Although Sony has made both The Karate Kid and The Karate Kid II available on standard definition previously, with the upcoming remake (starring Jackie Chan? Huh?? It's karate, not kung-fu!) on the horizon, both films are now making their high definition debut. You can pick them up on their own, as they are available separately, or as part of this handy-dandy well priced double feature set.
The Karate Kid:
Director John G. Avildsen 's The Karate Kid was a very big deal to any kid living through the eighties. Everyone had to see it, some of us more than once, and while it was busting down box office doors around the continent, it wasn't uncommon to see kids standing on logs trying to balance like a bird sporting headbands. It was that kind of movie - not only a rousing financial success but a film that almost instantly carved out its own piece in pop culture history.
The film follows a Jersey boy named Daniel Larusso (Ralph Macchio) and his single mother Lucille (Randee Heller) as they unpack their goods and settle into their new California home. Lucille is happy to be starting a new job but Daniel, like any kid, is worried about school and friends and all that stuff. Things start looking up for Daniel when he meets a girl named Ali (Elisabeth Shue) but unfortunately her ex-boyfriend, Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), is a karate student and not to be messed with. This reaches a boiling point when five local toughs beat the snot out of Daniel - or at least they try. The fight is interrupted by Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita), the maintenance man who works in the apartment building that the Larusso's call home.
As Daniel and Mr. Miyagi become friends, he agrees to take Daniel on as a student of his own and to teach him karate so that he can defend himself from the likes of Johnny and the other bad dudes who hang around the Cobra Kai school run by John Kreese (Martin Kove). By using unorthodox teaching methods that initially appear to Daniel to be an excuse to make him work (painting fences, waxing cars), Miyagi soon finds himself with a star pupil. With a tournament coming up, Daniel hopes to be able to show Johnny and his pals that he's better than they are, but he's only got two months in which to train and catch up to their more advanced level. As Mr. Miyagi teaches Daniel the finer points of the martial arts, their relationship strengthens all while he's still trying to get closer to the lovely Ali without getting the crap kicked out of him.
While very much a product of its time, The Karate Kid holds up well. It's a bit corny in spots to be sure but overall it's an entertaining mix of action, humor, drama, romance and inspirational storytelling that still applies to a lot of kids' lives today. The film made a big star out of Ralph Macchio and helped introduce the world to Elisabeth Shue, and while Pat Morita have been around for decades before this picture was made, Miyagi is the role he'll always be remembered for. The acting in the film is solid, with Macchio and Morita making for a great team and with Zabka and Kove really do a great job playing the villains. They're sinister and backhanded enough that you absolutely want Macchio's Daniel to come out on top and win the girl.
Avildsen's picture is paced well and contains enough solid character development that you can't help but like Daniel. Moments with him and his mother show some insight into single parent-child relationships and in a way Miyagi becomes a father figure to him as he essentially teaches him how to stand up to bullies and take care of himself the right way without ever stooping to their level. There are moments that don't work so well - such as when Miyagi gives Daniel a car as a gift (that seems like too much too soon, really) but overall the relationships and interactions between the characters fit well together. The actual karate scenes are also handled well, and while they don't deliver on the level of a lot of more traditional martial arts films, they offer some exciting and tense moments, the final tournament being the obvious highlight.
While it might intentionally tug at your heartstrings and border on the melodramatic, the film never goes quite so far in that direction as to ruin things. In the end, it's a picture that just works, a quality family film that adults and kids alike can enjoy and that offers some interesting characters and some good entertainment along with the inspirational message that lies at its heart.
And then there's the first of the sequels...
The Karate Kid II:
A few years after the first film made loads of money, screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen and director John G. Avildsen brought Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita back for a look at what Daniel has been up to since the events that ended the first movie. When this second film begins, Daniel and Miyagi are now the best of friends but after dealing with Cobra Kai, Daniel finds that his relationship with Ali is in trouble. Daniel's mother is also ready to move them again, but he isn't interested in relocating yet again. Miyagi, as usual, comes to the rescue when he builds Daniel a guest house on his property but before they can build it, they have to travel to Japan together where Miyagi must tend to his dying father.
When they arrive in Japan, Miyagi's past comes back to haunt him when he reconnects with Sato (Danny Kamekona), his former best friend turned archenemy. Since Sato decided to buy up all the property in the village where he and Miyagi were raised and basically act as a skuzzy landlord to the people who live there, they haven't been on good terms. If that weren't bad enough, Miyagi's former flame, Yukie (Nobu McCarthy), was supposed to marry Sato, but she never followed through with it. Sato challenges Miyagi to a fight, while Daniel is macking on a local hottie named Kumiko (Tamlyn Tomita) who, much like Ali, has a problematic ex-boyfriend in the picture by the name of Chozen (Yuji Okumoto).
The best thing that this sequel, which is in many ways basically a retread of the first movie's storyline, has going for it is more Pat Morita. Miyagi is given more to do here, and as such, has more screen time so those who enjoyed the character in the first film (and let's face it, he's the best part of the movie) will enjoy seeing him again in this second entry. His practical wisdom and calm demeanor in the face of adversity and hardship is always fun to watch and in this department, the movie excels. Morita is once again very good here, showing far more range than we're used to seeing from him, particularly in the scenes where he must deal with his father. Unfortunately, that's really the only department in which it excels.
The Karate Kid II is not a terrible film, it's just that compared to the first one it feels like a quick knock off. The character development and interesting relationships that made the earlier picture as good as it is fail to really blossom here and the end result is a picture that feels like a cardboard version of its predecessor, an entertaining but pale imitation if you will. This hurts the film, which is a shame as the decision to delve deeper into Mr. Miyagi's history was a good one and should have made for a more interesting picture than it did. On its own merits, the film is enjoyable enough even if it's far from a classic, but compared to the original picture, a comparison that is pretty much impossible not to make, it falls flat.
Both The Karate Kid and The Karate Kid II look pretty decent in the 1080p AVC encoded 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen high definition transfers that Sony has supplied in this set. There's some noticeable grain here and there but that isn't a detriment and whatever actual print damage happens to show up is tiny, relegated to the odd speck here and there. Colors are generally well rendered, if a tad bit flat in sporadic indoor scenes, while flesh tones always look lifelike and natural. Black levels are strong as well, though there are times when shadow detail is just a bit murky, but overall the image is a good one. Some inconsistencies in the source material shine though - in the first film you will definitely notice that certain scenes just look softer than others do - but the discs are both well authored. There isn't much in the way of edge enhancement or digital noise reduction to note, nor are there any irritating compression artifacts. There are moments where the reds in the first movie look a bit too pumped up, but generally we have a pretty clean, clear and stable picture.
Both films in the collection receive audio upgrades in the form of English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio tracks. As it is with the video quality, so too is it with the audio in that it sounds good, better than the standard definition DVD in almost every way, but it's not really reference quality. Both tracks are fairly front heavy, though rear channel activity is noticeable throughout, the tournament scene being a good example where you can hear the crowd react. Dialogue is always well balanced and easy to understand if maybe just a little bit on the flat side now and again. There aren't any problems with hiss or distortion worth complaining about and the levels are well balanced throughout both movies. Peter Cetera's Glory Of Love, which plays towards the end of the second film, has never sounded better and will probably make you want to grab your sweetheart and slow dance under some mood lights. The punches and kicks that land during the action scenes have some nice punch to them, and it's here that you'll be happy you have a subwoofer (unless you don't have one) as the low end is definitely stronger here and while it won't blow the roof off, it provides a welcome bit of rumble.
For both films, alternate language DTS-HD 5.1 MA tracks are provided in French and Portuguese while a standard Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix appears in Spanish. Subtitles are offered in English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese.
Sony has assembled a pretty decent array of supplements starting with their Blu-pop trivia track (the only supplement not carried over from the previous standard definition DVD release) that not only offers up some interesting factoids, Pop-Up Video style, about the picture as it plays out in front of you but also manages to work in some cool cast and crew video interviews using picture-in-picture technology. It works quite well and while and nicely compliments the audio commentary track that brings Director John G. Avildsen and Writer Robert Mark Kamen in front of the microphone alongside stars Pat Marita and Ralph Macchio to discuss their work on the movie. This is a very relaxed and casual track that approaches the film with the right amount of humor but which also offers up some interesting stories regarding filming, training, casting, locations and of course, the final tournament scene that is now so famous.
From there we move on to the featurettes starting with the two part documentary, The Way Of The Karate Kid, which runs just over forty-five minutes in combined length. The first segment is a fairly standard retrospective look back at the making of the film by way of cast and crew interviews and clips from the film, while the second part focuses in on Adildsen's directing style, the importance of the scene in which Miyagi gets drunk, Maccchio's training, and the film's enduring appeal and popularity. The two parts offer a pretty comprehensive look not only at the making of the picture but also at how and why it managed to become such a huge part of eighties pop culture and why it remains popular to this day.
The thirteen minute Beyond The Form focuses on fight choreographer Pat Johnson's work on the picture by showing us what the cast members had to go through to prepare for their roles and how the various fight scenes in the film were staged. It's quite an interesting piece and it shows how the filmmakers tried to find the right balance between standard physical fighting and the spiritual side of martial arts. An eight minute piece called East Meets West: The Composer's Notebook lets Bill Conti talk about how he created the score for the picture while the ten minute Life Of Bonsai piece lets a Bonsai Master named Ben Oki explain how and why these trees are important to Japanese culture and to show their significance in the film.
Trailers (in HD) for a few other Sony products are found on the disc, as are animated menus and chapter selection submenus. Some Blu-ray Live connectivity rounds out the extras on the first disc in this set.
Karate Kid II doesn't fare so well in the extras department as its predecessor. Here you'll find Sony's Blu-pop technology in use once again, allowing you to access some text based pop up trivia as the movie plays out in front of you. Unlike the Blu-pop track on the first disc, there aren't any video interviews here, it's just text. Aside from that, there's a brief six minute behind the scenes segment entitled The Sequel (standard definition) that, aside from being very clip heavy, contains some interviews with the principal cast and crew members who speak about making the picture. Trailers (in HD) for a few other Sony products are found on the disc, as are animated menus and chapter selection submenus.
While both films may be obvious relics of the decade in which they were made, The Karate Kid still holds up really well as an entertaining and effective underdog story. It's tense, dramatic, exciting, and humorous and it's still as enjoyable now as it was when it played theaters. The sequel? It doesn't hold up so well to the first one, but it's a decent enough time killer, if far from a classic. Sony's Blu-ray double feature includes some decent extras and presents both films in decent enough quality that this release comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.