KARATE KID–THE MISUNDERSTOOD: JOHNNY LAWRENCE

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Johnny Lawrence—the timeless bully—handsome, wealthy and rolling deep with sniveling minions eager to knock a nerd another strata or two below rock bottom. To be perfectly honest, Johnny was the most fearsome movie villain of his day because he was real, whereas I had a high level of confidence that I would never get pantsed in gym class by Predator. But as is the intent of these articles, we will reverse gravity and present this fearsome thug in a new perspective, for there is a tale to be told beyond the rise of Machhio…all one must do is rip themselves away from the guilt-tainted sympathy for the weeping underdog and peer through eyes that focus on what really matters…Power!

Johnny is the All-Valley 18 and Under Karate Champion three years running. He’s entering his Senior Year in High School and is very popular. He’s a country club member. He’s fit, athletic and dashing. All in all, you couldn’t really imagine anything being imperfect at this point in his young life, as he is arguably at the apex of his demographic. But alas, there is a flaw and, as it is the most persisting nuisance facing humanity since Eve fumbled away paradise, it’s because of a woman.

Johnny’s female social equivalent and the predestined vessel for his seed, Ali, has recently broken up with him for unspecified reasons, but I will presume it’s because she felt she was too fat to deserve such a perfect boyfriend. Following the age-old rules of rebound, Ali’s hormones shove her in the opposite direction of Johnny and, given that he’s as Alpha as they come, any alternative is bound to suck…

Daniel Laruso—a gangly, bastard being supported by a shrill mother driven by big dreams that barely rival welfare. Daniel is poor, unrefined and inexplicably cocky, probably as a result of his hot-Moorish blood getting an octane-boost with the confidence instilled via YMCA-taught Tai Cheese. But despite these terrible handicaps, things start out well enough for Daniel. He makes a quick friend when he kicks the door of his new Section 8 housing into the face of Freddy the Mexican. Awed by the ability to raise one’s leg parallel to the ground while screaming an Asian-sounding exclamation, Freddy inquires with amazement “Hey, was that karate?” as if Daniel had just smashed flaming cinder blocks while wearing a Gi full of piranha. Realistically Freddy asking Daniel if that was karate was like asking every guy that can get a boner if he’s a porn star. Fuck you, Freddy.

But the innocuous meeting with Freddy has a snowball effect as it sets in motion a series of events that lead our flawless hero, Johnny, to first encounter the darkened, ugly form of Daniel…And what greasy beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Reseda to be born?

Courtesy of Freddy, Daniel has been invited to an All-Male Valley Scum Beach Party that happens to be adjacent to a Rich Hills Girls Beach Party, complete with a space-age battery-powered tape deck. As the grunting boys perform amazing Feats of kickball for the largely disinterested group of girls, something terrible happens. Ali, the alpha female and explicit property of one Mr. John Lawrence, inexplicably falls under the slummy spell of Daniel during an extended moment of creepy eye contact. Ok, let’s be serious here… does anybody have fond memories of making instant friends and reeling in prospects of raw-dogging the Prom Queen during their first half-day after a disruptive trans-continental move? Didn’t think so…but wait…I hear dirt bikes in the distance!

Perched atop a nearby cliff top is our Johnny, talking excitedly of his impending senior reign and enjoying a celebratory beer with his bros. But soaring moments tend to be fleeting as Johnny is quickly grounded when alerted to trouble brewing on the sands below. Justifiably infuriated by the unexpected sight of his chunky girlfriend being courted by a coltish stranger in home-made cut-off jean shorts, Johnny intervenes.

Johnny confronts Ali’s betrayal, but she has already succumbed to Daniel’s musky spell and the simple, classless future he might offer. Instead of talking it out, Ali keeps cranking her boombox up to 11 in a petulant display, using it as a dumb shield against his overwhelming reasoning. Tired of her childish reaction, Johnny lobs the radio into the soft sand, not intending to break it of course, but only seeking to maneuver the conversation in a constructive direction. But the apparent disregard for Ali’s property is all it takes to spark aggression in Daniel’s brutish mind and it is at this pivotal moment that he decides to stick his big, marinara-stained nose where it doesn’t belong.

Daniel rushes to the aid of the radio in a weak attempt to cull favor from Ali with a grand display of the obsequiousness a relationship with him would offer. Johnny, annoyed by yet another middling distraction, tries to hand Daniel the radio so he’ll hopefully rush off to fence it, but in the process, accidentally shoves him to the ground because he greatly overestimated Daniel’s ability to stand.

Daniel, fueled by New Jersey Choochery, rushes Johnny, who properly reacts to the low threat level with a harmless trip, hoping that it’ll send a clear message of dominance in its effortlessness. Unfortunately, all it does is cause a fresh surge of garlic-tainted adrenaline to gush into Daniel who doesn’t get the point, even after his second embarrassing face plant. Johnny, not wanting to further humiliate Daniel, drops his guard just long enough to catch a total sucker punch that bloodies his nose. No man should be expected to absorb such an act of cowardice with grace. In a quick flurry that is more reflex than response, Johnny handily dispatches Daniel, knowing that dropping him will be the only way to cease his macho charges and spare him serious injury.

Ali somehow manages to chastise Johnny for defending himself from the spaz attacks of this busybody stranger and opts to rush to Daniel’s aid as he lays sobbing and bleeding in the sand like the Everywimp in the first cells of a Charles Atlas advertisement. A fine moment comes when Daniel’s group of potential friends garnish the beat-down sundae
with a bright cherry of disgusted insults and dismissive gestures as they leave his prone form to be nipped at by the crabs.

The next day is Daniel’s first at his new school and he gets to make his already awkward debut sporting a black eye that would make Ike Turner nod in proud approval. Seriously, we’re supposed to root for a guy who is so pathetic that he’s a black-eyed joke before his first day at school? A guy so squirrelly that he’s already blatantly ducking “bullies” in front of Ali, despite being in the safe haven of school? A guy who pulls his sweatpants up to his armpits, then starts hurling punches when legitimately slide-tackled during kickball
tryouts? Daniel is the antithesis of a hero. One moment, he is craven, slinking unseen between sanctuaries, the next he is an opportunistic savage, master of the cheap shot.

Hoping to up his Karate repertoire, Daniel ventures to a local school that he sees across the street from the restaurant his mom moved them across the country to be a hostess at. It is called Cobra-Kai and it is, for the purposes of the film, the factory of Daniel’s tormentors. The sensei of this school is a hardened veteran of the Viet Nam conflict, the highly-decorated John Kreese. Kreese is a hard man, but like any good teacher, he instills in his students a simple, yet powerful morality that promotes strength, overcoming of fear and the defeat of those that would bring you harm…shit they apparently don’t teach you at the Newark Y. Obviously, Daniel flees the situation instantly because, God forbid, he opts to impress with bravery or even humility.

As Daniel peddles his way home on his Huffy, the Cobra-Kai ride up next to him on their expensive, motored bicycles. They tease him innocently for a moment, but Daniel freaks out needlessly and goes armadillo, losing control of his bike as it rockets to an uncontrolled 10mph down the mildest of slopes. A simple accident precipitated, once again, by the fact that Daniel is a clumsy, spastic dunce that doesn’t realize that the new guy is supposed to get hazed just a little before blending into the social slurry. Instead of taking the growing pains, Daniel goes into a dejected tantrum that catches the attention of a tiny, mysterious Asian who will eventually show him the path to quick-fix, unearned respect.

Several weeks suddenly pass and it’s Halloween. There are no yellowing bruises decorating Daniel’s face, so it’s safe to assume that Johnny and the Cobras have graciously left Daniel alone for some time. Daniel decides to go to a school dance solo and, once again, falls into popular-girl-pussy like it’s an ocean of goddamn quicksand. After molesting Ali in the portable shower (originality points won courtesy of Asian mystic), Daniel is pegged in the face by an egg and, due to some blip in his neurochemistry, decides not to instantaneously spear-tackle the guy in the chicken suit and rain haymakers on his beak.

Daniel ventures to the bathroom to clean up the first literal egg-in-the-face he’s received thus far and, in the process, spies Johnny in one of the stalls. Instead of, I don’t know, fucking leaving the bathroom and proceeding with Mission: Sodomize Ali, Daniel decides he’s going to even the score by getting an unsuspecting Johnny wet. I don’t know how this plan played out in his head, but I don’t think it went beyond the wetting stage because it’s slightly difficult to escape reprisal when you not only run out of the bathroom in obvious guilt, but you are also dressed as a ten-foot tall fucking shower.

Johnny, needlessly provoked once again by a cheap shot, sets out in pursuit, friends in tow because that’s what friends do…they get your back. They chase Daniel outside into the night, where he causes additional harm to innocents as people crash their cars trying to avoid him as he flees comeuppance. Being weak, he is inevitably seized by the angry pack just before he’s able to scale the fence surrounding his ghetto, crushing his hopes of having his mom chase the Cobras away with wild swings of a broom. Johnny draws Daniel to eye level and breathlessly asks of him “You couldn’t leave well enough alone, could you?” A fair question leveled at a recidivist coward in desperate need of recalibration.

Since punishment akin to spankings had demonstrated little effect up to this point, it was time for Daniel to be shown his place via the heavy hand. It was the only way, otherwise, Daniel would eventually wrong somebody not possessing of mercy who would fuck him up worse than any BMX accident could ever cover up. Just as the stern lesson is starting to take, Tiny Asian appears in a cloud of Dragon’s Breath to fuck it all up…pathetic really, a skilled martial artist beating up a bunch of seventeen-year-olds.

With the balance of power now destabilized by the introduction of a child abuser, Daniel goes on the offensive and demands of the Cobras to be left alone, otherwise he’ll sic his murderous Nisei on them again. Sensei Kreese, with his superior understanding of Asian codes of honor, suggests that Daniel and Johnny square up on-on-one to settle things once and for all, like champions of yore. But once again, Daniel’s inherent weakness requires all manner of accommodation instead of him once again denying that the new kid’s lot in life is to just shut the fuck up and wait for the opportunity to prey on newer kids. So once again, Johnny must turn the other cheek and agree to leave Daniel alone until the All-Valley Tournament where he might be sufficiently trained to avoid crying in a crumpled heap after a two-second ass-beating.

With the cease-fire in place, the Cobras honor the decree as expected. What does Daniel do at first opportunity? He runs up to the Cobras, Ali in tow, to flaunt his untouchability! He even stakes passive claim to a black eye he didn’t even deliver! “Haha! You can’t deservingly kick my ass cuz’ your Sensei said so!” What a fucking greasy pussy bitch. I’d sooner cheer for the Nazis in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

At this point, the pacing of the film dies, as we are bored to death with karate training cunningly disguised as Koi Pond maintenance,
Daniel building confidence within the safety of his snow globe existence and a very normal, healthy friendship developing between a young boy and a reclusive old Japanese man that may or may not have tampered with American radar emplacements on Oahu, c. December 7th, 1941.

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So tournament day finally arrives. Johnny is the heavy favorite to win, being that he is a three-time champion and has achieved this spectacular level of success through years of diligence and hard work. Daniel shows up unprepared, lies about being a black belt, steals somebody else’s black belt and then he, Benedict Akira and Ali all conspire to dupe a kindly ring official into breaking the rules to Daniel’s advantage.

The tournament begins and Daniel starts off with his typical Clinic in Spinelessness, going so far as to be pre-terrified because his first opponent appears to be meditating. After running out of the ring a few times like a gay elephant fleeing a mouse, he gains his composure and wins with a few unspectacular moves just as the first thumps of “You’re the Best Around” swell, escorting us into the montage that speeds us through the tournament.

We see the well-trained Cobras making quick work of the competition; Johnny especially dispatches his foes with practiced perfection. We also see Daniel, even with the assistance of cinematic smoke and mirrors, perform Karate moves with all the grace of a rusted-out Asimo.

As the final tournament brackets start to take form, Daniel must fight a series of Mini-Boss battles in the form of the second-tier (non-Johnny) Cobra-Kai. In the semi-final round against Bobby, Sensei Kreese, tired of watching the deceptive Daniel scale the ranks and dishonor millennia of tradition, tells Bobby he wants Daniel “out of commission.” Bobby follows his order, but still summons the character to apologize, despite the fact that Daniel, a supposed practitioner of Karate, should perhaps be capable of self-defense. Unfortunately, Bobby’s attack was only sufficient to deter instantaneous Western methods of healing, but unbeknownst to him or anyone else, Daniel has yet another Ace up his sleevein the form of the Japanese Shiatsu Knee Fix, again courtesy of Mr. Omni-Tool-San.

Johnny, a given in the Finals, is accepting the trophy after another amazing run unfortunately soured by a default victory, courtesy of that guy that fucks up everything for him. But like a decapitated and thought-dead villain in the B-est of horror films, Daniel emerges from the locker room, his game knee pinned together by the very will of the Khans. There will be a final apocalyptic fight after all. Good versus Evil. Light versus Dark.

Sensei Kreese, fully confident in his student’s superiority, rewards Johnny’s months of patience by allowing him to punish Daniel in the one arena where outside influences will not affect the outcome, a place where warriors kill and cowards are slain. Get a point. Give a point. Maintain the stalemate until every unearned achievement that ever drove Daniel is mashed out by fist and foot. Deconstruct him, and then reform him into a true man from the basic elements.

Johnny bats Daniel around as easily as he did on the beach many months before. Perpetually overmatched and on the defensive, Daniel skits around the ring like a cornered mink, his fear and weakness on display for hundreds to see. Once again, Kreese tires of this sheepish show and the infamous request of “sweep the leg” comes into play, a maneuver considered illegal in the tournament, but probably only so because Daniel’s mother somehow stole the tournament rule book and tailored it to suit her son’s statued fighting style. Johnny, still only a student, questions his teacher’s motives momentarily, but the leg is swept nonetheless and Daniel’s balky knee crumbles anew, this time with no hidden parlor tricks available to repair him.

Everything is unfolding according to Darwinian law, until the first-point-wins Sudden Death comes into play. Johnny, who has dominated every single moral and physical challenge up to this point, suddenly finds himself staring at an idiot wobbling on one foot with his arms held up like those of a gibbon-gone-terrestrial. In this one flawed moment of uncertainty mixed with overconfidence, Johnny charges Daniel face-first and is rewarded with a punt to the nose, courtesy of the lamest animal-themed-style outside of Platypus…plus, I thought contact to the face was illegal?

The fair-weather crowd erupts and rushes the ring; fond memories of Johnny’s glorious reign are shoved aside like pencils in a Halloween horde. The ecstatic Daniel is hoisted onto strange shoulders as he celebrates his ill-gotten victory, never accepting it as tainted-lightning-in-a-bottle, but no matter, for we have countless examples of the type of person he really is; a weak, opportunistic instigator doesn’t become Mr. Bushido because of one fluke Crane Kick.

And from the throng of revelers, who should emerge, bloodied and defeated, but still rising above it all, even in his darkest moment? Johnny, that’s who. And what does he do but wrest the All-Valley 18 and Under Trophy from the announcer’s hand and presents it to Daniel himself, proudly saying “You’re all right, Laruso.”

If this is not the most selfless cinematic moment in history I don’t know what is, but as I sit here and appreciate the big picture one last time, I realize something important has somehow been left unspoken for these 20+ years…

“Johnny, it’s you that’s all right, Man. It’s always been you.”

About Wax

Wax’s output is unfortunately Von Hobartian in frequency, but unlike Hobart, he actually has a life, a job, and responsibilities, so we’ll give him a pass. Also, we need someone who isn’t white.