This Movie Was Hell: 4 Ways ‘The Karate Kid’ Was Almost KO’d
Everybody loves The Karate Kid, the iconic story about how an ancient East Asian martial art is used by white Californian teens competing to impress Elisabeth Shue. With the success of Netflix’s Cobra Kai breathing new life into the nearly-40-year-old franchise, there’s no better time to take a stroll down memory lane (and into the sweaty dojos adjacent to memory lane) and take a look at how this franchise very nearly wasn’t the best around, starting with how …
Pat Morita Wasn’t Even Considered For The Role Of Mr. Miyagi
It’s hard to imagine The Karate Kid without Pat Morita’s touching performance as Mr. Miyagi, Daniel LaRusso’s sensei, father figure, and non-canonical toothpaste spokesman.
But originally, Morita was not only not considered for the role, he was actively rejected as a candidate. Why? According to first assistant director Clifford Coleman, he had a “horrible background” as a “stand-up comic who got up on stage loaded, dirty and foul.” Producer Jerry Weintraub knew Morita from playing comedy clubs in the Catskills and couldn’t see him as the wise and sensitive Miyagi, while others reasoned that audiences would only know him as Arnold from Happy Days – although, to be fair, that role did sometimes require him to teach karate to teenagers.
Originally, the production wanted legendary Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune, of Seven Samurai and Rashomon fame, to play the role – which was a problem since he “didn’t speak a word of English.” Scrambling to find a Miyagi at the last minute, as part of a “cattle call” audition, director John Avildsen brought Morita in to read for the part and taped his audition. He then randomly showed the tape to Weintraub during a production meeting with no warning, and reportedly, it “brought Jerry to tears.” When he asked who the actor was, Avildsen replied: “That’s the Pat Morita you refused to read for the part.”
As for the other roles, Ralph Macchio landed the part of Daniel, beating out other young actors like Robert Downey Jr. and Charlie Sheen. For the part of the bully Johnny Lawrence, the producers considered casting a pre-Back to the Future Crispin Glover – and maybe just pause for a moment and really ponder just how wild Cobra Kai would be if it starred Charlie Sheen and Crispin Glover.
The Famous Fly Scene Was A Pain In The Ass To Film
The most famous scene in The Karate Kid (that doesn’t involve car wax or likely illegal tournament-winning kicks) is probably the part where Daniel plucks a fly out of midair with a pair of chopsticks like the world’s most patient exterminator.
While today this would almost certainly be done with a CGI fly (and possibly even a CGI Ralph Macchio), back in the ‘80s, the production had to hire a fly wrangler – who presumably had a busy ‘80s thanks to The Karate Kid and Jeff Goldblum. Unfortunately, catching the fly proved to be … pretty as difficult as one might think. So they turned to Industrial Light and Ma – no wait, they tried putting the files “in a refrigerator to slow them down.” Which, not surprisingly, didn’t work.
Next, they tried tying a dead fly to a piece of wire – but this plan, the fly equivalent of Weekend at Bernie’s, wasn’t convincing. So, instead, they plucked a clump of black fuzz off of the script supervisor’s sweater and tied it to a piece of black thread. While that tactic was ultimately successful, we can’t say the same for another effect; Mr. Miyagi’s automated training dummy dubbed “Mr. Hashimoto,” which was basically a broom with some hydraulic arms and legs that apparently “never worked.” It was cut from the film (but showed up briefly in Part III) and ultimately replaced by Mr. Miyagi in catcher’s gear – which, come to think of it, was far more effective than a janky homemade robot.
Ralph Macchio Got Kicked In The Face For Real
In the most disastrous Halloween party in movie history (except maybe for the time a ghost in his mid-forties made out with a teenage girl), Daniel LaRusso gets the crap beaten out of him by Johnny Lawrence and his Cobra Kai buddies, who are all dressed in matching skeleton costumes … presumably because they were planning to bust into some kind of choreographed dance routine later.
Unfortunately, Macchio got kicked in the face for real during the filming of this scene; around “4 in the morning,” William Zabka, who of course plays Johnny, was supposed to “fake a front roundhouse” but instead “nailed” Macchio in the jaw. Although Zabka contends that it wasn’t his fault since Macchio “leaned into it.” You can even see real bruises on Macchio’s face later in the film. This incident prompted the crew to “bring in stunt doubles to complete that scene.” Good call.
The Karate Kid Part III Was A Goddamn Trainwreck
When it came time to make a third Karate Kid movie, screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen pitched something entirely different than what had come before; suggesting a movie in which Daniel and Mr. Miyagi magically “flashback to 16th century China” in what becomes a “Hong Kong Kung Fu movie” about the origins of Miyagi-Do Karate, since Kamen reasoned that “Okinawan Karate came from China.”
Not shockingly, the producers rejected this idea, opting instead to revisit more familiar narrative ground (albeit with a coke-addled psycho ponytail guy), which Kamen found “f***ing boring.”
After several failed drafts from other writers, Kamen was eventually lured back to the project, thanks to a crapload of money and a meeting where the producers pointed out: “What, do you want somebody to f**k up Mr. Miyagi? Because we’re going to make the film.”
Another problem: the “Karate Kid” was now a “Karate Grown-ass Man.” Yup, Ralph Macchio was in his late 20s (and married) while making The Karate Kid Part III, in which he plays an 18-year-old boy. Which wouldn’t have been a huge problem if not for the fact that the producers cast 16-year-old Robyn Lively as his love interest. According to Lively, even though she was “scripted to be his girlfriend,” they hastily retooled the story at the last minute because the age difference was “so awkward.”
The script also had to be adjusted when actor Martin Kove, who played John Kreese, had “a TV commitment” and couldn’t be around for most of the shoot, hence why Kamen was forced to invent the character of Terry “Would You Like Fries With That Scenery” Silver, played by Thomas Ian Griffith – who, incidentally, is nearly a year younger than Ralph Macchio.
You (yes, you) should follow JM on Twitter!
Thumbnail: Columbia Pictures