The Karate Kid Collection John G. Avildsen/Christopher Cain

The Karate Kid Collection John G. Avildsen/Christopher Cain
Has it really been over 20 years since Daniel-san waxed on and waxed off? The classic film that introduced teenage boys to bonsai trees and the Crane technique gets packaged with its dreadful sequels, as appealing to nerdish collectors is the only possible way to make money on the final nail in the coffin that is The Next Karate Kid. The original 1984 chapter is the only film of the four-part set that you need to watch, as it's a story worth telling and is executed rather well. Daniel (Ralph Macchio) has just relocated from New Jersey to California with his mother and 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, 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 continue to pummel Daniel to the point of 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 getting pounded to near-death 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 that Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) puts Daniel-san through in order 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 are left cheering because you want Daniel to get sweet revenge on the Kai for making his life such a living hell. This charming David and Goliath message is done so well that you would never need to add anything else, but they did and like all good sleeper hits this single movie was put through the cycle a few more times. The Karate Kid Part II sees Miyagi and Daniel fly to Okinawa to say goodbye to Miyagi's dying father and settle some unfinished business. It has less appeal than the first, as it focuses more on heavy dramatics and overblown fight sequences, but it's at least watchable and we get to see Daniel karate chop a bunch of ice and get busy with Tamlyn Tomita. The Karate Kid III is downright horrible and we're led to believe it takes place less than a year after the first, even though Ralph Macchio is now several inches taller and developing a fat ass. The Kai never die, as Kreese returns to finally get revenge on Daniel and Miyagi for embarrassing him "last year" at All Valley and seeks some sort of higher power in a ponytail to help bring the dynamic duo down. A truly awful film, but it looks like Citizen Kane compared to The Next Karate Kid, a pointless and embarrassingly bad finale that Hilary Swank probably regrets on a daily basis. Luckily this DVD knows the only quality lays in the first Karate Kid and pieces together a few featurettes, 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 really 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 the Karate Kid Collection 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. This would have been far more entertaining to watch than the entire last two films of this series. Hell, listening to Peter Cetera's soundtrack on repeat would have been more tolerable. Plus: commentary on the first movie with director John Avildsen, writer Robert Kamen, Macchio and Morita. (Columbia/Sony)