I. On the Move
One of the oddest elements of The Karate Kid, a quintessential “go for it!” rouser with a script reportedly taught in screenwriting classes as a model of structure, is its first few minutes are the polar opposite of beginning with a bang. Instead, the picture opens with a simple overhead shot of a shitty car loaded up for a long trip. Without any close-ups, we are left in the distance watching a cluster of people wave their hands and hearing New Joisey accents saying goodbye, followed by a leisurely montage of unspectacular vistas as the car wheezes westward.
Looking back, I think this humdrum opening struck a chord in a way of which I wasn’t fully cognizant at the time. In the summer of 1984, my parents and I returned temporarily to our home in Phoenix, AZ after I completed the eighth grade down in Tucson, where my father had found employment. Tucson was only a two-hour drive away, but it might as well have been on Mars. I hated my new school, I hated living in strange quarters, and I hated moving from place to place. By the time I saw The Karate Kid, I was fully prepared to identify with Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio), its stringbean teenage protagonist, from the moment his journey from Jersey ends in California and he glances out of the car at his new digs—a dilapidated apartment complex—in disgust. When his relentlessly upbeat mother chirps, “This is it—the end of the line!” Daniel takes the words right out of my mouth: “You’re telling me.”