The Karate Kid is a film that at its core teaches us the value of relationships with our neighbors. The relationship between Daniel and Mr. Miyagi are what gave the film the majority of its heart. The story of this movie is Daniel (Ralph Macchio) moves from Newark, New Jersey to Raccida, California and is constantly getting into fights with the jocks who are fluent in karate. Daniel has a crush on Alli (Elizabeth Shue) and her ex boyfriend Johnny (William Zabka) doesn’t like it. Daniel feels alone for the first half of the movie until one night during a particularly vicious beating by Jonny and his gang, Daniel discovers Mr. Miyagi knows the art of karate. Mr. Miyagi agrees to teach Daniel karate if he uses what he learns as a force for good. Mr. Miyagi also has Daniel confront his tormentors in their dojo and promises Daniel will fight Jonny, but only if he is left alone to prepare for the fight which Mr. Miyagi decides will take place at the local Karate Championship. Daniel, wins the karate championship and proves to the bullies that once hounded him that he is not a person to be trifled with.
The Karate Kid is a story essentially about the metamorphosis of Daniel and his transition from being the kid the jocks picked on to gaining acceptance from his peers. The scenes where Daniel spends time with Mr. Miyagi are bench marks in Daniel’s metamorphisis. Mr. Miyagi serves as a grandfather figure for Daniel. As an audience member it is very easy to infer that Mr. Miyagi is a bit of a loner at the beginning of the film. Once Mr. Miyagi realizes Daniel’s ambitions and gets to know Daniel as a person Mr. Miyagi opens up. The two characters of the film need each other to become better people overall. Daniel needs Mr. Miyagi to teach him patience and how Karate is the art of defense. Mr. Miyagi needs Daniel because he needs to relearn the beauty of friendship and how it can enhance your life as well as help you deal with loss.
I strongly believe that this movie plays into Asian stereotypes rather than allowing the relationship between Daniel and Mr. Miyagi to take a more organic form. The fact that Mr. Miyagi happens to know karate and was also a war veteran seems rather convenient. I think the movie is at its weakest when Mr. Miyagi is imparting advice on Daniel Larusso. I think the dialogue at that particular point in the film plays into every Asian stereotype I have seen. The idea that the old man is wise and is incapable of making any mistakes is something I find incredibly unrealistic. In the second half of the film, Mr. Miyagi is drunk because he is trying to literally drown out the memory of the death of his wife and child. I find this also to be unrealistic and the opposite of how someone would react in regards to such a very heavy loss. I would argue the stereotypes the writers and director had Pat Morita play into represented the idea of the good Asian. I believe that not only was Mr. Miyagi old and wise but the character also was a very vulnerable person in general. This argument can be proven by the fact that Mr. Miyagi was a bit of a loner at the beginning of the film and by the beginning of the credits Mr. Miyagi and Daniel Larusso both had someone who they believed in.
The references to Asian-American culture are not plentiful in this film. The only mention to Japanese culture is the bonsai tree. Mr. Miyagi tells Daniel to imagine how the tree is supposed to look and then build the tree off of what he imagines. The other reference made in the Karate Kid is made in reference to something that was usually shown heavily in 70’s Japanese cinema. The reference is the idea of the samurai. This is skillfully portrayed when Daniel is being saved from Jonny and his goons after the Halloween dance. Mr. Miyagi serves as the father figure to Daniel and helps him gain confidence against bullies. The Karate Kid is a superb film that teaches moviegoers about self-confidence.