The joy of Blu-Ray is that it gives me an excuse to rewatch old films and get excited by them all over again. In this case it is the original ?The Karate Kid? with Ralph Macchio and the incomparably brilliant Pat Morita. 1984 was the year and Ralph burst onto the scene with big hair, big lips and an other-worldly tan. As a 10 year old this film ticked every box I had. It was exciting, challenging, educational and full of kick-ass karate. What kid wouldn?t want to be as good as the Karate Kid? And then life moved on, I grew up and The Karate Kid was boxed away in a special place in my memories, that nostalgia-laden place where all things 80s live.
So now it is 2012 and I?ve got the film in my PS3 on the shiny new BD format and it is time to see if it lives up to my rose-tinted expectations. Well, let?s start with the transfer. Wow, what a beauty. This is a film that is almost 30 years old and yet the HD image is stunning. It still has a certain 80s hue to it, but that is fine, for in the world of The Karate Kid it is forever 1984. But really, this transfer looks amazing. Was Ralph always that shade of mahogany? He must have been! The audio is perfect, well-balanced between the action scenes and more transcendental moments. The 80s electro-pop soundtrack sounds sharper than you will have ever heard it?far superior in fact to how we heard it back in 1984! In fact, the whole Karate Kid experience is a little surreal?back in the 80s (and then the 90s VHS days) we saw little of the film?s beauty and visual flair due to the restrictions of the formats. So here we are, 28 years on watching the film in an entirely new way. And it is magical.
Just in case you don?t know the story (shame on you!) the film is about a loser kid from New Jersey who moves to sunny California. There he meets a girl (of course) and gets into a fight with her ex-boyfriend (the local bully boy rich kid). It turns out the bully is also a karate student whose teacher is an ex-special forces hardhead who believes attack is the best philosophy. After getting in to yet another fight with the bully and his mates (related to a surreal only-in-the-80s shower-themed prank) our Jersey hero Daniel is beaten to a pulp, but saved by the local Japanese handyman Mr Miyagi. To stop any more fights, Miyagi agrees to train Daniel for a regional karate contest at which he will fight the bullies. For the next few months Daniel learns Mr Miyagi?s unique style of karate through a series of tasks and chores. The film concludes with the karate championship?but does Daniel win? Does he get the girl? Does Mr Miyagi ever catch a fly with chopsticks?
Watching The Karate Kid again after so many years brought back a whole heap of memories and emotions. But beyond the nostalgia rush it also reminded me what a great film this is. It is a powerful, well-told, timeless tale about bullying, parenting, fathers and sons. While Ralph?s Daniel was an almost-everyboy, Pat Morita?s Mr Miyagi was the definitive dream-friend/teacher. His patience, humour, pathos and sense of honour perfectly reflect what the Japanese martial arts embody. Karate is for defense, never attack. You learn it so you never have to use it. And in every life we are made better by the friends we have, those we help and those we allow to teach us. Pat is a revelation in this film?especially since he was better known as a stand-up comedian before taking on the role. It is only right that he was nominated for an Oscar for the role in 1984?a crime that he didn?t win!
The BD release comes packed with some superb extras, including one of the best Making Of documentaries I?ve ever seen, offering real insight into the film-making process and with some excellent interviews with all the leading players. There is a commentary from the director and leading actors, docs on karate and much more. It is a great value release.
Should you buy The Karate Kid on Blu-Ray? Absolutely. Will it live up to your memories? Without a doubt, and then some more. Show it to your 30-something friends, show it to your kids. The Karate Kid is one of those rare things, a true 80s gem, a perfect film. I was tempted to end on a ?wax on/wax off? gag but honestly I don?t want to do this film the disservice. Go watch it again, it is simply sublime.