The Karate Kid Part II (1986, John G. Avildsen)

Towards the end of the first act, Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita have a potentially great scene. The best friends have traveled to Okinawa so Morita can see his dying father (Charlie Tanimoto, in a less than nothing part). Morita’s sad, pensively looking out at the ocean, and Macchio’s got some perspective to share. Macchio’s father died (at some point before the first movie), so now he’s the wiser one in the pair.

While it’s a big swing in a film of big swings, it’s also a good, unique big swing. And then Robert Mark Kamen can’t actually write the scene because he’s got nothing to say in it or any other part of The Karate Kid Part II. It’s a singularly floundering motion picture.

The first nine minutes of Part II recap and conclude the previous film, bringing back Martin Kove as the bad karate teacher. He’s abusing his loser students, and Morita has to intercede to save the day. Would it have worked better last time? It’d have had a point; there’s only so much they can do with it here because, since the first movie, Kid’s lost the female presence. Neither Elisabeth Shue (as Macchio’s girlfriend) nor Randee Heller (as Macchio’s mom) appears. Outside first movie footage. It’s okay, though, because Macchio will meet a new girl in Okinawa and the first movie barely had Heller, so a sequel would need her less. Especially since Macchio and Morita are globetrotting.

After the first movie wrap-up, Part II spends another ten minutes setting up Morita’s ground situation back in Okinawa. This film dumps Morita, the widower, which the previous film established and used to set up Macchio as a surrogate son. It doesn’t retcon it, just ignores it. Because Morita’s spent his entire life mooning over his girlfriend from teenage years, played by Nobu McCarthy. He had to run away from Okinawa and leave her because her arranged marriage husband-to-be Danny Kamekona wanted to fight Morita to the death. Oh, also, Kamekona was Morita’s best friend. And Tanimoto taught them both karate as kids because Morita insisted. It’s a bunch of setups with very little pay-off because Morita never actually gets anything to do. He gets to observe action sequences and do some terribly choreographed and shot karate, but his “returning home” arc happens primarily off-screen. Macchio sometimes sees it from afar, which just draws attention to it not being part of the movie.

Though if they did make it more part of the movie, Part II would probably bungle it, like Macchio’s romance with Tamlyn Tomita. Tomita and Macchio get several outing and date scenes, but their romance arc is wanting. Tomita’s got a lot to do—including play damsel in distress a couple times—she just doesn’t get a character to do it with. She does get some scenes with Macchio explaining the way the world works. Karate Kid Part II’s got a weird American jingoism going on. It’s like someone wanted to make negative commentary, but then none of the other creatives understood what was happening. It’s an embarrassing oversight.

The Tomita thing is a waste of time, at least as character development goes. Instead, it does its job as a walking tour forecasting the rest of the movie.

Yuji Okumoto plays the villain. He’s Kamekona’s best karate student and so starts picking fights with Macchio, with Macchio not understanding Okumoto’s not a rich kid bully, he’s a potential murderer. Okumoto puts up with a lot of silly with his character, and it’s impressive he can keep it together by the end.

Much of Karate Kid Part II plays like a TV show; the characters are thin, and the events are frequent.

There aren’t really any standout acting performances. Morita’s okay with what he’s got, but it’s not enough. Macchio’s a kid on an unexpected vacation, and sometimes it does feel like his movie, not often. Even the fight scene finish complicates things to take it away from Macchio and Morita’s relationship. It takes a back seat to Morita’s rekindling with McCarthy, which (again) is seen through Macchio from afar.

Not a good script, but even worse: lousy plotting.

Better anything technical would help. Avildsen’s direction is barely competent, with he and cinematographer James Crabe (who was so good on the first one) zooming in on all the action. Maybe wider shots would reveal the “Welcome to Hawaii” billboards giving away they’re not in Okinawa. Avildsen’s particularly bad with the fight scenes. Also, he appears to have told villain Kamekona to talk like Cookie Monster.

Bill Conti’s music is terrible, repetitive, and annoying. The omnipresent flute is near intolerable, and the only good bit of music sounds like leftovers from Conti’s F/X score.

The good guys are all sympathetic—Morita, Macchio, Tomita, McCarthy—but it’s a long movie with nothing going for it but sympathetic characters.

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