When Acting Happen, No Be There…
The doofus and his master travel to Japan, where they will encounter another karate master who wants them dead, another karate student who wants to maim Doofus, and another girl who falls for the willowy Doofus even through his atrocious acting, in the continuing adventures of THE KARATE KID PART II.
Back in the mid-80s, sequels aren’t what they are in the 2020s – filmmakers never went into every single project looking to create a franchise. KARATE KID grossing over $100 million and becoming one of the biggest sleeper hits of 1984 made a sequel viable, but no actors from the original film were locked into multi-picture deals, so though young Daniel (Ralph Macchio) and Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) return for PART II, no one else from the first film is here, and movie has to hash its way through excuses as to why Ali-With-An-I (Elizabeth Shue) and Daniel’s mum are no longer onscreen.
It’s a pity, because Kreese (Martin Kove) and Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), the villains from the previous film, were available, and open this film with a coda to the first film, showing us what happened directly after Daniel won the All-Valley Karate Tournament with his stupid and illegal crane kick to Johnny’s face – Johnny is attacked by Kreese for losing, and then Kreese is humiliated by Miyagi. (In retrospect, it would have been great to have had Johnny in another KARATE KID film, as only decades hence would we realize what a great actor Zabka is; I guess it needed the arc of time to make his hero’s journey so compelling in 2018’s COBRA KAI SEASON ONE. Also, the filmmakers redeemed him at the end of KK, so they probably felt there was nowhere to go with that character.)
The same crew return for the sequel: screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen, director John G. Avildsen (who did ROCKY), and music by Bill Conti (also ROCKY). But this ain’t ROCKY. More like DOOFY. With characters copied-and-pasted from the previous film. Except now they’re JAPANESE…
Pitch meeting: “Daniel and Miyagi go to Japan!” Thus the filmmakers had to brainstorm the biggest dumbest plot point of all: how to get a poverty-line kid a plane ticket to Okinawa, and why. Out of nowhere, they manufacture Miyagi’s father on his deathbed in Japan, which would yield a great B-story, as Miyagi’s father also mentored Miyagi’s best friend-turned-rival, both seeking the love of the same woman. (It’s weird imagining the elderly Miyagi having a father, but remember it was only the 1980s.) Now the writers have to scrape their minds for how and why to place doofus Daniel in this infinitely more compelling story.
Out of their arses, they pull Daniel’s dialogue, “I used my college fund” – you have a college fund? That you just stole to buy a ticket to Japan for no reason at all? “I want to be there for you, Mr. Miyagi, the way you’re always there for me!”… those million monkeys typing Shakespeare couldn’t come up with a more harebrained storyline.
In Japan, we meet Miyagi’s nemesis, Sato (Danny Kamekona), and the girl they both loved, Yukie (Nobu McCarthy, THE GEISHA BOY). Their tangled past relationship drives Sato to vow Miyagi’s death at his hands, no matter that their sensei – Miyagi’s dying father – wishes them to reconcile. This B-story would have singlehandedly saved the movie from the cringe antics and acting of beanstem Macchio – if only the filmmakers respected the Japanese culture and allowed them to communicate in their native tongue. Instead, all the Japanese characters speak to each other IN BROKEN ENGLISH! Even when two Japanese characters are alone in intimate moments (Yukie and Miyagi) they’re both speaking in broken English! I’d like a little Western hubris to go with my Hiroshima please.
With the all-new characters, the filmmakers desperately want US to experience everything as “new” again for Daniel – new love Kumiko (Tamlyn Tomita), new nemesis Chozen (Yuji Okumoto), who is Sato’s student – they’re trying to sell us the same old emotions in a new packaging. It might have worked – if Macchio had an ounce of acting talent. Every scene with Daniel and Kumiko is a cringe-flirt on their way to a non-chemistry relationship (with Peter Cetera’s Glory Of Love clouding the soundtrack); every scene with antagonist Chozen is a laughable lopsided display of Chozen chewing villain scenery and Daniel wondering if acting is a vocation he should be pursuing. Still, Macchio is perfect casting: a born victim – one look at that rail-thin cringey milksop and you wanna beat him to a pulp and take his lunch money.
Morita imbues his Miyagi with solemnity and humor, always ready with a wise aphorism (“Best way to avoid punch, no be there”) or a punchline (“Never been attacked by tree”). He’s also a candidate for singlehandedly saving the film, while alongside a numbnuts who insists on bringing it down to doofus level. And Miyagi gets to kick some serious ass (unfortunately, not Daniel’s, but some bullies). It’s like Yoda in ATTACK OF THE CLONES – suddenly seeing this diminutive, quiet man rupture spleens.
And is that a young BD Wong? Giving Kumiko and Daniel invitations to a sock-hop and a dino DNA mixer to follow…
The moving plight of Miyagi’s lost love who never married, and the touching B-story payoff of Miyagi saving Sato’s life by performing a superhuman feat to prove his superiority, is all subsumed under the casual racism of Broken English.
The actual climax is a half-baked bullshido skirmish between Daniel and Chozen, ramping the stakes up by having Chozen threatening to kill Kumiko if Daniel doesn’t fight him. As Miyagi says, “This not tournament. This real.” Which makes us care even less – because if Macchio is so emotionally removed due to his lack of acting prowess, why should WE go there in our heads and hearts? Daniel tries the stupid crane move, which Chozen easily blocks, sending Daniel into a tizzy of indecision and getting his ass kicked (I like this part of the film), until he remembers the new patented “swiveling drum” move – remembers it because, for some reason, everyone in the venue has one of those little drums and starts spinning it.
One of the reasons we can’t relate to Daniel: whenever he gets a new move, he tries it once or twice, and when he employs it for real, he’s a tenth-dan black belt at the move – no physical striving, no emotional struggle – which is strange, considering director Avildsen is renowned for creating one of the first “training montages” with ROCKY, to illustrate a hero’s journey in compressed time. Not so here, where everything comes to Daniel breezily whenever he needs to access it, like magic who cares fuck you.
The lesson being, the key to good karate is: Speak Engrish in Japanese Accent.