Scarecrow suggests | Like 'Karate Kid'? Check out its predecessors on DVD
Many interations of "Karate Kid," plus other underdog stories ("Rocky") and family-friendly martial-arts movies ("Sidekicks," "Kung Fu Panda") are available to rent and buy.
A film with as timeless a story as the original "Karate Kid" is hardly in need of an updated remake — the heartwarming underdog-defeats-bully tale has held up remarkably well over the last 26 years. Ralph Macchio plays Daniel Larusso, a well-meaning, polite teenager who recently relocated to California with his single mom. He arrives at his new school only to come under fire of a group of tough students from the local Cobra-Kai karate dojo, led by the brass-haired teen Johnny and their menacing sensei Kreese.
Pat Morita was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal Mr. Miyagi, the apartment handyman who takes it upon himself to teach Daniel to defend himself against the brutes and to connect with the higher wisdom the discipline provides.
Miyagi becomes not just a teacher, but a mentor and father figure to Daniel over the course of his tutelage which culminates in a showdown between Johnny and Daniel in the All Valley Karate Tournament. The final shots of the film, showing a glowing Daniel being held up by his former rivals, clutching his trophy while Miyagi smiles approvingly through tears of joy, will make you a little misty-eyed no matter how many times you see it.
The best thing about "The Karate Kid II" is that it is almost entirely Miyagi's story. He returns home to Okinawa after many years to say one last goodbye to his estranged father and to settle accounts with an old enemy, bringing loyal Daniel-san along for the trip.
The film goes about expanding Miyagi beyond the first film's Yoda-like constraints on the character, portraying him as a man torn by his familial and traditional obligations and his inability to ignore the past. The specters of WWII and Vietnam hang over the film: though it remains ultimately unexplored, the effect (still relatively recent in 1986) of those conflicts on Okinawan culture are reflected in the vast experiential gaps between past and present, young and old.
"Karate Kid III" is pretty much a rehash of the original story, with Daniel going against Mr. Miyagi's wishes to defend his title against Kreese's latest protégée. "The Next Karate Kid" is only of interest if you want to see future two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank playing a whiny pseudo juvenile delinquent who Miyagi tries to tame with karate's discipline.
The original three "Karate Kid" films were directed by John Avildsen, who is responsible for another classic underdog story, "Rocky." In the Miyagi mentor role is Burgess Meredith, who plays Rocky's trainer, a grizzled ex-fighter and gym owner named Mickey Goldmill. He pushes Sylvester Stallone through his rigorous training with such encouragement as, "You're gonna eat lightnin' and you're gonna crap thunder!"
"No Retreat, No Surrender" is a lovably cheesy "Karate Kid" knock-off set in (but not filmed in) Seattle. Rather than a Mr. Miyagi figure, the student learns from Bruce Lee's ghost, and at the end he competes in a match against Jean-Claude Van Damme, who plays a Russian martial-arts champion (his first major role).
For more family-friendly films featuring kicks and flips, there's "Three Ninjas," the story of three brothers fighting off a pesky crime ring that's advertised as "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" meets "Home Alone" (it spawned several sequels as well); "The Little Dragons," a 1980 film about a team of preteen karate experts who track down a kidnapped girl, was directed by Curtis Hanson, who would go on to make "L.A. Confidential" and "8 Mile"; "Sidekicks" stars Jonathan Brandis as a bullied teenager who gets some imaginary confidence and real-life karate assistance from Chuck Norris; "Way of the Little Dragon," a documentary about teenage Bruce Lee that follows his early days street fighting in Hong Kong on to his time at the University of Washington; "My Father The Hero" (aka "The Enforcer") in which a young martial artist doesn't know that his estranged father (Jet Li) is not a criminal, but a heroic undercover cop; and the highly enjoyable animated epic "Kung Fu Panda."
If your kids liked young Jaden Smith in "The Karate Kid," perhaps you could interest them in the intentionally misspelled "The Pursuit of Happyness," in which he stars as son to his real-life superstar pops, Will. The story of a father descending into poverty and homelessness while dragging his poor child along with him is a little on the shamelessly heartstring-tugging side of things, but the natural and obvious chemistry between father and son really does elevate the material, and once again Will Smith proves that he can sell just about any performance he wants to.
If you're unfamiliar with Jackie Chan's early martial-arts films, we suggest Yuen Woo-Ping's "Snake in the Eagle's Shadow," "Drunken Master;" and its sequel "Drunken Master 2," and the "Police Story" movies. Scarecrow has an entire subcategory of our Hong Kong section devoted to Chan's films, each of which showcase his remarkable martial arts and humor. His stunts are especially jaw-dropping when you consider they were done in the days before wire work and CGI made martial arts look easy.
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Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom describes some of the factors that may have led to the collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon on Thursday, May 23.