The original The Karate Kid is one of those seemingly untouchable slices of ‘80s nostalgia. Everyone above a certain age has a soft spot for it. It has effortlessly merged with general pop culture, with characters like Mr. Miyagi and lines like “Wax on, wax off” existing outside of the film that created them. It’s a touchstone ... but what if it’s a touchstone that we have been misunderstanding for the past 31 years? What if Ralph Macchio’s Daniel isn’t the hero of the film, but actually – dun dun DUN – the real bad guy?
That’s the suggestion laid out by this new video, which begins like fan theory wankery before revealing itself to be a fairly interesting examination on how certain filmmaking choices can transform meaning and tone. A character written as a sympathetic victim who rises up can actually read as a dirtbag in the right context.
Everyone knows the story of The Karate Kid. A bullied youngster learns how to fight from his friendly neighborhood martial arts master and finds redemption by defeating his tormenter at the big karate championship. We side with Daniel because he’s the main character and we are programmed to root for main characters in simple, black-and-white family films made in 1984. However, a careful look at the film reveals a villain whose main sin is being smarmy and a hero prone to vicious overreaction. The video above lays it all out there. As acted by Ralph Macchio, young Daniel comes off far worse than his nemesis. As filmed by director John G. Avildsen, The Karate Kid comes off like the story of a young bully, triumphant.
Or it could all be just a hilarious reading of a beloved movie and that was never made to stand up to post-modern YouTube analysis. Feel free to debate this one long into the night.