Yesterday we covered the first film in the quartet, and today we're revisiting The Karate Kid: Part II, undoubtedly the best of the lot. It has the best fight choreography, the best dialogue, James Crabe's best camera work and a good villain. It's also the ballsiest film in the series, and not just because it attempts the risky maneuver of transplanting the Daniel LaRusso story to a foreign culture which the audience could have easily not identified with, but also because it successfully takes what's essentially been a story about mall karate and upgrades it into a martial arts film with death stakes. Surprisingly, what many fans appreciate most about Part II is its prologue, taken from material shot for the first film. Immediately following Daniel's win, the victory parade makes its way out to parking lot only to find Kreese in a non-celebratory mood. In fact, we see him break Johnny's second-place trophy into pieces, a moment that's incredibly irksome. Within moments, Miyagi is more or less saving Johnny's life and leaving Kreese in an embarrassed, bloody-fisted heap.
Elisabeth Shue's non-involvement in the sequel is quickly dealt with -- a prom break-up -- then a letter arrives summoning Miyagi to Okinawa, and Daniel decides to follow. The movie gets through all this rote exposition as fast as it can, and we're soon in Okinawa, where an entire soap opera has been frozen in amber for forty-five years, waiting for the return of Miyagi. The woman he loved, but left to come to America, still loves him. The rival who wanted to fight Miyagi to the death over that woman shows up as soon as Miyagi and Daniel arrive and reissues the challenge. Called Sato (Danny Kamekona), he's now a rich guy who is raping the entire village, but he wears cool tinted sunglasses. Sato has a nephew, Chozen (Yuji Okumoto) who cheats local farmers with some kind of scam involving phoney-baloney weights. LaRusso accidentally uncovers it one day by breaking one of the fake weights in half like a cookie, earning himself an eternal enemy in Chozen. Now that everyone hates everyone, the games can begin.
There are two great scenes in Part II, the first of which involves Daniel's entree into a kind of Star Wars bar scene where amateur karate choppers and Army base types try to bust giant slabs of ice while everyone else bets on it. This works as a satisfactory metaphor for the atmosphere change we've undergone since the last film -- there are no 'All Valley' rules when it comes to smashing your hand against a jagged slab of ice. This scene is also necessary to convince dunderhead LaRusso that school is out -- before this, he's asked Miyagi such things as "If you and Sato fight, will your father referee?" The kid just doesn't get it. Interestingly, just before Daniel breaks the ice Miyagi shows up to put down a few bucks on him. It makes you wonder -- did Miyagi put money down on Daniel during the All Valley too? I mean, really, how is this handyman able to take loads of time off to fly all the way to Japan and be with his ailing father?
Replacing Ali as Daniel's love interest is Kumiko (Tamlyn Tomita) a fetching Okinawan girl of similar age who studies dance and speaks in a soft, lilting voice. She never expresses a preference for miniature golf, but other than that she's a better match for Daniel than Ali, who as we've already discussed, was better suited for a life with a rich guy. Avildsen is smart enough to back off and give the burgeoning romance between Daniel and Kumiko some time, so that by the time Kumiko's life is suddenly put into jeopardy in the final act, we actually care about the character. Before that can happen, however, the tit-for-tat clashes between Sato-Chozen and Miyagi-LaRusso will be put into perspective by a greater opponent -- mother nature. Out of nowhere, a typhoon will blow up and provide our second great scene, in which Daniel has to unexpectedly rescue a child from the clutches of the storm. The tension, the pacing, the effects -- everything works during this sequence. Also during the storm, there will also be an unexpected rift between Sato and Chozen.
All of the film's best lines belong to Chozen, who has the makings of a real killer even if he can't really act on it within the confines of a PG film. Early on, Daniel tries to hippie-talk his way out of a confrontation with the guy by telling him "I'm not looking for trouble," to which Chozen replies with a shit-eating grin, "Maybe trouble looking for you." He gets off another good line during the film's big finale, a castle-dance he crashes and turns into a pit-match between himself and LaRusso. As soon as Chozen swings in and crashes the dance, Sato tries to call out and reason with him, but their bond was broken because of choices made during the typhoon and Chozen responds: "I cannot hear you, uncle. I am dead to you now, remember?" Ouch. Chozen then breaks out a butterfly knife and holds it to Kumiko's throat, insisting he will kill her unless LaRusso tosses away the only bridge to their little island in the middle of the castle, separating them from any possible inteference. LaRusso does just that.
Now for the death match. I wish. I have two problems with the ending, the first of which I talked about in my review of Part I -- the odd insistence on creating for Daniel, in every film, secret 'moves' that will be employed when all hope is lost, to win. I'm fine with that in principle, but each secret move is dumber than the last. Here we get the 'drum technique,' which is sort of 'shoulder-blocking your way to victory.' It doesn't even look like it's working when it's finally used, and it just deflates a lot of the good will that's been built up. My other problem with the ending is just that the whole point of Part II has been 'it's not a game anymore.' Daniel is expected to gain some maturity and some appreciation for the fact that life is a tough, meaningless, winner-take-all struggle. Chozen has learned those lessons already, and after he's defeated, he looks LaRusso square in the eye and asks him for an honorable death. LaRusso doesn't give it to him. Lame.
Coming tomorrow: LaRusso vs. enviro-baddies. It's all downhill from here ...