Monday, May 31, 2010

"The Karate Kid, Part II" (1986)

"The Karate Kid, Part II"
Starring Ralph Macchio, Pat Morita and Tamlyn Tomita
Written by Robert Mark Kamen
Directed by John G. Avildsen

Ah, is there anything so self-glorifying as a sequel?  So often they end up a a shameless money-grab rather than a genuine continuation of a story.  With the second in the now long-running "Karate Kid" franchise, it's a little hard to classify which one this is.  While the story it tells is mostly worthy, it's also mostly unnecessary.  The premise is so dedicated to exploring the life and world of Miyagi that the presence of Daniel LaRusso seems forced throughout the entire picture, and writer Robert Mark Kamen struggles to find things for him to do.

Not long after winning the big karate tournament in the first film, Daniel continues to become a surrogate son for Miyagi.  When Miyagi receives word from Okinawa that his father has become ill, Miyagi returns to the fishing village he ran away from decades earlier.  It seems that he'd fallen in love with a woman,Yuki, who was promised to another: Miyagi's best friend, Sato.  His honor scorned, Sato challenged Miyagi to a fight... to the death.  Instead of fighting, Miyagi escaped to America.

Daniel insists on coming along to Japan with Miyagi, apparently spending the money he'd been saving for college in order to do so.  Just so Daniel has something to do in Japan, his girlfriend has conveniently broken up with him (and he's therefore free to pursue a new, Japanese love interest, Kumiko).  When Daniel and Miyagi arrive, they soon learn the lay of the land: Sato has become a powerful, corrupt businessman who runs roughshod over the whole area.  His nephew, Toguchi, is basically a karate-trained thug, cheating the locals at the market and beating up anyone who gets in his way. 

Miyagi's dying wish is for Sato and Miyagi to make up, but Sato won't have it, and gives Miyagi three days to grieve and prepare for their battle.  Meanwhile, Daniel continues to run afoul of Toguchi, no matter how hard he tries not to (or doesn't try not to... try figuring out all those negatives).  He also spends a lot of time awkwardly flirting with Kumiko. 

Finally, after Miyagi saves Sato's life during a dangerous thunderstorm, the two old friends mend fences.  But, oh, this is a Karate Kid movie, so there's got to be a big fight for Daniel at the end, right?  So what do we do?  Well, the script awkwardly manufactures a reason for Toguchi to go flat-out insane and take Kumiko hostage during a big village celebration and challenge Daniel to a fight to the death. 

So the Karate Kid, the character who belongs in this movie the least, gets the snot beat out of him for a few minutes until he magically figures out the secret move Miyagi tried to teach him once earlier in the movie and turns the tide of the fight.

"Karate Kid, Part II" is a mostly enjoyable sequel, but I have a hard time justifying its existence.  Daniel feels entirely out of place, and not just because he's a dorky American kid spending time in a tiny Japanese fishing village.  The script has to shoe-horn him into every situation that happens, and the fight at the end feels tacked on.  It is all very well made, however.  Director John Avildsen (who also directed the first film, and "Rocky") does a lot of solid work, and there's some great photography, too.  But there are also a few missteps.  The secret move Daniel uses to pound the tar out of Toguchi at the end is shot in so close you can't really tell what he's doing, so it really looks like he's just delivering alternating cross punches... So one has to wonder what the fuck was so secret about basic punching techniques.  (One also has to wonder why the supposedly unbeatable crane-kick move from the first movie actually has a simplistic blocking defense.)

The movie goes on a bit too long, too; a number of scenes could easily be shortened or even omitted entirely.  Shave ten minutes off this thing, and it'd flow by much quicker.

Probably the highlight of the whole enterprise is the interactions between Daniel and Miyagi; the two actors have clear chemistry with each other, and the characters bounce off each other with great energy.  On the opposite end of that coin, Macchio and Tomita have a pretty flaccid romance.  Tomita spends the entire movie looking shyly uncomfortable and whispering her lines.  The villains of the piece are pretty cartoonish, with every line greatly overexaggerated for the chest-beating, "grr, I'm EVIL" effect. 

So I'm not really sure where to put this one.  It's not like "Karate Kid, Part II" isn't any fun to watch; it is.  But there are just enough problems with it (including some that are conceptual) to keep it from being really good.  It can't match the original, and considering where the franchise would end up going after this one, they probably shouldn't have even tried.