Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Mediocrity Codex: Volume I, Issue I
Section II: the unappreciated charm of 1984's "The Karate Kid"

So I got busted at work today. Science requires that everything be meticulously recorded, whether success or failure. Beyond that, reagents and solutions also need proper labels, with accurate dates, contents, and signatures. It's all about accountability. And I suppose that's why I get busted so easily.

On top of this, there's a volunteer at the lab now, whom I have to train and am responsible for. Which would be great, except that English isn't his first language and Chinese isn't mine. Sure, it's a great opportunity to learn Chinese, and it's a rare and wonderful chance for me to teach a non-native speaker the joys of the English language, but to be honest, it sucks. Besides, when am I ever going to have to translate things like "gel electrophoresis" and "vacuum gas plasma-treated tissue culture flasks". Never. That's when.

Anyway, onto the meat and buns of my thoughts for today. I watched (and am currently watching) the original 1984 classic "The Karate Kid". It's frightening and enlightening seeing how well this movie has aged. Is it a period piece? Perhaps. Is it social commentary? Kinda-sorta. Is it artful photography direction and cinematography? Sometimes. Is it a good movie? Definitely. Despite its use of a plethora of tropes (platinum blonde evil boy/love interest girl (wonderfully played by elizabeth shue)), it still does so many things right. Japanese internment. Socioeconomic stereotyping. High School Bullying. Rockin' 80's fusion soundtrack punctuated with full orchestra compositions during climaxes. All this with the backdrop of a 1980's Southern California San Fernando Valley Reseda-is-the-armpit-Encino-is-the-Diamond milieu that makes the drabulous look fabulous.

And watching old movies often gets, well, old. Nostalgia does a great job of glossing over the more mundane sections of a film: slow moments of exposition, fumbled physical stunts or awkward attempts at body language, even plain old bad dialogue. Don't get me wrong, "The Karate Kid" has its fair share of each one of these. But even so, it's a briskly paced, genuinely entertaining piece of cinema history. Ralph Macchio captures the essence of the plain, awkward, displaced teenager moving from a boondock to a 'burb. Pat Morita does a GREAT job playing the esoteric yet warm mechanic-turned-sensei. and Elizabeth Shue epitomizes the blonde girl-next-door that the valley is (was) famous for back when Malibu Castle (now Sherman Oaks Castle Park) was the coolest place in town.  Even the platinum blonde evillion William Zabka is a pitch-perfect mold of the valley's collective recollection of the bully. I'll never forget the way he looks in that Skeleton costume in the halloween party scene, and the words "Cobra Kai!" will always place his face squarely in the 3D IMAX of my mind. To be honest though, the most recent remake was probably made after a long night with too many drinks and a netflix account, because it seems to attempt all of these things, but with relevance to the present, which, sadly, has not found a place to be relevant among media today.

Which is sad, because it's a great story.

Miyaji-do! I mean, MiyaGI-do! Kiai!