The Karate Kid: Ten Degrees of 80's Movies Continued.
posted by Mickey on 6/23/03
Miyagi is a). Telling a fishing anecdote b). Explaining the orthodox way to catch flies c). About to strangle Daniel; or d). Talking about black men?
In the same way that George W Bush spends a lot of his spare time reading over the framing documents of the American Revolution, so I always like to take a computer to bed with me and tuck into some of the old school posts here at W-D before switching off the reading light. One post that has a particularly classic status is Dave's appreciation of William Zabka. Honestly, if reading this post didn't change my life, it did at least change the way I had always thought about "The Karate Kid." "If I have seen further than others," a famous physicist once said, "it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." And, OK, I am not a rocket scientist, but if I have any insights to offer into "The Karate Kid," it is because Dave gave me a piggyback.
Just go with this for now, OK?
So, here we go, from Macchia to Macchio, and I am just gonna start waxing this here vintage car here, as the 80s degrees of separation series gets martial on your arts with "The Karate Kid," man.
NICOLE KIDMAN. Yes, I'm here.
VON HANGMAN. Sorry. False alarm. I wasn't actually talking about you. I was talking about "The Karate Kid"
NICOLE KIDMAN. Oh, OK. Well, just holler if you need me. I also liked Dave's post a lot, by the way.
VON HANGMAN. I'm sure that would mean a lot to him.
NICOLE KIDMAN. As I see it, Dave's central point in relation to "The Karate Kid" was that William Zabka's character, Johnny Lawrence, one of the feared Cobra Kai gang, and ostensibly the chief villain of the movie, is, in fact, better understood as a tragic anti-hero.
VON HANGMAN. That is how I read it. Dave says, and I quote, "It's a shame that in the subsequent movies of the trilogy, only the extreme negative characteristics of Johnny, was Zabka allowed to explore. For you see, in The Karate Kid, Zabka's character, Johnny Lawrence, is a tragic hero." Are you still there, Nic? What, do you want to discuss this?
NICOLE KIDMAN. It is always a pleasure to discuss "The Karate Kid". Do you want me to help shine the car?
VON HANGMAN. Sure. You know the drill. Wax on. Wax off.
NICOLE KIDMAN. Wax on. Wax off. Got it. OK, so, what were your ideas?
VON HANGMAN. My ideas?
NICOLE KIDMAN. That you were going to put into your post. You were going to put some ideas in, weren't you?
VON HANGMAN. Don't get sarky. You know, I don't have to talk about this with you. I could discuss it with Hilary Swank instead. She's an Oscar winner too, and she was in "The Next Karate Kid"
NICOLE KIDMAN. Well, you could, but then you would probably have to admit that you haven't seen any of the sequels. Besides, don't you have some kind of feud with Hilary Swank.
VON HANGMAN. That's a misunderstanding. Back when she was in "90210" I always said she was going to be one of the finest actors in American cinema. Meanwhile, someone who looked a lot like me (possibly Keanu Reeves) was going around shooting his mouth off calling her "Tombstone Teeth" and claiming she was the most pathetic person ever to get a place in the credits for "Bevers". Anyway, getting back my ideas, I was going to talk about the Crane.
NICOLE KIDMAN. And for people who haven't seen the movie, what is the Crane?
VON HANGMAN. I've got to be honest here, Nic. People who haven't seen the movie are going to struggle.
NICOLE KIDMAN. Yes, yes. But you should explain anyway that the Crane is a particular karate move that Daniel Larusso, ie. the Karate Kid, the character played by Ralph Macchio, is taught by his teacher, Miyagi, played by Pat Morita.
VON HANGMAN. Well, Miyagi doesn't actually teach it to him. Daniel observes him doing it.
NICOLE KIDMAN. It is kind of like this.
VON HANGMAN. Nic, I think you know the esteem in which I hold you, but, stone the crows, you are a bloody idiot sometimes. The Crane is, hang on, just pull over that stump there, thanks. The Crane is more like this.
NICOLE KIDMAN. Yes, Ok. It is more like that. By the way, I rather suspect that the actor who does the Crane in those silhouette shots is not actually Pat Morita. He looks suspiciously athletic.
VON HANGMAN. Well, you're right. But I also think the way that it is set up, so that you have a long shot with waves crashing and seabirds wheeling and a surfer walking by in the distance, only adds to the Crane's mystique. Listen, I swear to God, I have been in conversations about the Crane that have last longer than the film itself.
NICOLE KIDMAN. Did you notice that very early on in the movie, where Daniel is playing keepy-upsy with the soccer ball, that he goes into something very similar to the Crane stance to do it?
VON HANGMAN. You're kidding me? Nice observation.
NICOLE KIDMAN. See, check this out.
VON HANGMAN. Hang on. It's still loading. There you go.
Ralph Macchio playing keepy-upsy with an invisible football
NICOLE KIDMAN. This is actually a little bit later in the film, but it is Daniel on the beach, looking like someone from one of those missing ball competitions they used to run in the newspapers when we were kids. Do you think they had those kinds of competitions in the US too, with that silly gridiron game of theirs'?
VON HANGMAN. Why are you asking me?
NICOLE KIDMAN. I don't know. Anyway, what was the point you were going to make about the Crane?
VON HANGMAN. Well, I was going to say that when Daniel and Johnny ...
NICOLE KIDMAN. William Zabka.
VON HANGMAN. ... have their bout at the end of the movie, and Daniel demolishes Johnny by kicking him in the face, it is really rather peculiar, in filmmaking terms, given that this is the CLIMAX of the movie, that it isn't even shown in slow motion or anything, it's just like Wham-Bam Kick in the Head, TFC, Johnny.
NICOLE KIDMAN. Well, it is quite a long film. Maybe they thought the audience would get bored if they had to sit through Daniel doing the Crane in slow mo. Was that everything you wanted to say about the Crane?
VON HANGMAN. Pretty much.
NICOLE KIDMAN. Because I wanted to talk about the relationship between Miyagi and Daniel.
VON HANGMAN. I love that dialogue between them when they first meet. [Ralph Macchio voice] When are you going to fix the faucet?
NICOLE KIDMAN [Pat Morita voice]. After. [Stabbing with chopsticks in the general direction of a fly].
VON HANGMAN [Ralph Macchio voice]. After what?
NICOLE KIDMAN [Pat Morita voice] After after. [Normal voice]. Of course, as Dave pointed out in his Zabka article, "The Karate Kid" is, in part, a meditation on fatherless kids. It is obvious that Daniel is part of the syndrome. Dave's insight was to recognise that, just as Miyagi becomes Daniel's surrogate dad, Johnny and the rest of the Cobra Kai have fallen into Kreese's clutches, and that could easily have happened to Daniel as well.
VON HANGMAN. There are a number of parallels between Miyagi and another surrogate father figure. Miyagi always reminds me of Yoda because he is old, he dispenses wisdom, he talks in broken English, and he knows a lot about kicking ass.
NICOLE KIDMAN. Yeah. I think that is a reasonable string to draw. Can I run a "that always reminds me" past you.
VON HANGMAN. Since you were so polite about my Miyagi-Yoda comparison, please go right ahead.
NICOLE KIDMAN. OK. You know when Miyagi is telling Daniel to do all the waxing, and sanding, and, in particular, painting his fence, do you know what that always reminds me of? It is another classic coming of age thing, but with a big Americana vibe to it.
VON HANGMAN. What does it reminds you of?
NICOLE KIDMAN. "Tom Sawyer". It always reminds me of that scene in "Tom Sawyer," where Tom tricks his friends into whitewashing the fence for him.
VON HANGMAN. And what does it have to do with "Tom Sawyer," apart from the fact that there is fence painting in both.
NICOLE KIDMAN. Well, there is always supposed to be something especially in the American grain about that scene in "Tom Sawyer." Tom gets out of doing any work, and gets remunerated for his idleness, to boot. Compare "The Karate Kid," where Daniel actually does have to do all the work.
VON HANGMAN. Very Japanese. Those guys are mindless robots.
NICOLE KIDMAN. No. Very American. Very Tom-Sawyer-ish. Very, I don't know, Brer-Rabbitish, because, you see, in the end, it is all a trick as well. Miyagi has taught Daniel all the major defensive elements of Karate without his even knowing it. "Now show me sand-a-floor. Now show me wax-on wax-off."
VON HANGMAN. Very ingenious, Nic. It's a clever theory. I'm not sure if it's true. I'll have to think about it. Do you want me to put up a picture of the scene?
NICOLE KIDMAN. If you wouldn't mind.
VON HANGMAN. No problem.
NICOLE KIDMAN. Lol. Look at that. It looks like the railway station scene at the end of the first "Matrix" movie.
VON HANGMAN. Yes, I guess it does at that. By the way, Nic, "Lol" is more of an internet convention than an actual word. It is OK to just laugh if something amuses you.
NICOLE KIDMAN. OK. Is that how it works? Damn internet conventions. It is hard to keep up. So, what else about the film did you want to discuss? This side looks pretty well waxed, by the way. Maybe we should move around and wax the other side?
VON HANGMAN. Yeah, OK. You know, everyone always remembers "Wax on, wax off," but do you know what is the message Miyagi gives Daniel more than any other message during this phase of his training?
NICOLE KIDMAN. No, what?
VON HANGMAN. "Breath in, breathe out."
NICOLE KIDMAN. "Breath in, breath out."
VON HANGMAN. And, do you know what, it's good advice. If Daniel hadn't followed it, do you know what would have happened during the All Valley Karate Championships? He would have fallen to this knees and turned purple.
NICOLE KIDMAN. Why?
VON HANGMAN. Because he wouldn't have been breathing.
NICOLE KIDMAN. OK. Lol. No, hang on. [Laughs out loud, half-heartedly]. That was a joke, right?
VON HANGMAN. Forget it.
NICOLE KIDMAN. No, I get it. It is quite droll. Now, tell me, Mickey, what is your take on the romance between Daniel and Ali with an "I"? Ali's school friends don't seem to take to Daniel. One of them likens him to fungus. Meanwhile, when Ali with "I"'s dad sees his little girl arguing with Johnny...
VON HANGMAN. William Zabka.
NICOLE KIDMAN. ... he remonstrates with her. He says, "Trouble with Johnny? You two lovebirds having problems?" I think when we are talking about Daniel and Ali with an "I," that we are talking about some seriously starcrossed lovers.
VON HANGMAN. Well, I love their date. That five minutes or so really encapsulates what dating was all about, back in the 1980s.
NICOLE KIDMAN. The montage?
VON HANGMAN. That's it. It begins with the two of them playing table hockey. I swear to God, the expression Daniel makes after he scores a goal ought, by rights, have spelled finito to his relationship with Ali with an "I," there and then. But the Golf 'N' Stuff date is just beginning. As well as playing table hockey and putt-putt golf, we get to see the happy couple tooling around in dodgems, spinning around in one of those spinning teacup things, jumping up and down on a trampoline, memorializing the whole occasion by visiting a photo-booth, not to mention cramming junk food down their respective cakeholes. The only slightly sour note in this idyll is that Daniel and Ali with an "I" are reliant, at the end of the date, on Mrs Larusso coming to pick them up in her snot-colored station wagon. .
Hi Mum, we had a great time. I beat her at air hockey and we ate a lot of crap food
NICOLE KIDMAN. Hence the importance of Miyagi's subsequent birthday present to Daniel.
VON HANGMAN. Absolutely. The car is less a means of transport than it is an ideal venue in which to root Elizabeth Shue.
NICOLE KIDMAN. And what do you think about Elizabeth Shue?
VON HANGMAN. Well, she gives hope to loser guys everywhere. I mean, really, Ralph Macchio is a pretty decent looking kind of guy, but, as you pointed out, according to the other girls at the school, when Daniel arrives he is supposed to look like fungus. Elizabeth Shue shows you can breeze into town resembling fungus, attend costume parties dressed as a shower curtain, gloat after scoring a goal at table hockey, bring your mum along on dates AND get your ass whipped by William Zabka on a regular basis, and STILL be in with a chance with a Farrah-haired little piece of jailbait. And looking forward into her career, if she would go with Nicholas Cage in "Leaving Los Vegas," who wouldn't she go with, eh?
NICOLE KIDMAN. And, obviously, Ali with an "I" went with Johnny.
VON HANGMAN. Fashizzle, Nic.
NICOLE KIDMAN. OK. So let's get back to the Johnny as antihero thesis.
VON HANGMAN. The "Dave" hypothesis.
NICOLE KIDMAN. You've got it, and now picking up on the Star Wars thing we were just discussing, whatever you say about "The Karate Kid," you can't fault it for not generating sequels.
VON HANGMAN. Certainly not.
NICOLE KIDMAN. In "Star Wars," however, you don't just have the sequels, you have the prequels as well.
VON HANGMAN. Can I say something about that that isn't directly relevant to "The Karate Kid".
NICOLE KIDMAN. Of course.
VON HANGMAN. It has always seemed weird to me to have made the series in such an order that Episode 3 is going to be the last out of 6 episodes to appear, when Episode 4, right, is called "A New Hope." That suggests that by the end of Episode 3, hope has been all but extinguished. I don't know what title is proposed for Episode 3, but by this logic, it ought to be called Episode 3, "Everything's Fucked."
NICOLE KIDMAN. Hey, do you know what, Mickey?
VON HANGMAN. What?
NICOLE KIDMAN. That is probably the first speculation about Episode 3 of "Star Wars" ever to appear on the internet.
VON HANGMAN. OK OK. Very sarcastic. Now, in relation to your idea that there should be a prequel to "The Karate Kid," surely we find out everything we need to know about Daniel's back story in the movie. I haven't seen the sequels and more may emerge about Daniel in them, but we don't need to know anything about the absence of a father, since, as we've already discussed, Miyagi is going to be the father figure. We know Daniel comes from New Jersey. We know he did some karate lessons at the Y back there. We know he met some dweeby friends whose names I have forgotten at summer camp. I mean, it all sounds like the world's most boring prequel ever to me.
NICOLE KIDMAN. Yes. But the prequel wouldn't be about Daniel. It would be about Johnny. Let's go back to the very first appearance of Johnny in the movie. We've got Daniel and Ali with an "I" flirting with one another on the beach. We cut from them to this static shot of a road winding towards a puddle. The Cobra Kai zoom down it on their motorcycles, splash through the puddle, and we have this composition of Johnny, right at the centre of the Kai, decked out in badass red leather, obviously their leader, revving his chopper, looking like what Marlon Brando would have looked like in "The Wild One," if he had had a big foppy blonde fringe.
What are you rebelling against, Johnny?" "Ralph Machhio"
VON HANGMAN. It is a memorable first appearance. And?
NICOLE KIDMAN. And the following dialogue ensues. Dutch says to Johnny, "Who are you kidding? You're still the ace degenerate." Johnny responds. He says, "No. Ex-degenerate, man. 8.00 AM tomorrow, I'm a senior. I've got one year to make it all work, and that is what I am going to do."
VON HANGMAN. Actually, I think you are on to something. If I am reading you right, you are suggesting that there has been some battle going on between Johnny and Johnny's dark side.
NICOLE KIDMAN. Now, you tell me, with what we know about the Johnny/Ali with an "I" romance having ended a few weeks ago, that this isn't a far more intriguing set-up for a prequel than watching Daniel riding his pushbike around Newark. What has happened here is a story involving both degeneracy and redemption. What was Dave's quote again?
VON HANGMAN. "It's a shame that in the subsequent movies of the trilogy, only the extreme negative characteristics of Johnny, was Zabka allowed to explore."
NICOLE KIDMAN. Dave sounds a bit like Yoda there.
VON HANGMAN. "For you see, in The Karate Kid, Zabka's character, Johnny Lawrence, is a tragic hero."
NICOLE KIDMAN. Word..
Miyagi never told you who your true spiritual brother was, did he, Daniel?
VON HANGMAN. Well, yeah. That is a convincing case you have made.
NICOLE KIDMAN. I'd like to call the prequel, "Lawrence of Encino."
VON HANGMAN. You should get on to William Zabka's agent. OK. This car is as waxed as it is ever going to be, and, by the way, both of us are now adepts at defensive karate. Which actor from this movie should we go with for the next instalment of the series, Nic? You can choose, although I'll exercise a right of veto.
NICOLE KIDMAN. Ralph Macchio.
VON HANGMAN. Well, he's veto-ed for a start. He was the connection into this movie.
NICOLE KIDMAN. OK then, how about Pat Morita?
VON HANGMAN. Which will link us to what, "The Karate Kid 2"? Or maybe "Collision Course," so we can connect into the brilliant 80s film career of Jay Leno. Give us a break. I'm afraid I am going to have to veto that one as well.
NICOLE KIDMAN. Well, all right, Elizabeth Shue, just so long as it isn't "Cocktail".
VON HANGMAN. I can't make that promise, Nic. But thanks for your help. I couldn't have done it without you. And, by the way, I don't want that academy award. If you don't pick it up by Thursday night, it is going out in the recycling.