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Film / The Karate Kid (1984)

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The original movie in The Karate Kid series, released in 1984.

The first film introduces Daniel Larusso, a teenager who just moved with his mom from New Jersey to Reseda, California. Daniel is overall a good kid, but his life takes a turn for the worse when he meets a girl that he likes, Ali, only to incur the wrath of her ex-boyfriend Johnny. Johnny happens to be the prize student of the Cobra Kai Karate Dojo, whose sensei John Kreese encourages ruthless aggression. After their first meeting, which ends with Daniel being beaten badly, Johnny leads his gang into tormenting Daniel whenever possible.

Things come to a head with Johnny's gang chasing Daniel down and beating the hell out of him just outside his apartment complex. Coming to his rescue is the elderly Japanese handyman, Mr. Miyagi. Despite his age, he defeats the Cobra Kai gang with ease, awing Daniel. After seeing that appealing to Kreese won't work, Miyagi agrees to train Daniel, but arranges a deal that the Cobra Kai will stop bothering Daniel if he enters an upcoming tournament, where he can fight the bullies on equal terms.

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Daniel is hesitant about the tournament, but willing to learn karate at least to defend himself. The first few days Miyagi has Daniel do several chores: paint the fence, sand the decks and wax the car. Daniel endures it patiently, but eventually blows up at Miyagi for using him as a slave instead as a student. Miyagi then demonstrates what Wax On, Wax Off really means. Daniel is stunned, then begins to understand that Miyagi wasn't trying to teach him how to fight, but how to apply martial arts to his life.note 

The main theme of this film is balance and self-respect, that martial arts should be used in discipline and not for aggression. Mr. Miyagi doesn't teach Daniel to be a vicious badass, but how to calm himself and deal with his problems as they come.

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This film provides examples of:

  • All Guys Want Cheerleaders: Ali is a cheerleader, and "all guys" includes Daniel-san.
  • All There in the Script: Daniel and his mother moved to California as a result of her new job with Rocket Computers ("Flight to the future!"). The original script reveals why Freddy had "never heard of it" and also sheds some light on why it seems that Mrs. LaRusso might be an employee of the restaurant across from the Cobra Kai dojo. As she shares with Daniel:
    "They went bankrupt!...[But] listen to this. I walk out of Rocket with the beginning of Excedrin headache one through ten about to come on, and I'm going back to the car when this woman comes flying out of this restaurant, The Orient Express, and she's screaming, 'I quit! I quit!' Right behind her is this guy and he's yelling just as loud, 'You can't quit! You're fired!' It's one minute to noon, people are coming in to lunch, I'm the first but only applicant - I got the job!"
    • When Daniel questions her new position as a waitress, his mother clarifies that she is not a waitress. She is a hostess.
  • The Alleged Car: Mrs. LaRusso's green station wagon. Has a faulty starter, providing a never-ending source of embarrassment to Daniel when she has to drive him on dates.
  • Apologetic Attacker: Bobby begs Daniel's forgiveness after kicking his knee.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: The crane stance, which in Real Life could be defeated with a good shove to the chest. Heck, if you pause the movie right before the Crane Kick, you can see that Johnny has a clear shot to the chin lined up. This becomes a plot point in the sequel where Chozen effortlessly counters it.
  • Barbaric Bully: The first movie is an iconic example, as the Cobra Kai routinely brutalize Daniel up until Miyagi intervenes.
  • Crippling the Competition: Contains one of the most famous film examples when the evil instructor orders his student to take him "out of commission" in the semi-finals against Daniel. This means the guy will be disqualified for an illegal hit, but injury will prevent Daniel from facing the instructor's prize pupil in the actual Final Round, guaranteeing victory. The plan only fails because Mr Miyagi has Healing Hands and Daniel has learned the iconic Crane Stance that lets him keep his weight off the injured leg.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Miyagi in the first film especially.
  • Death by Childbirth: Miyagi's wife and newborn son both died in childbirth due to birthing complications, and 40 years later he's still grieving over it.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: The first film shows that the Cobra Kai are young bullies, but not exactly hardened criminals:
    • During the Halloween beating, Bobby tries to convince Johnny and Dutch that they're going too far after it becomes apparent that Daniel can no longer stand up.
    • Bobby and Johnny balk when ordered to unethically injure Daniel, though Kreese ultimately intimidates them into it.
    • Johnny congratulates Daniel after he wins and appears to accept his defeat with grace and dignity.
  • Evil Mentor: Instructing his students to cheat? Check. Inspiring them to be sadistic bullies? Check. Strangling them for failing? Check. All Kreese needs is a whip and a cat, and he'd be the trope picture.
  • Family-Unfriendly Violence: The beatings Daniel receives frequently leave him covered in bruises and/or blood.
  • Finish Him!: Kreese's instructions to the Cobra Kai.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: John Kreese and Terry Silver.
  • Foreshadowing: When Daniel first goes to Mr. Miyagi's house for training, he sees oil pumps and asks Miyagi if he's in the oil business. Mr. Miyagi replies, "Not everything is as seem."
  • Game-Breaking Injury: "Sweep the leg."
  • Good-Times Montage: Montage of Daniel and his love interest having a good time at the arcade.
  • Graceful Loser: Johnny, after Daniel wins the tournament. Kreese... Not so much.
  • Hard Work Hardly Works: Seemingly in play, but ultimately averted. To get to the level of competition that the Cobra Kai students are at requires years of training and physical conditioning. While it's true that Daniel manages to catch up in only two months, the set up before the Training Montage makes it clear that Daniel is being pushed through extreme training, spending entire days from dawn to dusk working to build up his core muscles, then to follow up with balance, skill, and technique. Such intense training, with a proper teacher (working exclusively, rather than with a whole class), makes such a quick increase in skill believable. Plus, Daniel wasn't a complete novice as he did have some basic training at the YMCA. Notably, Daniel barely wins and is clearly outmatched physically. He wins, instead, on technique.
  • Hero's Classic Car: Mr. Miyagi gives Daniel a 1948 Ford Super DeLuxe, one of his classic cars that Daniel had to Wax On, Wax Off on, as a 16th birthday present.
  • Improv Fu: How Miyagi defeats Kreese in the parking lot (in a cut scene used in the opening of the sequel). He simply dodged and made him slash up his own fists after accidentally punching out nearby car windows bare-handed.
  • Ironic Echo: When Miyagi gets Kreese at his mercy due to the above trope, he uses Cobra Kai's creed against him.
    Miyagi: (forces Kreese to his knees) Mercy is for the weak. You do not train to be merciful here. A man face you, he is enemy. Enemy deserve no mercy. Hyaaaaaaaaaaa... (raises his hand) HA! (swings his hand down but stops short of Kreese's face before pinching his nose) Honk!
  • Jerkass: The Cobra Kai as a whole.
  • Kick the Dog: Kreese ordering his minions to use dirty tactics to injure Daniel shows that he's the source of Cobra Kai's villainy. His students are just impressionable kids.
  • Kids Are Cruel: In the first film, besides Daniel being bullied by the Cobras, some of the kids ridicule him after being beaten up by Johnny. Ali's girlfriends also rather inexplicably despise Daniel from the get-go.
  • Literal-Minded:
    Daniel: (upon being instructed on Wax On, Wax Off) Where did all these cars come from?
    Miyagi: Detroit.
    • Also on belts.
    Daniel: Hey, what kind of belt do you have?
    Miyagi: (points to his belt) Canvas. Heheh, you like? JC Penney, $3.98.
  • Loophole Abuse: There's nothing technically illegal about the way Kreese wanted Lawrence to win. After all, it was Bobby who disqualified himself by injuring Daniel's leg before the final round. However, it's setting up Daniel (a teenager) with an injury to make him vulnerable to a legal leg sweep. Lawrence's Even Evil Has Standards reaction is due to the fact it makes a mockery of the tournament as a fair competition and the fact it's meant to be a display of their skill levels.
  • Miles Gloriosus: Dutch, despite being the most aggressive and bloodthirsty of the Cobras, is the Tournament Opponent Daniel defeats the easiest. Dutch isn't cowardly, but he does seem to be far, far less formidable than he thinks he is.
  • Mood Whiplash: Drunk Miyagi, it starts off as very funny until he relives a moment where he finds out about his wife and kid's passing.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Daniel's initial fight with Johnny, and even more the Cobra Kai gang-beating he receives in the school dance scene.
  • No Sympathy: Freddy. New kid just got the hell beaten out him in front of you by a much tougher bully? Geez, what a loser; you'd better ostracize him.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Miyagi does this several times; early on to Daniel to avoid teaching him karate, then putting him through Wax On, Wax Off training, then even at the tournament he obfuscates not knowing English so that Ali can be by Daniel's side as Miyagi's "interpreter".
  • One Steve Limit: Bizarrely averted- both the Big Bad (John Kreese) and his student The Dragon (Johnny Lawrence) have the same first name, despite there not seeming to be any deeper meaning to it.
  • Ordered to Cheat: "Sweep the Leg" is the former Trope Namer (though the "out of commission" order fits much better). Interestingly, sweeping the leg itself isn't "cheating", although it is dishonourable- the one who was ordered to actually cheat was Bobby, who was ordered to injure the leg in the first place.
  • Pom-Pom Girl: Ali, who appropriately is one of the few kids who supports Daniel when he runs afoul of Cobra Kais.
  • Real Award, Fictional Character: About two-thirds of the way into the film Daniel walks in on a very drunk Mr. Miyagi dressed up in a World War II-era US Army uniform. Miyagi earned the Medal of Honor fighting in the European theatre as part of the all-nisei (Japanese-American) 442nd Infantry Regiment. Truth in Television: The 442nd is the most heavily decorated military unit in American history, including earning 21 MOHs for the European war. A member of the regiment later said that they fought all the harder to prove their loyalty to America in the face of their fellow nisei being packed into internment camps back home (in which Miyagi's wife and son died in childbirth).
  • Reality Ensues: Having a philosophy of "Belts only good to hold up pants" is great for your personal life, less so when entering an organized tournament that is restricted to those ranked brown belt or higher. Belt rankings serve a legitimate purpose of ensuring a equal footing for all competitors.
  • Satellite Love Interest: Ali is nice, pretty, the ex-girlfriend of Johnny, and lives with upper-class parents in a Big Fancy House...and that's all that's really known about her before she's easily written out of the sequel.
  • Second Place Is for Losers: Kreese attacks Johnny after destroying his trophy, prompting Miyagi to give him a little lesson.
  • Shout-Out:
    • After Miyagi rescues Daniel from Johnny and his friends. Daniel wakes up to see Miyagi nursing him back to health, then asks where's the guy who saved him.
    Daniel: So where'd Spider-Man go?
    Miyagi: Who?
    • Mr. Miyagi himself might be an obscure reference to Teinosuke Yagi, a Japanese bonesetter and former jujutsu master who introduced the young Jigoro Kano (the founder of Judo) to his art when the latter was being bullied. His full name, back when it was canonically Keisuke Miyagi, is an even more clear reference to Teinosuke Yagi.
  • There Is No Try:
    Miyagi: Now, ready?
    Daniel: Yeah, I guess so.
    Miyagi: Daniel-san, must talk.
    (they sit down)
    Miyagi: Walk on road, hm? Walk left side, safe. Walk right side, safe. Walk middle, sooner or later (makes squish gesture) get squish just like grape. Here, karate, same thing. Either you karate do "yes" or karate do "no." You karate do "guess so," (makes squish gesture) just like grape. Understand?
    Daniel: Yeah, I understand.
    Miyagi: Now, ready?
    Daniel: Yeah, I'm ready.
  • Thug Dojo: Cobra Kai, as enforced by Kreese (and much to the chagrin of his charges).
  • Token Good Teammate: Bobby is by far the least barbaric of the Cobra Kai, being the only one who ever worries about taking their abuse of Daniel too far.
  • Uncertified Expert:
    • Miyagi, a former street-fighter and decorated World War II veteran, is dismissive of karate the sport's use of belt color to denote skill level, replying "canvas" when Daniel asks him what belt he is. When filling out entry forms for the karate tournament, when he's told of the requirement that entrants be brown belt or higher, he puts Daniel down as a black belt.
    • Mr. Miyagi gives Daniel his keys and tells him to drive his truck. When Daniel protests that he doesn't have a license, Miyagi replies "Me neither."
  • Villainous BSoD: Bobby who was always the most laid back of the Cobra Kais has a minor one after Kreese forces him to injure Daniel's knee and practically breaks down in tears apologizing.
  • Virtue Is Weakness: Sensei Kreese delivers a denigrating speech about mercy to his students.
    We do not train to be merciful here. Mercy is for the weak. Here, in the street, in competition: a man confronts you, he is the enemy. An enemy deserves no mercy.
  • Weak, but Skilled: Daniel did not have a long time to train for the tournament and it's clear he doesn't have the same athletic energy as any of his opponents, but Miyagi focused on teaching fundamentals and efficient move sets. As such everyone else is wasting energy while he makes precision moves to earn the necessary points to win his matches.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Er, where did that Freddy kid go in the first film? He seemed set up to become a good friend of Daniel's but he just...disappeared. His other friends peer pressure him into ditching Daniel in the football practice scene after the beach fight. He can however briefly be seen watching the tournament right at the end and is presumably part of the crowd that lifts Daniel onto their shoulders after he wins.
  • You Have Failed Me: A variation. Kreese strangles Johnny for failing to win and for telling him off for acting crazy. Who knows how far he would have gone had Miyagi not been there.


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