Making the Grades
With dreams of a better future, Lucille Larusso (Randee Heller) moves her son Daniel (Ralph Macchio) from cold New Jersey to the sunny state of California. But what she sees as paradise quickly turns into hell for the transplanted teenager as he tries to put down roots in the foreign environment.
The biggest challenge is his peers. First introductions seem to go okay until Daniel catches the eye of a pretty blonde named Ali (Elisabeth Shue). Unfortunately she comes with strings attached to a jealous ex-boyfriend. When Johnny (William Zabka) sees them together, he and his motorcycle buddies tangle with the stranger, beating the boy until he is bruised and black eyed.
If Daniel had hopes of avoiding any further confrontations, such wishes vanish when he learns both the ruffians and Ali are fellow students at his new school—and the irresistible girl wants to peruse their friendship. Nor is his confidence boosted by the discovery that the bad boys spend their extracurricular time at a karate studio run by an aggressive teacher named John Kreese (Martin Kove).
Daniel’s worst fears are realized one night when an angry Johnny and his aggressive gang corner him and start hitting, punching and kicking until the youth is barely conscious. Then a miracle happens. The elderly Japanese maintenance man from Daniel’s apartment complex suddenly appears and within minutes subdues the assailants. Realizing Mr. Miyagi (Noriyuki “Pat” Morita) has some serious martial arts skills, the teen asks for lessons so he can stop being a target of abuse.
It takes some lengthy persuasion to get the quiet gentleman to consent to his request, mostly because he wants to make sure Daniel understands karate is not about fighting and vengeance, but about self-defense and earning respect. Taking the problem back to the karate school, Mr. Miyagi arranges to have Daniel challenge Kreese’s students at an upcoming tournament and has them agree to a truce until the competition. In the meantime the master promises to train the boy.
The Karate Kid debuted in 1984 and quickly became a classic in its genre. Still, parents should be aware that despite pacifist professions, the movie spends a lot of time portraying martial arts violence and battles where bullying turns into assault. (A little blood and a few injuries are shown). Other content concerns include depictions of a minor drinking, a teen rolling a joint, and several uses of mild and moderate profanities.
Fortunately the film also presents a feel-good underdog story that demonstrates the value of hard work, the tenacity of the human spirit and the mutual benefits found in friendships between the young and old.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Karate Kid.
Mr. Miyagi agrees to teach Daniel karate, but instead has him doing household chores. How does the elderly man respond when the boy questions his methods? What skills and character traits does Daniel learn because of his labor?
Kreese has his students recite: "Strike First. Strike Hard. No Mercy." How does this statement of philosophy differ from Mr. Miyagi’s view of karate? Still, both of these teachers gain the loyalty of their pupils. Why? What motivates the obedience in each group?
According to the movie, Daniel leaves New Jersey in September, has his major altercation with Johnny on Halloween night (October 31) and then competes in the karate tournament in December. Is this a realistic timeline for someone to develop the level of martial arts skill depicted in this film?
The bullying Daniel endures is very serious. How should such abuse really be handled? Do you think it is realistic to assume the aggression will stop if the boys take their grievances into a competition environment? Ignoring what the script suggests, what would likely happen to Daniel if he won such a tournament? What would happen if he lost?