Posted Friday, Aug. 3, 2012, at 8:45 AM
Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) in 1984's The Karate Kid.
Publicity still © Columbia Pictures 1984.
The following is a public service announcement for die-hard fans of The Karate Kid. In 2005, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released a perfectly respectable Special Edition DVD of the movie, which included a commentary track as well as several featurettes. But nothing on the DVD compares to the trove of archival footage that director John Avildsen has posted on his YouTube channel. Nestled among home videos of Avildsen’s vacations and birthday parties are a series of clips that, when watched in sequence, comprise a shadow version of The Karate Kid, one that will change the way you think about the movie—even if, like me, you’ve already thought about it a lot.
What Avildsen has posted, in 13 ten-minute segments, is the rehearsal that he and his actors conducted before principal photography began. The footage is grainy and wobbly. Much of it is shot on location, but several scenes unfold on a sparsely appointed soundstage, with the actors pretending to turn on an invisible leaky faucet or drink an invisible glass of pungent Okinawan tea. Some of the scenes closely resemble their counterparts in the finished film, but others remain rough, with Avildsen and his team still working out how to frame the action. We see alternate approaches to scenes we know and love from the finished product. We also hear Avildsen discussing the challenges each scene presents, offering suggestions to the actors and discussing camera set-ups with his crew. Perhaps most exciting of all, we see the actors rehearsing scenes that did not make it into the movie, and several of these provide insight into plot holes that have long frustrated students of the movie. (Among the questions addressed by the footage: How did Daniel’s mother end up working at a restaurant, not at a computer start-up? And how did Daniel prevail over Dutch in the early stages of the All-Valley Under-18 Karate Tournament?)
Nearly three decades after its release, The Karate Kid continues to enjoy a cult following, with ESPN’s Bill Simmons its high-profile high priest. A music video tribute to the movie, posted a few years ago by the otherwise unloved band No More Kings has earned 2.1 million views on YouTube. Yet the Karate Kid rehearsal videos remain largely undiscovered—most have fewer than 10,000 views. Avildsen has posted them to his thread quietly and intermittently over the last year, which probably hasn’t helped them find their audience. So herewith, an annotated guide to footage that will thrill anyone who spent the summer of 1984 clipping a bonsai tree:
Part 1: Daniel and his mother arrive in Reseda. Daniel gets invited to a beach party.
Fans will take particular delight in the still-quite-rough scene in which we’re introduced to the Cobra Kai. Much of the dialog in this scene isn’t yet in place and what is present is delivered altogether differently. During Daniel’s first face-off with Johnny the Cobra Kai strike up a chant of “no mercy,” a heavy-handed touch that thankfully did not make it into the movie. Missing from Daniel’s exchange with his mother the day after the party is his great “yeah, I’m on Minute Maid” line, suggesting it was perhaps ad-libbed by Ralph Macchio later.
Part 2: Daniel’s first day at school. Ali and Daniel chat in the cafeteria.
We’re treated in this segment to a deleted scene in which Mrs. LaRusso offers an explanation for why she’s taken a job as a restaurant hostess: It turns out that the computer company she was supposed to work for—the reason the LaRussos have moved from New Jersey to California—has gone belly-up. In another deleted scene, we follow Ali and Daniel into the school cafeteria, where Johnny pulls a juvenile prank involving a slice of pie. This segment also offers our first glimpse of the Cobra Kai in their dojo. John Kreese, the evil sensei who would be played so memorably by Martin Kove, is here played by a stand-in who makes you appreciate the now-iconic menace Kove brought to the role. (Kove was one of the last actors to be hired for the movie.)
Part 3: Daniel throws away his bike. Mr. Miyagi fixes it. The Halloween dance.
The dialog between Ali and Daniel during their dance in his shower costume has yet to take its final form. Daniel’s classic “it’s coming around” line is absent as well.
Part 4: The Halloween beat-down
The Cobra Kai use a lot more profanity during the fight scene than they do in the rated-PG film. (Here Daniel is a prick; in the movie he’ll be a twerp.)
Part 5: Miyagi and Daniel visit the Cobra Kai dojo. Daniel and Ali run into the Cobra Kai at school. Daniel begins his training.
The absence of Martin Kove is again keenly felt: Classic lines like “this is a karate dojo, not a knitting class” have none of the edge Kove will bring to them. And more evidence of bowdlerization: “You’ve got real balls old man” will become “you’ve got real nerve old man” in the film. The most confounding line of dialog in The Karate Kid is partially explained by this segment of the rehearsal. In the film, Tommy bellows “it must be ‘Take a Worm for a Walk Week,’” as Daniel and Ali walk away from a confrontation with the Cobra Kai in which Daniel has demonstrated the temporary amnesty from their wrath that Miyagi has negotiated for him. Here, Tommy shouts the line from afar, upon first catching sight of the couple strolling along a courtyard. It’s still a bizarre thing to say, but it feels more natural as heckling than a response to Daniel’s taunting.
Part 6: The training continues.
In a deleted scene, Daniel begs his mom to be his ride for his date with Ali.
Parts 7 and 8: Ali and Daniel go on a date. Miyagi reveals to Daniel the true nature of wax-on, wax-off.
Watching Daniel and Ali practice their flirting at Golf ‘N’ Stuff is highly enjoyable, though disorienting, as it’s shot here during the day. Missing is the shot of Daniel celebrating an air hockey goal with questionable exuberance.
Part 9: Daniel learns balance. Drunk Miyagi.
In a deleted scene, Daniel preens in front of the mirror before going out on his second date with Ali (the ill-fated rendezvous at her country club). His mother tells him he looks like James Dean in his red windbreaker. We see some alternate drunk banter from Miyagi. Missing from the scene is Daniel’s poignant bow to the passed-out Miyagi, which would be improvised later.
Part 10: Daniel learns to punch. Daniel’s birthday.
Several deleted scenes here. A fight between Ali and Daniel the day after the country club debacle. Miyagi tells Daniel he left Okinawa to avoid being drafted into the Japanese Army, which leads into their discussion of the purpose of studying karate, blocked differently here than in the film. Daniel has a run-in with Johnny before the tournament and asks him if he ever wonders if his sensei is wrong. The scene has an after-school-special feel to it—another good cut.
Part 11: Daniel and Ali make up. The tournament begins.
More Karate Kid apocrypha: Daniel tells Ali that she’s “so full of shit your eyes are turning brown,” a graphic line excised from the movie. Daniel rescues Ali from a trio of dirt-bags outside the Golf ‘N’ Stuff (one of the dirtbags is played, unconvincingly, by Pat Johnson, who fans will recognize as the referee from Daniel and Johnny’s final showdown). Mrs. LaRusso objects to Daniel competing in the karate tournament, a wrinkle not present in the movie. Johnson’s referee offers a more detailed account of the rules of the tournament, including an explanation that contact to the knee will result in disqualification, setting up Bobby’s eventual dismissal.
Part 12: The tournament. Johnny’s semi-final match.
Devotees of The Karate Kid have long wondered how Daniel prevailed over Dutch, arguably the nastiest of the Cobra Kai. (Unlike Bobby and Johnny, he has no redemptive moment.) In the movie’s tournament montage, Dutch seems to have the upper hand, but then Daniel is abruptly declared the winner of their match despite never having landed a winning blow. Here we see a deleted sequence in which Dutch tackles Daniel after the latter has scored a point, earning Dutch a disqualification. Aha!
Part 13: Daniel and Bobby. Daniel and Johnny.
Kreese is played here by Robert Mark Kamen, the Karate Kid’s screenwriter. A few differences between this footage and the finished product: Bobby quits the Cobra Kai after being disqualified. Daniel doesn’t have to persuade Miyagi to mend his leg—Miyagi just does it. The referee offers more explanation for why one of Johnny’s strikes does not count as a point, a confusing moment in the film. The sweeping of the leg is far less dramatic than it will be in the film. There’s a lot of magic yet to happen.
But wait—there’s more! In addition to the rehearsal footage, Avildsen has also posted several other clips worth checking out. This video intercuts the audition tapes of Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita, who both read from the same scene. It’s remarkable how comfortably both actors already inhabit the roles they’d later immortalize—many of their line-readings closely resemble the lines as delivered in the final cut. In another video, Macchio and Elisabeth Shue read a scene in Avildsen’s office. Here, Robert Mark Kamen demonstrates the basis for the wax-on, wax-off technique of self-defense. And here, cast and crew gather for a read-through at the home of Karate Kid producer Jerry Weintraub. Of particular note: Morita demonstrating the choreography of the showdown between Miyagi and Kreese. As fans know, this scene ultimately became the opening of The Karate Kid Part II. But it was originally written as the coda of the first movie. Thankfully, Avildsen settled on the freeze frame of Miyagi’s grinning face instead, a more fitting conclusion to Hollywood’s finest coming-of-age karate film.
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