How could anyone properly sequelize “The Karate Kid?” Here was a self-contained story with an explosive sense of finality, sending moviegoers off with a head rush of victory, engorged on pure human spirit. The story was over. Daniel-san kicked some ass and Mr. Miyagi was left up to his eyeballs in satisfaction over his unique training accomplishment. However, picking up a few unexpected bucks at the box office has a funny way of changing closure into an invitation, and, in 1986, the boys returned to the screen with an all-new adventure to give rabid fans exactly what they were craving: more of the same.Facing a summer away in another city and without his beloved girlfriend, Daniel (Ralph Macchio) turns to his only friend, Mr. Miyagi (Noriyuki “Pat” Morita), for guidance. Called away to his childhood home in Japan to meet with his infirmed father, Miyagi is pleased to find Daniel eager to tag along, hoping to teach the boy new karate lessons while in the birthplace of his martial art mastery. However, trouble comes along in the form of Sato (Danny Kamekona), a karate bruiser who’s held a lifelong grudge against Miyagi he wants settled, while Daniel is hounded by Sato’s nephew, Chozen (Yuki Okumoto). As the feuds come to a boil, both men find peace in the healing powers of love, with Daniel drawn to a comely local (Tamlyn Tomita), intensifying Chozen’s ire.
"A rehash, but a damn fun rehash"
Most of the gang is back for “The Karate Kid, Part II,” with director John G. Avildsen, writer Robert Mark Kamen, various key crew members, composer Tom Conti, and stars Macchio and Morita. The team has reunited to…basically remake “The Karate Kid.” Listen, it doesn’t do anyone any good to ignore the obvious here: it’s a sequel that shamelessly reheats the original. Daniel is merely handed a new love interest, taught a new finishing move (the “Drum Technique”), and Sato and Chozen are simply Asian versions of Kreese and Johnny from the original picture. I’ll just establish it now: the picture doesn’t offer any sort of spine-tingling cinematic challenge. The “II” of the title is purely decorative.
Familiarity now accepted, “Part II” is actually a spectacularly charming follow-up, careful to redo the saga of Daniel and Miyagi in a way that replicates the mighty chills of the earlier picture while further developing backstory and intimacy between the lead characters. Behind the plastic “Karate Kid” blueprint is the Japanese story of Miyagi, who’s returning to a land he abandoned long ago, when the love of his life was rudely promised to Sato while the combatants were teenagers. The fresh locale and threat to Miyagi’s inner peace is a spirited twist for the character, who reveals vulnerable pieces of his past to Daniel that strengthens their friendship and sorts out his crowded conscience. Masterfully acted once again by Morita, it’s Miyagi’s return to the culture and community he left behind that lends “Part II” a valuable fingerprint, away from the often conventional mechanics of the plot.
In fact, I wanted an entire film of the two pals bumming around rural Japan (Okinawa to be exact, thought the film was shot in Hawaii), enjoying karate lessons and sorting out matters of the heart. The series is magic when keeping tight on Daniel and Miyagi, with “Part II” offering some of their best exchanges and acts of friendship.
Fearing viewers might not stand for peaceful reflection or romantic toil, “Part II” serves up the bad guys, with Sato and Chozen prowling the frame salivating for a fight. The villains are inflated to cartoon levels of menace that kick the film off-balance, shoving the conflicts into their payoff positions when it appears Kamen’s script would rather linger on regret or chaste flirtation. The second half of the picture suffers the most, dragging a bit while intensely coloring inside the lines of the original picture, ballooning the absurdity to make certain the feelgood machine is cranked to 11 by the end credits.The franchise would eventually take a nose dive with 1989’s abysmal “Part III,” but the first sequel manages to retain many of the core delights, while keeping the picture fluid, patient, and sufficiently Ceteraed when any other follow-up would’ve torn up the joint to make a bratty impression. It’s a touch on the artificial side, but the sentiment still warms wonderfully, making “The Karate Kid, Part II” a lovely continuation, skillfully burning off the happy fumes left behind in 1984.
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originally posted: 05/07/10 16:32:01