"The Story Continues…"
When director John G. Avildsen debuted a small film about a young boy and his martial arts instructor in 1984, it became a surprise box office smash. The Karate Kid, a Rocky tale for the teen set, became a phenomenon, prompting an immediate surge in enrollment in local karate schools everywhere. Every young boy wanted to learn "the crane," defeat the bullies and get the girl, just like Danny LaRusso. Of course, a sequel was inevitable. What no one expected was a follow-up that was just as strong as the initial outing, even eclipsing the ticket sales of its predecessor. The Karate Kid Part II now makes its DVD debut courtesy of Columbia TriStar.
Facts of the Case
The Karate Kid Part II picks up where The Karate Kid left off—literally. As young karate champion Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and his enigmatic instructor Mr. Miyagi (Noriyuki "Pat" Morita) leave the tournament hall, they face sensei Kreese (Martin Kove), who is angry that his pupil Johnny lost the match to Daniel. Needless to say, Miyagi takes care of Kreese without even breaking a sweat. Fast forward to six months later. Daniel faces the prospect of spending an entire summer in Fresno with his mother. To make matters worse, his girlfriend Ali ran off with a football player (guess they couldn't get Elizabeth Shue to return, huh?). Miyagi gets a letter from Okinawa—his father is dying. Miyagi makes plans to leave for Japan at once. Daniel intercepts Miyagi at the airport with his own ticket. On the flight, Miyagi reveals the reason why he left his hometown in the first place. As a teenager, he fell in love with the beautiful Yukie, who was betrothed to Miyagi's best friend Sato. Dishonored, Sato challenged Miyagi to a fight to the death. Always a believer than one should pursue peace at all costs, Miyagi left his village, and his love, despite being branded a coward by Sato. Upon arrival in Japan, Miyagi and Daniel are greeted by Sato's young nephew Chozen (Pearl Harbor's Yuji Okumoto). Chozen takes them directly to Sato (Danny Kamekona), now a successful businessman who owns Miyagi's ancestral village. Sato still holds a grudge and challenges Miyagi to a duel after he's visited his father. Miyagi visits his father, who is very close to death, and reconnects with Yukie (Nobu McCarthy), who never married. Daniel and Yukie's niece, the beautiful Kumiko (Tamlyn Tomita) hit it off immediately. After Miyagi grieves for his father, Sato insists on fighting. His nephew Chozen, also a karate expert, forces a similar confrontation with Daniel. Teacher and pupil try to retain their honor while pursuing peace. But ultimately, Daniel must defend himself against his enemy, in a fight to the death.
Unlike many sequels, The Karate Kid Part II was created by the participants of the first film. Macchio and Morita return, of course, but so does director John G. Avildsen and scribe Robert Mark Kamen. This helps promote a seamless feel between the two films, and gives it a mark of quality that most sequels can't match. The technique of starting a sequel where its predecessor left off is underused, I think, and it works terrifically here. It probably didn't hurt that this sequence was shot for the first film, as an epilogue, but never used.
The title of the film is a little misleading. No question about it, The Karate Kid Part II is Miyagi's film. Morita gives a better performance here, building on the emotional range of the character. It's actually a very touching moment when Daniel comforts Miyagi after the death of his father. Here the student, also fatherless, teaches his mentor about loss. Daniel still has plenty to do in this film, romancing Kumiko while learning about the Japanese culture. Macchio still looks like he's about 11 years old when he's supposed to have graduated high school, but I guess that's why it's The Karate Kid and not The Karate Post-Pubescent.
To the film's credit, it knows we already care about what happens to these characters, so it is free to pursue some deeper issues. The film extols the virtues of forgiveness. Miyagi needs it from Sato, and extends it to Sato. Miyagi knows that for someone without forgiveness, living is worse than death. This isn't the most profound message, but it's more than the usual summer blockbuster cares to offer.
The film also has incredibly fun moments. Miyagi backs Daniel in a bar bet that he can karate chop through six slabs of ice. Daniel, ever the underdog, doesn't even believe he can do it. But Miyagi has faith in his pupil. Like "the crane" technique in the first film, "the drum" is a move that Miyagi teaches Daniel from the hand-held noisemaker popular in Japan. This move proves very useful late in the film. Slap these moments together and throw Peter Cetera's "Glory of Love" on the soundtrack and you've got yourself a great flick!
Columbia TriStar's release of The Karate Kid Part II on DVD is good effort. The disc includes both anamorphic widescreen and full-frame transfers on a dual-sided disc. I prefer watching any film in its original aspect ratio, in this case 1.85:1. But it makes sense for Columbia to include both video options, as this film will appeal to children who probably prefer full-frame presentations. The anamorphic transfer is exceptional. There are few instances of dirt or blemishes on the print. Colors are a little soft, but solid. Fleshtones are accurate. I noticed no digital artifacting or edge enhancement.
The Karate Kid Part II is adequate in the audio department. It is a simple two-channel Dolby Surround mix. A re-mix in 5.1 would not be necessary for a film like this, except perhaps to make the storm sequence a little more thrilling. The dialogue here plays cleanly, the action sequences resonate with minimal distortion. Also available on the disc are some impressive foreign language options: Spanish, French and Portuguese audio tracks; English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Thai subtitles.
The disc also includes a six-minute original featurette on the making of The Karate Kid Part II. The full-frame segment is a little short to offer any deep analysis, but offers clips from the film, with some behind-the-scenes footage and interview sound bites from Avildsen, Macchio, Morita and producer Jerry Weintraub. Scratchy full-frame theatrical trailers are included for The Karate Kid and The Karate Kid Part II. Also on hand are barely relevant trailers for Godzilla 2000 and Roughnecks: Starship Trooper Chronicles. I suppose die-hard Karate Kid fans may have wanted more features, perhaps an Avildsen commentary. For my money, the only serious omission is the "Glory of Love" music video.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It is a Karate Kid movie, and therefore not without some cheesy moments. The aforementioned ice-breaking scene takes place at a bar in town away from the village. The script conveniently contrives to have all of the main characters, including Sato, Chozen and Yukie, arrive in time to witness Daniel's feat. Another creaky scene involves Kumiko and Daniel dancing in a '50s-style restaurant. Macchio should stick to the karate. Given Miyagi's anti-violence philosophy, I'm sure it was difficult for the filmmaker's to keep the movie going forward. Time after time, Sato and Chozen invite retribution by Miyagi and Daniel, who always back down. It's keeping with the characters, but gets a little old after a while. You just kind of want them to start kicking some ass! Also, it's a little odd when two Japanese natives speak to each other in English, but how many times do we see that in movies?
The Karate Kid Part II is one sequel that matches and possibly exceeds it's predecessor. Columbia TriStar has given the film a nice presentation on DVD, though it's a little wanting in terms of extras. Put on a headband and give it a look!
Sensei say Daniel-san and Miyagi not guilty! Columbia TriStar free to go too!
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Scales of Justice
• Original Featurette
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