True story: for one pivotal scene in The Karate Kid, Ralph Macchio was required to wade into a decidedly chilly Pacific Ocean. “What’s it like?” asked John G Avildsen. “A little rocky,” shivered his star. “Yeah, I’ve been getting that a lot,” deadpanned the director. Having spent eight years struggling to emulate the Oscar-winning triumph of Rocky, though, Avildsen wasn’t about to let some superficial similarities prevent him from bringing another underdog-makes-good tale to the screen.
So what’s the secret of its success? Well, the deft repackaging of martial arts for an audience too young for heyday Bruce Lee helped. As did 23-yearold Macchio as stroppy youngster Daniel LaRusso. But the real ace in the hole was Noriyuki ‘Pat’ Morita, whose instantly iconic performance as Mr Miyagi tapped into an entire generation’s yearning for disposable fortune-cookie wisdom (“Man who catch fly with chopstick accomplish anything!”).
Pat’s getting on a bit now (a “long-winded old fart” says writer Robert Mark Kamen), but Avildsen and Macchio compensate for his dodderiness with a stream of entertainingly irreverent remarks on the commentary. Whether poking fun at the all-blond bullies (“Subtle, John!”) or kvetching at the Coca-Cola product placement, their comments are refreshingly off-message.
Elsewhere, East Meets West: A Composer’s Notebook offers an intriguing look at Bill Conti’s score (“If you’re still there in the 11th reel, I’ve got you!”). Still, you can’t help wishing they’d dug up a few outtakes or deleted scenes, or perhaps persuaded Elisabeth Shue to provide a female perspective on this cheesily enjoyable ’80s favourite.