Monday, October 7, 2013

The Karate Kid (1 of 2)

The Karate Kid is a great place to begin commenting on pop-cultural artifacts in particular. Not only is it a pop-cultural thing itself, it contains many other pop-cultural things: an underdog, Eastern influences, a montage, the eighties.
You have much to learn, Daniel-san!

The Karate Kid is also a movie I doubt Hollywood would make now (although they tried to remake it). This is not only because Hollywood is too hyper self-conscious and serious (i.e.
melodramatically grim) to include scenes like the introduction of the Cobra Kais (in which they actually ride up to the beach on dirt bikes and all shout “yeah!”,  rejoicing in how rad it is to ride a dirt bike). Hollywood also wouldn’t make this movie because:
  1. The central and most important relationship is between a young, good  looking teenage boy and an old man that he meets in the back room of a rundown apartment complex, and
  2. This old man’s advice about bullies is essentially: hey, it’s a fact of life. Become strong enough to defend yourself.
I’m sure you can see why these are not popular things to depict, yet they are part of what make this movie so good. This movie is like the fantastical, happy dream of a (relatively) innocent adolescent boy (who really likes karate). Let’s explore this dream-like quality, and each of the above points over the next couple of articles, shall we?

Daniel is a whiny, impulsive, sulky liar. This is established early on. What does he need to stop this? He needs a close, personal friend who is an old guy.

We are never told whether Mrs. Larusso is a widow or a divorcee. Daniel’s father just isn’t there. This is an annoyingly frequent occurrence in movies and literature that probably deserves its own article. But, in this movie his absence goes to show his necessity. Mrs. Larusso needs help, Daniel needs help, and they can’t give enough help to each other.

Mrs. Larusso never gets much help at all (but she seems perfectly happy and content because Daniel is happy. This is part of the dream-like quality of the movie). But Daniel finds Mr. Miyagi, and Mr. Miyagi helps Daniel in ways that only an old guy can. He is experienced and knowledgeable, he is self-controlled, he is strict, and he is kind. He neither takes nor gives any bullshit. These are quintessential qualities of an old guy.

Now, as a disclaimer I should not have to make: not ALL old guys are like this. There are stupid, undisciplined, unkind people in the world (news flash!) But, old guys are capable of being REALLY GOOD at these things in a way that no one else is. They SHOULD be like this, as it is obviously a niche they were made to fill.

For one, old guys have long since gotten over the stuff young guys think is insurmountable. First, Mr. Miyagi tells Daniel that he also got beat up a lot as a kid. But, Daniel also comes to learn that Mr. Miyagi not only fell in love with a girl, he married her, had a baby with her, and has been mourning her and the baby’s death for 40 years which happened while he was fighting in World War 2. So, while he certainly can, and does, sympathize with Daniel’s problems with his lady friend and the kids at school, he isn’t likely to see them in as grim a light. This combination of sympathy and objectivity because of experience is pretty much an old guy exclusive.

Young guys really need what old guys have to offer, and this movie lets us revel in what might result when mature experience befriends youthful vigor.

Even so, we should not downplay the grimness of Daniel’s situation. Considered realistically, when the Cobra Kais back Daniel up against the fence and start beating him, serious injury is certain and death is a possibility. These kids are being lethally trained to be mercilessly brutal by a Vietnam veteran, and they hate Danny.

Yet, he’s going to handle it himself, with Mr. Miyagi’s help. No calling the cops about being hunted and brutally beaten, no parents watching as the sensei of the Cobra Kai Dojo says “We do not train to be merciful here. Mercy is for the weak… an enemy deserves no mercy.”

This all seems rather unlikely, and makes the struggle more dream-like, but also more epic. This is still the happy dream of an adolescent. How does this contribute to happiness? Stay tuned.

© 2013 John Hiner III

1 comment:

  1. That's a very interesting point you make in the article about an old mans wisdom tempering or rather guiding a young zeal.