Judge Dan Mancini did it all (including writing this review) for the glory of love.
"I knew I could either make the movie or regret not making it for the rest of my life."—John G. Avildsen
In 1984, director John G. Avildsen tried to catch critical, commercial, and Oscar lightning in a bottle for a second time by remaking his monster hit Rocky, except with Johnny Cade from The Outsiders and Arnold from Happy Days standing in for Sly Stallone and Burgess Meredith. The Karate Kid tells the story of teenage wimp Daniel LaRusso, who learns self-respect (and the ways of kicking ass with much humility) from eccentric handyman Mr. Miyagi. The movie was such a Rocky knock-off that Avildsen made it by reassembling much of his crew from the earlier blockbuster, including composer Bill Conti and cinematographer James Crabe. Though The Karate Kid didn't land Avildsen an Oscar nomination (let alone a win), it did prove once and for all that, done right, stories about scrappy underdogs on quests for victory are consistent deliverers of critical accolades and big box office. The Karate Kid was a big, big hit. Avildsen, who apparently regretted having passed on directing Rocky II, jumped at the chance to helm a follow-up. His sequel to the adventures of Mr. Miyagi and Daniel-san is serviceable in the sense that it doesn't plumb the depths of cloying lameness that The Karate Kid III and The Next Karate Kid do, but it's not nearly as charming as the original.
The Karate Kid II opens with a recap of the tournament at the end of the original. Legs are swept, crane kicks are perfectly executed, Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita, Mulan) nods grimly, and Elizabeth Shue throws herself at Daniel-san (Ralph Macchio, My Cousin Vinny) while wearing the most hideous pair of pleated shorts ever purchased from The Gap. Then the story picks up in the parking lot outside the tournament where Miyagi bloodies poor-sport sensei Kreese's knuckles without even throwing a punch. Cut to six months later. Shue has dumped Daniel for a football player just as Mr. Miyagi receives word that his father is on his deathbed back in Okinawa. But if Miyagi returns to his hometown, he'll have to face his lifelong rival, Sato (Danny Kamekona, Hawaii Five-O), a wealthy and influential business man who happens to own a karate dojo and whose star pupil happens to be a complete douchebag (Yuji Okumoto, Pearl Harbor) who doesn't embrace the humble and essentially non-violent precepts of karate. Once in Okinawa, Daniel-san begins to woo a cute girl (Tamlyn Tomita, The Day After Tomorrow) from Miyagi's village, which irritates the douchebag pupil, setting up the inevitable final-act showdown.
Why, it's as if screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen (Taken) purposely set things up so that Avildsen could just remake The Karate Kid in Japan. And that's the problem with The Karate Kid II: Despite its pretenses to dig more deeply into Miyagi as a character by showing the audience his home and his past, it's a movie that safely trades on all of the heartstring-pulling and inspirational round-housing that made the first movie a success. It's not a bad movie. In fact, it includes some fine sequences, as when Daniel comforts Mr. Miyagi after his father's passing. But whatever its high points, the movie feels unnecessary, a reheated story told much better the first time around. The romantic storyline in The Karate Kid wasn't much to write home about (it's mostly treated as an afterthought, a necessary narrative element to mimic the far more potent Rocky-Adrian relationship in Rocky), but the romance in this sequel is even limper. There's zero chemistry between Macchio and Tomita. The fact that Shue's character is summarily dismissed to make way for a new girl feels like an unnecessary betrayal of the original film, too. A larger problem than the movie's tepid romance is that its narrative trajectory cries out for a resolution in which Miyagi and Sato peacefully come to terms with one another. That happens, but is then followed up with a tacked-on showdown between Daniel-san and Sato's ill-tempered student (the showdown is so tacked on, in fact, that one can't help but wonder why Sato and Miyagi don't step in and put a halt to it. They just allow a needless fight to the death to take place in the middle of their village? Really? Why?).
Aside from the entire been-here-done-this vibe that permeates the movie, Karate Kid II suffers from a distinct lack of William Zabka, who played bad guy Johnny Lawrence in the first film. Zabka was arguably the preeminent player of athletic douchebag characters throughout the 1980s. With a simple facial expression and a toss of his feathered platinum blond hair, he could express a complex blend of sublimated rage, bone-crushing stupidity, and an alpha-male's false sense of entitlement. Zabka consistently delivered characters so easy to hate that it made the movies' protagonists magnets for our admiration, love, and hopes and dreams of seeing Zabka's pouty face pushed in. Yuji Okumoto isn't a bad villain, but when forced to compete with Zabka's greatness, he just doesn't cut it. And faced with a lesser villain, Daniel-san comes off as a lesser hero.
The Karate Kid, Part II makes the leap to high-definition in a 1080p/AVC transfer that is decent for a movie shot on '80s film stock, but won't exactly make your eyes bleed with its gorgeousness. Detail and color are okay, and digital artifacts are almost non-existent. It looks superior to the DVD release, but it's not high-definition at its best. You should be pleased with what you see here, so long as you go in with the expectation that you're watching a movie that is now over a quarter of a century old, and that was shot during a time when film stocks were notoriously problematic. Audio is presented in a DTS-HD Master Audio track that is cramped by the limitations of the original source, but never shrill or distorted.
The only supplements to the feature are the same vintage electronic press kit, called "The Sequel," that was included on the 2001 DVD release, and a "Blu-Pop" trivia track exclusive to this release. The disc is also BD-Live enabled.
The Karate Kid, Part II is a solidly-made if uninspired sequel, nowhere near as good as the original but nowhere near as awful as the two films that would follow. In terms of extras, this Blu-ray offers no significant upgrade over the previously released DVD, but the boost in video and audio quality is enough to make this a worthy double-dip candidate for fans of the film.
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