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The Karate Kid, Part II Review

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by Casimir Harlow Jul 13, 2010

    The Karate Kid, Part II Review
    Whilst most remakes are largely inexcusable and unjustified, sequels are a whole different kettle of fish. Handled right, they can build upon the original story and established character, but also bring something new to the game. Aliens, Godfather: Part 2, Empire Strikes Back, Mad Max 2, T2 and Wrath of Khan, and even more recent movies like The Dark Knight and The Bourne Supremacy, have all become strong contenders for superior sequels. But the list is comparatively tiny when you consider the number of times Hollywood has got it wrong. Somebody should have realised by now that bigger, louder, faster - by themselves - simply aren't enough. From Die Hard 2 to Mission Impossible 2 to Transformers 2, the plan always fails. You sometimes need a fresh pair of eyes (and, more often than not, James Cameron stepping into the Directorial chair will work wonders) and you always need a new angle. Just churning out a facsimile rehash of the original will, more often than not, fail miserably. And for over half a Century popular movies have almost always resulted in the commissioning of a sequel (Even Kurosawa was persuaded to do it back in the 60s, when popularity drove him to bring back Mifune's iconic Yojimbo for a second tale in Sanjuro), leaving a fair number of inferior films out there with the number 2 after them. I bet that there is already a sequel to the Jackie Chan remake in the works, but in the meantime I get to follow up my look at the classic original Karate Kid, with a critical inspection of the sequel: The Karate Kid: Part II.
    Kicking off with a lovingly done 10 minute montage of all the key events from the first film (I'm not talking just the fighting, we also get the best lines and best moments from it, played against a panpipe riff that - for once - isn't all that irritating), the movie immediately after the end of the tournament fight, with a wounded but victorious Daniel-san leaving the stadium with Mr Miyagi, only to witness his opponent, Johnny, being violently berated by his own Karate instructor for losing. After Miyagi finally, and fairly satisfyingly, bests the nasty villain, the two heroes leave.
    A few months pass and quite a lot has changed. Daniel's mother has taken another job which involves - yet again - relocating, but thankfully actually thought about her son enough to arrange for him to stay with his mentor and father-figure, Mr Miyagi. Unfortunately, it is not long before Mr Miyagi receives bad news from Japan, and is compelled to return home to Okinawa, the island where he was brought up. Of course Daniel-san goes with him, on a voyage which will see him falling in love again, getting into trouble again and - no doubt - having some kind of tournament fight. All the while he learns more and more about Miyagi's own fractured youth: how he himself had to flee Japan, rather than fight his friend for the love of a woman. Daniel soon realises that his beloved mentor may have some demons of his own, and may finally have to tie up some loose ends that have gone buried for several decades.
    Put into motion 10 days after first film was released, The Karate Kid: Part II is one of those movies that was clearly fast-tracked to cash in on the massive success of the first movie. It was a clever ploy: the movie went on to make more money than the first instalment. Bringing back the same Director, Writer, Martial Arts Choreographer, Composer and two lead Actors, the movie definitely has the same air of quality that the first one did, filmed in the same manner, similarly thematic and - perhaps most importantly - giving us the very characters we love, behaving exactly as you would want them to.
    Cleverly this time - as all good sequels do - it offers up a new angle on the previous story, this time from the perspective of the mentor, Mr Miyagi, detailing much of his history, his lost love, lost friendship and perhaps even lost honour; all of which he seeks to regain or rebuild now. Of course, things are not as simple, and it is interesting to see the animosity in his best friend and fellow Karate pupil to his (now dying) father, Sato, who blames Miyagi for the fact that the woman, that they both loved, ended up not marrying either of them.
    Unfortunately, for all the rich Japanese heritage both established and explored in this character's background, it is not long before the film eschews this more intriguing storyline, putting it on the back-burner in favour of the more commercially viable plight of Ralph Macchio's Daniel-san. He is, of course, the Karate Kid after all. It's just a shame that his is the infinitely less interesting of the two characters, and his facsimile story-arc (getting the girl, fighting the stronger, tougher, bully in front of everybody) just lacks inspiration. More importantly, perhaps, the story is not inspirational either. Sure, the stakes are higher here (as they almost always have to be in sequels) but the life-and-death scenarios, whilst making the movie more 'cinematic', are also harder events to relate to than those in the first movie. The coming-of-age/tackling bullying/first love approach of Part I is extremely accessible for almost any audience. Going to Japan and fighting corrupt businessmen and their violent henchmen is more entertaining, but less meaningful really. I mean, I can't remember any stage in my life when I had to do that. Which is perhaps why Miyagi should have remained the focus here, as the best moments are those more introspective, emotional touches - like when Daniel-san quietly relates the passing of his own dad to a grieving, teary-eyed Miyagi. These are the moments that audiences could relate to, the fighting almost a banal distraction from the heart of the piece.
    Even if it lacks the depth, or even words of wisdom and guidance for your life, The Karate Kid: Part II is far from a bad sequel. It may not live up to the classic original, may not attain the same iconic status, but it is actually a very nice companion-piece, with plenty of interesting characters and entertaining events. It does not have the same spirit, but it still has the same sentiment, at leat trying to evoke the same well-meaning, feel-good themes from the first movie. And it does succeed, if only in part, Miyagi's character development alone making for a compelling reason to watch this entry. The fights are entertaining, the duel love-story is lovingly handled, and the rich Japanese backdrop (they did well making Hawaii look foreign enough to convince Western audiences) gives the movie a very different setting that makes it feel fresh and new. Somehow still 'in the mode', the filmmakers who made the great first movie managed to capture enough of its magic to make the second one a decent enough sequel (although the third one clearly jumped the shark, despite their involvement). Part II may not stand up as one of the more memorable follow-ups in cinematic history, but it is still a solid entry nonetheless, and there is plenty of fun to be had here.