A Karate Kid for Girls. Oh, but definitely for Mens.
Miyagi helps a troubled teen by teaching her karate – she’s got two humungous assets that Daniel-san could never have: a pet hawk, and acting talent. Oh, and for all you Men of Culture – she’s got those too.
Mr. Miyagi (Noriyuki “Pat” Morita) travels to Boston for the funeral of a war buddy. Consoling the widow, Miyagi meets her granddaughter Julie Pierce (Hilary Swank), who tells us via clunky exposition that both her parents are dead (Hollywood shorthand for “troubled teen”); thus, Julie is rebellious, an outcast at school, and has no friends. She’s basically just a trope with tits.
Julie takes care of a hawk with a broken wing that she is hiding on the school roof in a pigeon cage. Notwithstanding the dumb plot point of keeping the hawk where anyone who walks up to the roof will find it, the hawk’s presence is central to many plot points: it keeps her teenage angst high by clashing her with security; while feeding it, Julie encounters the school bullies, led by Michael Cavalieri as Ned (bullies? More like rapists), and gets suspended from school (yeh, I’m also wondering how the rapists became the victims); it enables her to meet the Cute Boy, who tails her to the cage (Chris Conrad as Eric); Julie asking Eric to feed the hawk while she is suspended brings them closer, and her badgering him not to tell anyone about it is an excuse to land her in his musclecar (“I’m not getting out of this car until you tell me whether you told about the hawk!” – well, that’s one way to get your itch scratched, hon). And of course, the hawk is a metaphor for Julie herself: damaged when we meet her, entrapped in a cage, until she doesn’t realize she is healed enough to fly…
By describing this hawk element driving the story, you might believe writer Mark Lee (no relation to Australia’s Mark Lee, who starred alongside Mel Gibson in GALLIPOLI) has improved on Robert Mark Kamen’s juvenile handling of these karate kids. You’d be wrong. Lee’s writing is as dull thud as all of Kamen’s entries, with dialogue for Swank that makes her sound as weaselly as Ralph Macchio. Sure, this is Swank pre-Oscars, and arguably her breakout role, and we do actually see many instances of her next-level acting prowess compared to Macchio, and I understand that Julie has to disbelieve Miyagi’s methods, so that she can arc to a fully-balanced karate kid, but the many times she is called upon to whine and babble like Daniel-san is obnoxious – it’s like Lee is trying to emulate the worst elements of Kamen’s scripts. And succeeding.
Another element lifted from Kamen’s childish ethos is the extremity of the villains. These are not world conquerors or even bank robbers, they are school bullies, led by their phys-ed teacher, Dugan (Michael Ironside, out-cheesing any Bond Villain), yet they commit more felonies in any given scene than any professional criminal, like constantly trying to rape Julie. With the full encouragement of Dugan! They’re not playfully slapping her books out of her hand or pulling her hair – Ned is grabbing her and promising that he’s going to have forced sex with her and that she’ll like it! And Dugan has the depth of a cardboard gunnery sergeant and the delivery of a Tourette’s spastic, barking the most insane murderous orders at his troupe of incel douchebags (which includes a very young Walton Goggins).
When Miyagi calmly asks Dugan where he can pick up Julie – basically, a parent asking a teacher where to find their child – Dugan, needlessly antagonistic, angrily shouts at Miyagi to get his trespassing ass off school grounds. Is this how Mark Lee thinks humans talk to each other?
Not only the school bullies – everyone wants to rape Julie! Miyagi and Julie walk into a diner and all the rednecks immediately surround her, sniffing fecund meat, and it takes Miyagi beating them down to quell their erections.
The contradiction here is that the filmmakers acknowledge Julie is so delicious that men can’t control their lust around her – yet no one notices her at school except the rapist bullies. No female friends, no male Just Friends, no fat hangers-on trying to break off a piece of her pheromones…
Gotta admit though, Hilary Swank has a body that would make a Real Doll jealous, although, not blessed with a classically attractive face – her nose like a boxer’s, chin masculine, lips way too Jagger – in theory, it should be a “butterface” (as in “great body, but-er-face…”), and yet, put it all in context, and it’s something that might launch a thousand ships from ancient Troy.
And for training, Miyagi takes this barely legal wet dream – to a MONASTERY. Yup, that’s what these celibate monks want to see: Julie’s crop top stretched achingly across her mounds of justice, jumping off rocks with a pearbottom as ripe as a baboon in estrus. Is Miyagi torturing the monks or rewarding them?
Julie tries to kill a cockroach at the monk’s dinner table, and all the monks pout. Miyagi tells her nothing within the monastery walls is killed (except the PLANTS, I guess, for you vegetarian assholes). “Respect all living things” (again, except the LIVING PLANTS that you compartmentalize are not worthy of respect). Julie is meant to be displaying her naivete in killing the cockroach, but the monks are displaying their provincial ignorance in adherence to their religion, reincarnation, and hypocrisy on what constitutes living things.
Directed by Christopher Cain (YOUNG GUNS) like a TV sitcom, the climax comes and goes senselessly, without any orchestra swell and hardly enough action to pay off the karate arc. After a prom, where the bullies bungee from the rafters (Reason? No reason!), they commit more felonies against Eric and Julie (I think because of Julie’s breast-hugging prom dress), until Julie beats down Ned (after changing into her crop top for maximum male gaze), and then Miyagi beats down Dugan, like a slow-motion Jackie Chan movie. Then the credits roll, and I think I might’ve woken up.
The movie’s message: to win karate, have hawk. Or D-cups, I dunno, I was too busy looking at Miyagi’s fine ass.