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The once and future 'Karate Kid'

Ralph Macchio reflects on films that made him famous

By Douglas Hyde
Special to

Karate Kid
The four "Karate Kid" movies are just out on DVD.
•  'Karate Kid' siteexternal link
Pat Morita
Hilary Swank
Ralph Macchio

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- For Ralph Macchio, there's just no escaping "The Karate Kid."

Particularly a certain phrase.

" 'Wax on, wax off' -- [it] comes every day. Well, maybe not every day, but every week," says Macchio. "And everyone yells out the phrase as if they'd just come up with the idea, thinking, 'Whoa, isn't that genius? Hey Ralph, wax on, wax off!' "

Still, Macchio has gotten used to nostalgic Gen-X'ers quoting lines from the 1984 coming-of-age classic. Now, to his surprise, another generation is picking up on the film.

"I go into Blockbuster now and I bump into the sales person or the person behind the desk and they say the film is always out, [that] parents say, 'Oh, this is a good one. I want to share this with my kids.' "

Those parents (and kids) can now get a new edition of the film. A special edition DVD, loaded with extras, arrived last week as part of a four-disc "Karate Kid Collection" box set.

Macchio has watched it with his own kids and was surprised to discover he identified not with his teenage character, Daniel LaRusso (or "Daniel-san"), but with a certain sage handyman/karate master.

"It was interesting to watch the film with them, and for the first time I was relating to the Miyagi character, as the mentor, as the one trying to guide the misguided youth," he says of the teacher played by Noriyuki "Pat" Morita. "And I kept saying this Daniel character is just a little arrogant in making these mistakes."

'Just turn and bow to him'

The actor, now 43, also screened it recently over sushi and sake with director John Avildsen, writer Robert Mark Kamen, and Morita when they did commentary for the DVD.

"I never watched it with Pat Morita ever, so it was kind of fun to be there with him and reminisce about how scenes became what they became," he says, adding that one of those scenes -- Macchio's favorite -- almost didn't make it.

"Pat Morita has this wonderful scene [where Miyagi] gets drunk and you learn about his ex-wife and you learn about his character and it's at the point that Daniel puts him to bed, lays him down and then finds out that his wife and son died due to complications from birth," he says. "It's just a real dramatic moment."

As the DVD reveals, studio execs thought the scene slowed the pace of the film and wanted it gone. But Avildsen fought for it, the scene stayed in, and Morita likely got his Oscar nomination because of it.

"I just love that one and always loved the moment where Daniel bows to Miyagi after he puts him to sleep," Macchio says, "That was John Avildsen saying, 'Before you leave, just turn and bow to him.' It's just a genuine organic great moment that just sort of came up on the day."

'You learn to appreciate it'

Karate Kid
Macchio, Pat Morita (center rear), screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen (right) and director John Avildsen got together to do commentary.

The "Karate Kid" DVD box set includes all four films: "The Karate Kid" (1984), "The Karate Kid Part II" (1986), "The Karate Kid Part III" (1989) and "The Next Karate Kid" (1994), the latter starring a then-unknown actress named Hilary Swank.

Macchio admits some of the films are better than others.

"The first film was by far my favorite. I think the second was a very worthy sequel and it explores a whole other culture. It takes you to a whole different place and you explore more of Miyagi's past and his life," he says. "I think the third one was because the second one made a lot of money, and that happens a lot. It's not, it's certainly not my favorite of the three.

"And then Hilary Swank -- whatever happened to her?" -- he adds jokingly --"she's on the verge of winning her second Oscar or close to it, did a fourth one. That was a different director, a different writer, but it's the same Miyagi."

With the exception of his supporting role in 1992's "My Cousin Vinny," Macchio hasn't been in a high-profile movie since the "Karate Kid" era. Daniel LaRusso continues to be the role he's most closely identified with.

It's something he's finally at peace with.

"There was a bit of time where it was overwhelming, but as time goes by, as you age you get smarter and wiser with these things and you learn to appreciate it," he says. "When you consider how few times the magic can work, you begin to realize that it's a privilege and you're quite fortunate to have had the opportunity."

One can almost hear an old teacher saying, "Very wise, Daniel-san. Miyagi have hope for you."

Doug Ganley also contributed to this report.

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