Cornfield Meet

Things collide here.

The All Valley Karate Tournament Eternal Champion

Look, I love The Karate Kid. Can't help it. I'm a child of the '80s, and a celebrator of all its cheese pop wonder, and Daniel LaRusso delivering the Crane Kick to that dickhead Johnny Lawrence is right up there with Vader heaving the Emperor down into the Death Star's core. Part of it's the association with the era, of course: I don't remember if I saw The Karate Kid in the movie theater, but I can say that after we videotaped it off Showtime, my little brothers and I probably had it memorized within a week. I was 13 when the movie came out – Holy Crap, it's 25 years old this summer! – and smack in the middle of All Things Socially Awkward.

Within the past year, I introduced my daughter to the movie, and over this past weekend, I recorded it and was watching the very end when she came home from a friend's house and said (to my delight), "Aw, man! Can we re-start it?" So we fixed lunch and did just that.

And something of this movie's genius became apparent as it unfolded. I almost couldn't believe it as it was happening, and frankly, it's so subtle that the only reason I did notice was that I had just watched the whole thing. And just to make sure, I grabbed a pen and paper – because I've got no qualms about going full-on movie-geek when it comes to '80s flicks – I took some notes and checked it again tonight.

Our story begins in Newark, New Jersey – we know because it says so onscreen – where we get a wide shot of a family driving off in their station wagon to a chorus of goodbyes from friends and family.

And, following the title card, a classic cross-country montage set to the bold strains of a Bill Conti score. You get fields and a windmill, cacti and desert, mesas and winding highways. And just to make absolutely sure the plot hasn't escaped you yet, Daniel's mom breaks into "California, here we come…" (This is where we also find out that Daniel's not cool with the whole moving thing, because his mouthy response is, "I don't like the song, ma.")

Along the way, outside a kitschy motel, we get to see mother and sun push-starting their car. It's clear at this point that there's no dad, and that the LaRussos are a working-class family.

Palm trees at the establishing shot of the apartment = Bingo. We're here. Now things really start moving.

On the way in, Daniel throws an amateurish karate kick into a closed gate, knocking down the kid he doesn't see on the other side. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Mr. Freddy Fernandez, first friend to the New Kid in Town. From the ensuing conversation, we get: a) Daniel knows a little karate, b) Daniel's mom has moved them across the U.S. for a new job, and c) an invitation to an "Adios, summer" beach party so the New Kid can meet Other Pals.

Catching up to his mom in the apartment, Daniel discovers the busted water faucet and is sent to talk to the Maintenance Guy Who's Around Here Somewhere. Thus we meet the Enigmatic Man of Few Words – "After after." – and Impending Father Figure Mr. Miyagi, who's doing the whole "try to catch the fly with chopsticks" routine. (Fooooooreshadooooooow!)

Cut to the next day's beach party – soundtrack tune: "(Bop Bop) On the Beach) by The Flirts & Jan and Dean" -where we're treated to Daniel in a rousing game of soccer with Freddy and Friends. And – what's thiiiis? There are GIRLS nearby! Well, Daniel, of course, has no choice but to show off a few juggling skills in front of The One Who's Been Making Eye Contact. Almost – but, thankfully, not quite – lost in the ruckus as the guys get the game going again, is this exchange: "Who's that blonde?" "She's from the Hills. She's rich." (See what they did there? Masterful.)

Now there's a dissolve to dusk and a cookout campfire, which means our soundtrack switches over to an appropriate '80s slow-dance song, "(It Takes) Two to Tango" by Paul Davis. Daniel and The Blonde are baited into a clumsy intro by their respective cliques. Surprise – they hit it off spectacularly. Must be the music.

But no! Now there's an Abrupt Interruption From The Dunes Above as the fittingly-edgy riffs of "The Ride" by Matches play during our introduction to The Bullies. They ride motorbikes! They drink beer! And one of them is The Blonde's Ex-Boyfriend, although, as we are told in short order, she's the one that did the breaking up.

Naturally, these guys ride into the midst of the party so Ex-Boyfriend and Head Bully Johnny Lawrence can pick a fight with The Blonde. Daniel intervenes, Mr. Lawrence shoves him to the sand, and everything we need to know about The Karate Kid has fallen into place just. Like. That.

And we are TWELVE MINUTES IN.

I shit you not. Twelve minutes.

That's less time than it takes to watch the original Thriller video, and the filmmakers have handled every major character introduction, clearly sown the seeds of every situational conflict, taken us across the country and played us three songs and one traveling score.

That was yesterday morning. Now I'm upstairs writing this, and my kid's downstairs, and I can hear the soft musical accompaniment to Daniel-san's deck-sanding and fence-painting, and I couldn't be happier than if I'd just caught a fly with my chopsticks.

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January 12, 2009 Posted by | 1980s, eighties, Film, geek, Ohio, Television | 4 Comments

   

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