A sizable hit with both teen audiences and sports-themed movie enthusiasts, 1984's The Karate Kid
had the right combination of heart and action to spawn three sequels of varying quality between 1986 and 1994; all four features have been packaged together in this three-disc set. Though plot elements varied from film to film, the core story (and the series' greatest strength) remained the same--the relationship between a wise Japanese martial arts teacher (skillfully underplayed by comedian Pat Morita) and his young American student (Ralph Macchio in the first three films, and future Oscar winner Hilary Swank in the final entry, The Next Karate Kid
). The first of the Morita/Macchio matchups remains the best of the four features, with excellent performances from both leads and director John G. Avildsen (who also handled Rocky
and the first two Kid
sequels) expertly balancing the emotional moments with the pure excitement of the martial arts tournament that serves as its finale.
The subsequent sequels with Macchio seemed pulpier (especially The Karate Kid, Part II, with its rekindled wartime romance subplot), and the inevitable come-from-behind competitions lacking the impact of the original; 1994's The Next Karate Kid (directed by Christopher Cain) put a slight spin on the formula by replacing Macchio with belligerent teen Swank, but it too seems like a retread of the first film. Still, the messages inherent to each film--finding one's inner strength, trusting your heart--should ring true to new generations of younger viewers. Fans may find the Collection light on supplemental features--while all four films are presented in anamorphic widescreen format, only the original (which was previously released in pan-and-scan only) offers commentary by Avildsen, Macchio and Morita and several making-of featurettes; the three sequels, packed into two discs, offer no extras. --Paul Gaita