determined, it seems, to see Daniel either move away, kill himself or come to school with an AK and clear'em all out Columbine-style. Instead Morita fashions a truce with Kreese, the Kai's sensei, to leave Daniel be until he can kick ALL THEIR ASSES in an upcoming tournament. Daniel doesn't believe he has a chance. But he makes it all the way to the semis before a Cobra Kai almost ends his chances of competing with a illegal blow to LaRusso's knee. Back in the lockerroom, Daniel's mom and Shue are supportive. You did your best, they say. You would've won if they hadn't cheated, they say. None of it matters. "DAMMIT!" I distinctly remember Daniel cursing at this point; I think it was the first time I heard someone who was supposed to be no more than 16 curse in a movie (though Macchio was actually fuckin' 23!). "Mr. Miyagi, you gotta help me. This isn't gonna stop until I beat them. I haven't proved anything except that I can take a beating and quit." You all know what happens next. The two most memorable moments in this movie, if not in all of '80s movies.

Pat rubs his hands together and miraculously heals Daniel's leg and Danny wins the tournament with that Crane Kick which we saw him practice on a lonely beach as the sun set in the background and is STILL emulated to THIS DAY in other movies (even if it's simply played for comedy). But back then, in 1984 it was serious business. He put it right here...*points to chin* RIGHT ON JOHNNY'S GRILL, DAWG! And it looked like it hit him like a shotgun blast. He went down holding his face and crawling around on his hands and knees like Mike Tyson did when he was looking for his mouthpiece versus Buster Douglas. Daniel got the trophy, the girl and the respect of his peers in the end. Johnny even snatches the hardware from the announcer and insists on giving it to Daniel himself. "Hey LaRusso, you're all right." He was better than all right. He was the best...AROUND!