The transcript below is from the video “The Untold Truth Of The Karate Kid” by Looper.

Looper (YouTube Channel on go-to source for the movies, TV shows and video games):

While ‘The Karate Kid’ is pretty much a perfect movie, there’s far more to this film than sanding floors, painting fences, and beating up bad guys. The behind-the-scenes story is equally fascinating. Let’s take a look at why ‘The Karate Kid’ is the best around.

The saga of Daniel LaRusso and Mr. Miyagi all started when producer Jerry Weintraub saw a news story about a local kid who earned a black belt in karate to protect himself from a group of bullies. Weintraub was immediately inspired, and soon enough, Columbia Pictures hired Robert Mark Kamen to write a screenplay.

Looper (YouTube Channel on go-to source for the movies, TV shows and video games):

If you’ve never heard Kamen’s name, you’ve certainly seen his movies. The man has written films like, ‘Lethal Weapon 3’, ‘The Fifth Element’, ‘The Transporter’, and ‘Taken’. And when he was approached with the idea of a martial arts movie, Kamen was able to draw on his personal experience while writing the script. After all, he’d been studying karate for 17 years. He based the character of Mr. Miyagi on one of his instructors, while the character of John Kreese was a combination of two people Kamen had known in real life: a tough Marine-turned-karate teacher and a martial arts instructor who ordered his pupils to injure their opponents.

(Karate Kid Movie Scene)

John Kreese:

“Mercy is for the weak. Here on the streets, in competition, a man confronts you, he is the enemy.”

Looper (YouTube Channel on go-to source for the movies, TV shows and video games):

Other than maybe Yoda or Obi-Wan Kenobi, Mr. Miyagi is probably the greatest movie mentor of all time. Pat Morita is perfect in the role, and his performance earned him an Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actor. However, back in the day, Morita wasn’t such an obvious choice for the part of a martial arts master. He used to be a comedian, and before The Karate Kid, Morita was best known for playing the comical character of Arnold on Happy Days. So, when director John G. Avildsen approached producer Jerry Weintraub with the idea of casting Morita as Miyagi, Weintraub wouldn’t even consider it.

Pat Morita (Mr. Miyagi on Karate Kid 1984):

“He was adamant. He says, ‘I don’t want a comedian. I don’t want a comic actor for this role. This is a heavyweight part. I want an actor.”

Looper (YouTube Channel on go-to source for the movies, TV shows and video games):

Weintraub wanted to go with legendary Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune. But Avildsen was convinced Morita was the right man for the job, so he went ahead and did a script reading with Morita and then surprised Weintraub with the audition tape. The producer was kind of impressed, although he required Morita to audition five more times before giving him the gig. But after passing his fifth and final test, Morita finally nabbed the role.

Believe it or not, Ralph Macchio was 22 when he played the part of teenaged Daniel LaRusso, but despite the age gap, Macchio made for a perfect protagonist. Coming off Francis Ford Coppola’s, ‘The Outsiders’, Macchio had some steam heading into ‘The Karate Kid’ but when it came to landing the role, his snarky attitude is what really helped him get the gig.

Looper (YouTube Channel on go-to source for the movies, TV shows and video games):

After screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen met Macchio to see if he was right for the role, he came away describing the young actor as ‘obnoxious’, and really, that’s exactly what Karmen and John G. Avildsen wanted. They were looking for somebody with an attitude, a guy who wouldn’t take crap from anyone, just like Daniel. In fact, they liked Macchio so much that they kind of rewrote the part for him. Originally, his character was called, ‘Daniel Webber’, but since Macchio was Italian, they changed his last name to ‘LaRusso’.

As for William Zabka—the actor who played bully Johnny Lawrence—he probably got the job thanks to some extreme method acting. When he was first trying out for the part, Zabka got so into character that he actually grabbed Avildsen by the shirt, which usually isn’t a smart idea when you’re trying to impress the director. But in this case, it seems like Zabka’s bad guy persona paid off because he was cast as the captain of the Cobra Kai, creating one of the most memorable villains to come out of the 1980s.

(Karate Kid Movie Scene)

Johnny Lawrence:

“Look you started this, all I wanted to do was talk.”

Ali Schwarber:

“Well just leave him alone and we’ll go talk.”

Johnny Lawrence:

“Yeah where did I hear that before?”

Looper (YouTube Channel on go-to source for the movies, TV shows and video games):

When Ralph Macchio and company signed up for The Karate Kid, none of them knew much about martial arts. So, to get them ready for a karate tournament, the filmmakers called in Pat E. Johnson. This guy had studied tang soo do while serving in Korea, and when he returned to America, he joined up with Chuck Norris, working at one of Norris’ schools. Soon, Johnson racked up an impressive fight record, and not only would he go on to work with stars like Brandon Lee and Jackie Chan, he also had a part in Bruce Lee’s, ‘Enter the Dragon’.

In other words, Johnson’s combat skills were as legit as they come, and when he was hired as Karate Kid’s fight choreographer, he got pretty creative when it came to instructing the actors. For example, he taught Macchio and Morita together and he made sure to train them in a very relaxed atmosphere, similar to Mr. Miyagi’s style. However, Johnson took a very different approach with the Cobra Kai. He basically put them through boot camp, forcing them to do push-ups and treating them like soldiers. As for the actor who played Kreese, Johnson explained on a DVD special feature that he wanted the kids to view Martin Kove as an experienced black belt. To create this illusion, Johnson trained Kove privately, keeping him away from the rest of the bad guys. That way, when Kove met the rest of the crew, they would view him as a real martial artist.

(Karate Kid Movie Scene)

John Kreese:

“You have a problem with that?”

Johnny Lawrence:

“No sensei.”

Looper (YouTube Channel on go-to source for the movies, TV shows and video games):

Johnson’s methods were pretty clever, but his work on The Karate Kid wasn’t all just behind the scenes. The next time you watch the film, pay attention during the karate tournament, and you’ll see the fight choreographer playing the part of a moustachioed referee.

(Karate Kid Movie Scene)

Referee:

“One-point LaRusso. Ready…FIGHT!”

Looper (YouTube Channel on go-to source for the movies, TV shows and video games):

While Johnny Lawrence is the bad guy, we all love to hate, John Kreese is the real villain of The Karate Kid. Kreese is a Vietnam vet who believes in striking first, striking hard, and showing no mercy. However, many Karate Kid fans have wondered what the movie would’ve been like if the Cobra Kai sensei had been played by Chuck Norris. After all, Norris was offered the part but turned it down…right?

Looper (YouTube Channel on go-to source for the movies, TV shows and video games):

Well, according to CBR.com, the Chuck Norris connection is nothing more than a myth. As it turns out, Norris was never offered the role, although if someone had asked him to play Kreese, Norris says he would’ve passed on the part. Why? Because he thought the character cast a bad light on karate. So, while it’s fun to imagine Walker, Texas Ranger in the role, we can all agree that Martin Kove was the best choice.

(Karate Kid Movie Scene)

John Kreese:

“This is a karate dojo not a knitting class. You don’t come into my dojo and drop a challenge and leave old man.”

Looper (YouTube Channel on go-to source for the movies, TV shows and video games):

While Pat Morita threw quite a few punches in The Karate Kid, he wasn’t able to pull off every move required by the script. So, when it came time for Mr. Miyagi to do something crazy—like jump off a chain-link fence to give karate lessons to some bullies dressed as skeletons—Morita would step aside for a real-life martial artist named Fumio Demura.

Demura was a regular on the cover of Black Belt Magazine, and he performed in places like Las Vegas and Paris. Eventually, Demura befriended Chuck Norris, and it’s said the American recommended him for the part of Mr. Miyagi. According to Demura, he turned down the opportunity because his English wasn’t good enough, although he did accept the part as Pat Morita’s stuntman, doubling for the actor in the first three films of the franchise.

But while Demura is the most famous stunt double in the film, we’ve got to give a shout-out to Darryl Vidal. Not only did Vidal play one of the semi-finalists in the movie’s climactic karate tournament, but he’s also the guy who doubled for Morita in the beach scene where Miyagi throws his graceful crane kick. Basically, Vidal is the man who helped set up the movie’s most famous scene, so we’ve got to give some credit where credit is due.

Looper (YouTube Channel on go-to source for the movies, TV shows and video games):

The 1980s was a great decade for motivational theme songs, but few were quite as inspiring as ‘You’re the Best’ by Joe Esposito. This blood-pumping anthem plays during the montage sequence of The Karate Kid’s tournament scene as Daniel LaRusso hits and kicks his way toward the big showdown with Johnny Lawrence. The song is amazingly epic and over-the-top, but shockingly, in some alternate universe, there’s a version of The Karate Kid that doesn’t have it. As it turns out, Esposito—who would also contribute to ‘Flashdance’ and ‘Coming to America’—originally wrote ‘You’re the Best’ for ‘Rocky III’. However, Sylvester Stallone decided to go with Survivor’s ‘Eye of the Tiger’ instead.

Fortunately for film fans everywhere, director John G. Avildsen loved Esposito’s song and incorporated it into his film—even though lines like ‘history repeats itself, try and you’ll succeed’ probably would’ve fit better in Stallone’s film. So basically, Rocky’s loss is our gain, and the song is one of the big reasons that we still love Esposito today. And being part of such an iconic film is incredibly rewarding for Esposito as well. As the singer once explained to Popdose…

Joe Esposito:

“I’m thrilled to have been a part of it—it gives me a little something back for all the years I put in. Don’t forget, I’m in Vegas, singing in lounges, and sometimes it’s a little discouraging. But when someone remembers what I’ve done from a movie…it makes me feel pretty good.”

Looper (YouTube Channel on go-to source for the movies, TV shows and video games):

It seems like every time a movie rakes in the big bucks, it doesn’t take long before someone drags the filmmakers into court. Unfortunately, The Karate Kid is no exception. The trouble all started when a karate instructor named Bill DeClemente filed a lawsuit, claiming the movie ripped off his nickname. DeClemente’s moniker was indeed ‘The Karate Kid’ and he even named his school, ‘The Karate Kid Dojo.’ So, when the movie came out, DeClemente assumed screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen had stolen his identity. However, a New York court just didn’t see it that way. Sadly, for Bill DeClemente, his case was crane-kicked right out of court.

When most people think of The Karate Kid, they remember Daniel’s bizarre training regimen or his final confrontation with Johnny. But in between all the fighting, there are a couple of scenes that pack an emotional punch. For example, there’s a moment when Daniel finds a drunken Mr. Miyagi wearing a soldier’s uniform while singing a mournful song.

(Karate Kid Movie Scene)

Daniel LaRusso:

“What’s that song you were singing there?”

Mr. Miyagi:

“Japanese blues. Ah! Kanpai.”

Looper (YouTube Channel on go-to source for the movies, TV shows and video games):

Daniel soon learns that his mentor fought for America during World War II, but despite his patriotism, his pregnant wife was tossed into an internment camp where she died due to complications during birth. It’s a touching moment…and one that was largely inspired by Pat Morita’s own life.

Growing up, Morita spent part of his childhood in an internment camp for Japanese Americans. He remained there for nearly two years, a prisoner who’d committed no crime. So, when it came time to film this particular scene, Morita was instrumental in developing Miyagi’s back story. In fact, according to writer Charles C. Goodin, the song Miyagi is singing is an actual tune he heard while imprisoned.

Amazingly, the studio initially wanted to cut it out. But Morita and John G. Avildsen stood their ground, and the director believes it was this scene that earned Morita his Oscar nod.




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