DVD Round-up 20 July 2010: The Karate Kid I & II, Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff

With a big budget remake of The Karate Kid just around the corner, this time starring Will Smith’s son, Jaden, in the title role, now seems as good a time as any to revisit the saga of 1984’s original and its first sequel as they arrive on Blu-ray from Momentum.

Moving with his mother from New Jersey to Los Angeles, Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) starts school and falls for Ali (Elizabeth Shue), incurring the wrath of her ex- boyfriend Johnny (William Zabka) who decides to take his revenge on the new arrival using a violent form of karate taught to him by Sensei, John Kreese (Martin Kove).

With the help of local karate expert Mr Miyagi (Pat Morita), Daniel begins a course of intensive training which will see him learn a set of skills not taught at the local karate school…at least not the way Miyagi does. The scene is set for a battle between Daniel and Johnny as our hero fights for both success and the respect of his peers.

For anyone who hasn’t seen the film in a number of years, and who perhaps remembers action as a key element of the story, be prepared for something of a shock. Karate may be what the film was sold on, but this is basically a coming-of-age/teen romance tale given a new spin, the odd training montage fight sequence never as important as the interaction between Daniel and father figure Miyagi or Daniel and Ali.

In fact, for much of the film Miyagi manages to halt reprisals from Johnny and his gang, leaving the two hour running time to be a more measured affair that doesn’t rush to the inevitable end fight sequence. As such it’s a step-up from many of its rivals, Macchio and Morita giving hugely enjoyable performances that deserve repeat viewing.

The same can’t really be said about the sequel, The Karate Kid II, which dispenses with both Daniel’s love interest and mother in the opening 15 minutes, leaving the lads to go on a jaunt back to Miyagi’s home in Japan where he can be with his sick father. 

Conflict is introduced as soon as the pair land on Japanese soil, with a cartoonish villain introduced to stir things up for the once proud teacher.

While it’s nice to see Daniel and Miyagi back, there’s a feeling that it’s all just a bit pointless, little depth given to either character, though the latter is given his own love interest to keep him busy. Thankfully none of this taints the first film, but it is a warning to the makers of the new movie to watch out for redundant sequels if it’s a success.

The Blu-ray transfers on both films are fine, though nothing outstanding, with the main extras awarded to the first film, with a commentary from Macchio and Morita adding some depth to the film’s production and a number of featurettes discussing the genesis of the script and the making of the film.

On the subject of 1980’s movies, what links Karate Kid’s Martin Kove with Oscar-winning British director Jack Cardiff, whose life and career is celebrated in new documentary Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff (Optimum)? Rather bizarrely, as well as being cinematographer on recognised classics such as Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes, Cardiff also worked on 1985’s Rambo: First Blood Part II, starring Kove as Ericson.

If that fascinating fact isn’t enough to convince you to pick up Craig McCall’s documentary on DVD, then perhaps the knowledge that the history of Mr Cardiff is effectively the history of cinema as we know it, or at the very least the visual style of cinema, should be. 

Starting out in cinema as a child actor in the 1920s, Cardiff ended up behind the cameras in the 1930s where he was subsequently selected by US executives to be the first camera operator in the UK to learn how to shoot in Technicolor. 

Within a few years Cardiff was working with Powell and Pressburger on films such as The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, A Matter of Life and Death, Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes. 

The documentary’s numerous talking heads – Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall and Martin Scorsese are just some of those on hand to pay tribute to Cardiff – are punctuated with a series of clips from many of Jack’s films which help put his work into perspective. 

For lovers of cinema this is a fascinating insight into both the work of a hugely talented man and of the workings of cinema itself, in particular an aspect of the industry which is increasingly under threat thanks to the move towards digital trickery.

Finally a word of warning: there’s a good chance that watching this film will lead at least some viewers to head to their nearest online DVD store to buy copies of the classics shown straight after, so watch those debit cards…

Extras include an interview with Craig McCall, clips from Cardiff’s behind-the-scenes movies and portraits of his leading ladies drawn on the sets of his films.


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