The Karate Kid John G. Avildsen

The classic film that introduced teenage boys to bonsai trees and the Crane technique thankfully gets released separately from the dreadful sequels it was packaged with earlier this year. The original 1984 chapter is the only film of the four-part set that you need to watch, as it's worth telling and is executed well. Daniel (Ralph Macchio) has just relocated from New Jersey to California with his mother and has only a few karate classes at the YMCA under his belt. After quickly befriending a neighbour and flirting with the ladies at the beach, things seem to have started off nicely for the gangly Daniel, until a flirtatious soccer lesson on the beach with a hottie named Ali (Elisabeth Shue) catches the attention of the Cobra Kai. Back in 1984 all bullies had blonde hair and wore varsity jackets, and Johnny Lawrence and his dirt bike-riding posse were no different, and these beach thugs kick the crap out of Daniel for messing with Johnny's ex. The Cobra Kai practice a different style of karate, one taught by a sensei named Kreese (Martin Kove), who trains his students like a drill sergeant and brainwashes them into believing that mercy is for the weak. This technique seems to work extremely well though, as the Cobra Kai pummel Daniel to the point of nervous breakdown, where he literally runs home to his mother and begs to move back home. Yet Daniel keeps cruising for a bruising in order to make things right for him and Ali, resulting in a costume party encounter that leads to Daniel receiving a near-death pounding by the Kai dressed as skeletons. Pretty cool, huh? It gets better: an elderly janitor named Miyagi quietly scales a chain-link fence and single-handedly takes out the entire Cobra Kai posse with his bare hands. Sure the action is plentiful, but what makes The Karate Kid such a great film is that the training Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) puts Daniel-san through in order for him to win the All Valley Karate Championships is quite heart-warming. The two characters bond and even though the ending is a little quick and anti-climactic, you're left cheering because you want Daniel to get sweet revenge on the Kai for making his life such a living hell. The DVD extras are identical to the ones released in the box-set, including a retrospective with cast and crew, and a balding Ralph Macchio, whose voice seems to have gotten higher in his older years. Apart from minimal on-set footage that has a lot of shirtless boys (bordering on homoerotic), these offerings are nothing more than visual commentaries about the film's process. Shorter segments on the score and choreography aren't very interesting, so when in doubt bring in the bonsai trees! "Life of Bonsai" is surprisingly the best feature of this DVD and has little to do with the film, other than the underlining message that if you know the rules you can make any kind of tree. Bonsai mastermind Ben Oki is a good combination of senile and brilliant as he teaches us the different styles of bonsai and their history, puttering around his gorgeous garden, which displays trees up to 500 years old. Plus: commentary on the first movie with director John Avildsen, writer Robert Kamen, Macchio and Morita. (Columbia/Sony)