II. Having now become inseparable pals, Daniel and Mr. Miyagi embark on a trek to Okinawa to deal with dying fathers, old flames, stubborn childhood enemies, and (more) obnoxious teenage bullies. Since this is the first sequel to a surprise smash, you can also expect the requisite sequences of training, the fluffy little girlfriend subplot, and the rah-rah butt-kickin' finale. Only in Okinawa instead of California.
III. Daniel and Mr. Miyagi return home to find the status quo in all sorts of disarray: Dan's mom is (conveniently) out of town taking care of a sick uncle, the old apartment is smoldering, and that girlfriend from Part 1? History, baby. So not only do Dan and his old chum become roomies...they even open up a bonsai shop together! How cute! But that pesky old karate master from Part 1 enlists some nasty new villains, and you can just fire up that old copy machine: it's karate tournament time! Haaaaii-ya!
IV. The venerable Mr. Miyagi, having long since cut Daniel's umbilical cord, shows up in Boston for an old friend's funeral. Miyagi and the widow seem like pretty good friends, so it seems perfectly natural when she hits the road and leaves Miyagi in charge of a petulant 15-year-old granddaughter. Julie, you see, also suffers from the agony of bullydom and the omnipresent threat of schoolyard gropage. Miyagi and his busty new charge butt heads at first, but after a nice long visit with the sweet, weird monks who live in a local monastery, young Julie comes back to Boston as a proper young lass, bagging herself a date to the prom for her efforts. But those bullies (see: near-rapists) better look out: Julie is indeed the NEXT karate kid!
You can probably forgive director John Avildsen for treading familiar ground so blatantly: The Karate Kid is, for all intents and purposes, the same exact movie as Rocky...with a few demographically pleasing differences. There's enough sincerity and genuine warmth to the original Karate Kid, and it's a movie that overcomes its own inherent predictability. I mean, we all KNOW the kid's gonna get into Crane Mode and knock the smug jerk's block off. But The Karate Kid (Part 1, let's not forget) clocks in over 120 minutes, and we'll watch allllll of the pre-ass-kicking stuff - mainly because Pat Morita and Ralph Macchio strike such a surprisingly smooth chemistry together. If 80% of this movie is simply set-up for the final 20% (and it is), then Avildsen was fortunate to have these two actors paired together. The quieter and more character-centric scenes between Morita and Macchio are so solid - they make a fluffy subplot involving Danny and a rich-gal girlfriend feel tacked-on and a little bit hollow. (But look how cute Elisabeth Shue was back then! Awwwww.)
Sure it's dated and predictable and even a little bit corny here and there, but The Karate Kid clearly comes from a sincere place. Screenwriter Robert Kamen obviously wanted to pay some respect to the art of karate. This was one of the first American films to treat karate as a spiritual focus, as a defensive tool, as a way to help students build some character. But when you're dealing with martial arts, someone's just bound to get their faces kicked in once or twice. And it's here that Kamen and Avildsen shine: they create villains so wholly obnoxious and eminently despicable...it's just impossible not to cheer when Daniel starts kicking a little butt. The Karate Kid is a solid, albeit unspectacular, little sports drama, and it proved to be a HUGE draw at the box office. Which brings us to...
The Karate Kid Part 2 (1986) *** (out of 5) "Hate is wrong!"
Legend has it that The Karate Kid Part 2 was rushed into production a mere ten days after Part 1 hit the cineplex screens - and judging by the sequel's screenplay, that's not too difficult to believe. We pick up immediately where The Karate Kid left off: Daniel and Mr. Miyagi are in the parking lot following Daniel's big crane-kick finale, wondering where they parked. Up comes the effortlessly evil Karate Master Kreese and he starts bitchslapping his unsuccessful student. Miyagi steps in and causes Kreese to (stupidly) break both hands upon car windows...thus marking the end of Karate Kid 2's coolest sequence. (And it comes in the first ten minutes.)
And then we get to Okinawa, where Miyagi must attend to his dying father. Remember all that plot stuff from Part 1? Well, just repeat it, only this time with Asian folks instead of Americans. Sure, there's a lot of running time devoted to Mr. Miyagi's old flame and his gruff old nemesis, but most of it feels like exotic filler before the main course: who's Daniel gonna fight - and how evil will he be? The answer comes in the form of Chozen, a hateful little jerk from the word go. There's a whole lot of "evil developer buying up our precious village" material wedged in amidst the now-familiar Karate Kid formula, and Daniel (of course) gets himself a brand-spankin'-new girlfriend...but we're all here to see the villain get his but good. As a quickie cash-in sequel, The Karate Kid Part 2 isn't actually all that bad. We do get more of the warm and witty interplay between Morita and Macchio, but the overall sense of deja vu keeps the flick from marking its own turf.
The Karate Kid Part 3 (1989) ** (out of 5) "You think you can rely on that crane crap?"
And here's where the wheels started to come off. Macchio was in his late twenties when Part 3 went into production, and that's only the most obvious evidence that this unnecessary sequel was a low-rent money-grab of the flimsiest order. What's most noteworthy about Part 3 (indeed, it could be the only noteworthy aspect) is the hilarious cartoonishness of its villains. (I doubt that "cartoonishness" is an actual word, but I bet you understand its meaning. So that makes it a word.) Back from Part 1 (and the prologue of Part 2) is Karate Master Kreese, but if you thought HE was the pinnacle of prickitude, well you haven't seen anything yet. We also get Kreese's old army buddy, Terry Silver, who is A) an evil black-belt Karate Master, B) a cackling and self-admitted dumper of toxic waste (!), and C) played by Thomas Ian Griffith. PLUS there's a brutal new upstart in the world of tournament karate, so you just know that this kid's gonna get involved. AND we have sniveling henchman Snake...as played by the director's own son! Now that's one spooky legion of doom for anyone to face, let alone an elderly Asian man and the world's oldest teenager.
The best thing I can say about Part 3 is that it's a clear indication that SOME time and effort when into Part 2. Whereas the first sequel was just too quaint and familiar, Part 3 approaches the Karate Kid formula as if it's the world's last home-cooked meatloaf. There are only so many times we can see Daniel whimpering at the mistakes he's made while Miyagi stands around tossing out vague platitudes and wizened smiles. Part 3 trots out the same training montages, the same tournament finale, the same chaste little romance, the same 1980s cheeseball tunes, the same old song and dance. But this time it all feels cynical and hollow...which is NOT the vibe we still get from Part 1.
The Next Karate Kid (1994) ** (out of 5) "I wish I had courage like you!"
Can anyone who has seen The Next Karate Kid please explain to me the nature of the film's villains? The look like a professional security force, they act like a WWF tag-team, they tromp around school like they've got full diplomatic immunity...they even have a drill sergeant. In high school. I just don't get it.
Anyway, these guys don't like young Julie Pierce, so they terrorize her repeatedly - and they even come dangerously close to what we, nowadays, would call "rape." All Julie wants is to be left alone with her beloved crippled hawk, godammit! Julie's well-intentioned grandmother is at the end of her granny-rope, so she enlists the aid of old family friend Mr. Miyagi. Given that this is now the fourth time we've met Mr. Miyagi, and we've never once seen him interact with a teenage girl, the viewer is left to wonder if this arrangement is such a grand idea. But wouldn't you know it? The brusque and bouncy Julie slowly warms up to the adorable Mr. Miyagi, and yadda yadda, etc.
To quote one of the wise sages who comment at the IMDb, The Next Karate Kid is "the pits." Hilary Swank must cringe whenever she sees the flick pop up on cable; indeed, she's the one thing that makes The Next Karate Kid worth seeing. Not because she gives a particularly excellent performance (although she's better than the material deserves), but because this is such a GOOFY movie. For no good reason the flick takes a 20-minute detour into a freakin' monastery, for cryin' out loud! Plus this is a film in which Mr. Miyagi goes shopping for a PROM DRESS! Gee, anyone think we're just blatantly pandering to the "other" demographic at this point? Then just wait till the Hi - larious scene in which Mr. Miyagi walks in on Julie while she's changing...and he almost sees her boobies! Never thought I'd say it but...where's Daniel-san these days? Surely he could still be in need of some wise advice.
Anyway, Julie gets a date, grows some confidence, and kicks the ass of head bully #1. Also there's Michael Ironside as an evil high school sergeant who is apparently invisible to cops. Miyagi helps kick his butt at the end.
First up is a newly-recorded audio commentary, courtesy of director John Avildsen, screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen, and actors Ralph Macchio & Noriyuki "Pat" Morita - and this track's an absolute hoot! John, Robert and Ralph just riff freestyle on the movie, while Pat manages to squeeze a word in edgewise here and there. It's a fairly loose commentary, so if you're looking for deep insights into the making of the movie, you might just be a bit disappointed. Still, it's good fun for the fans - plus it's refreshing to hear some filmmakers who clearly love their baby, but don't feel the need to treat the thing with oh-so-serious gloves.
Also on board is a collection of five solid featurettes. The first is a two-parter called "The Way of the Karate Kid," while the others are entitled "Beyond the Form," "East Meets West: A Composer's Handbook," and "Life of Bonsai." Together they run about 25 minutes, but offer a fairly decent amount of material. The first featurette focuses on the production of the film as well as its long-running legacy as a fan favorite; the others look at the karate training, Bill Conti's approach to scoring the film, and bonsai trees, respectively. An odd little assortment of featurettes, but they're well-produced and entertaining enough.
You'll also find some trailers for The Karate Kid, The Karate Kid Part 2 and...3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain? Weird.
The Karate Kid: Part 2 Extras
All you'll find here is a mid-80's EPK (fluff piece) featurette on the production of Part 2. Not too hot, but hey, better to have it included than not, I suppose. Also find a few filmographies on this disc, along with the trailers for The Karate Kid, The Karate Kid Part 2 (again?), Godzilla 2000 and one of those Starship Troopers cable movies.
The Karate Kid Part 3 / The Next Karate Kid Extras:
These two movies are (deservedly) forced to share space on a flipper disc, which means you're not getting much in the extras department: those pointless old filmographies and even more trailers: The Karate Kid, The Karate Kid Part 2, Beverly Hills Ninja, and that Starship Troopers movie again. So if you buy this set, you'll get the Karate Kid trailer on all three discs, but NOWHERE will you find the trailers for Part 3 or Next Karate Kid. Truly weird.