Throwback Thursday: ‘The Karate Kid Part II’ (1986) is a solid but safe sequel that journeys to Miyagi’s home island (Movie review)

T

he Karate Kid Part II” (1986) is definitely a less sloppy film than the original, without its forbearer’s editing errors, but it’s also a slightly less interesting one. The sequel is often entertaining, but it’s disappointing to see that “The Karate Kid” is apparently going to be a follow-the-formula film series where Daniel (Ralph Macchio) encounters a group of bullies and ultimately defeats them with a special trick move. On the other hand, I can’t quibble about Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) being the focal point of “Part II,” as he is the saga’s best character.

I had suspected “Planet of the Apes” was the last film series to use clips from the previous entry to refresh viewers’ memories, but “Karate Kid” keeps this pre-home-video tactic going into the 1980s. After the refresher sequence, we get an epilogue that also serves as the new theme going forward. The two teachers face off in the parking lot after the tournament, and Miyagi entertainingly defeats Kreese (Martin Kove) by stepping aside as Kreese delivers killing blows, instead smashing two car windows and shredding his fists. Miyagi’s main lesson to Daniel in this film: “Best way avoid punch: No be there.” (A secondary lesson comes later: If you’re in a bind, punch your opponent in the junk.)

While Daniel has high self-confidence from the beginning of the series, “Part II” turns him into a superhuman kid in terms of dealing with first-time experiences, so his relatability takes a hit.

While Daniel has high self-confidence from the beginning of the series, “Part II” – again directed by John G. Avildsen and written by Robert Mark Kamen and featuring a classic Eighties hit (Peter Cetera’s “Glory of Love”) — turns him into a superhuman kid in terms of dealing with first-time experiences, so his relatability takes a hit. Off-screen, in the summer after the events of the first film, Daniel’s mom moves to Fresno for a job and says it’s fine if Daniel lives with Miyagi. Also off-screen, Ali breaks up with him, having become smitten with a UCLA football player. Daniel is not shown to miss either of the women in his life.

Daniel’s experiences are the same as in the first film, but transposed to Okinawa (the filmmakers use Oahu as a stand-in), where Miyagi visits his dying father. Daniel immediately and effortlessly hits it off with the cute local girl, Kumiko (Tamlyn Tomita), having forgotten about Ali as if she never existed. And Chozen (Yuji Okumoto) is the new Johnny, building up to a point where he threatens to kill Daniel, which Daniel accurately describes as “ridiculous” – reflecting both his situation and the screenplay’s slim motivation for Chozen. (Granted, the saga’s notion that life will keep throwing inexplicable bullies at you is relatable.)

Chozen is the young henchman of Sato (Danny Kamekona), whose perpetual scowl is more extreme than Jon Voigt’s in “Varsity Blues.” He aims to kill Miyagi in an arranged karate duel because Miyagi somehow dishonored him three decades prior by departing Okinawa. Yukie (Nobu McCarthy) refused to marry Sato because she loved Miyagi, but – although it’s not explicitly stated — I suspect the fact that Sato is a grade-A a**h*** played into her decision as well.

Thematically, it makes sense that “Part II” is all about Sato threatening Miyagi without a fight ever happening. Sato ultimately changes his mind when Miyagi saves his life when Sato is buried under the debris of his house in a storm (the portrayal of which is both epic and kind of funny, as various houses collapse like they are made of toothpicks and paper). There is one sequence where Miyagi is forced to kick some Sato-henchmen ass, but it cuts into the entertainment value that the film isn’t exactly loaded with karate sequences.

“Part II’s” special move is Drum Technique, which sort of fits with the defensive/avoidance theme. Based on Japanese hand-held drums with swinging mallets, the technique finds Danny avoiding Chozen’s punches by swinging to one side, then springing back to deliver a punch to the face. Using this method, he defeats Chozen in a supposed fight to the death at an evocative setting in the village’s ancient castle.

Daniel and Kumiko are a cute couple, as are Miyagi and Yukie. The pairings work so well that it’s implied the gals might come back to the States with the guys, leaving their poor vegetable-farming village for greener pastures (the film doesn’t bring up potential immigration law hurdles). I wouldn’t mind more of these women in the next installment, as Kumiko’s dance career could be a nice reflection of Daniel’s karate pursuits. But with the first film’s women being totally out of sight and out of mind in the sequel, I’m not counting on these relationships being remembered, let alone continued.