Childhood Revisited: What childhood movie did you love? Which scared you? And how does it play now, watching it again as an adult? In this new feature, our writers revisit the films that affected them as kids.
The Karate Kid, Part II was the first movie I ever saw in a theater. At five years old, I was led to my local cinema by my kindergarten sweetheart. Jenny had all the cool toys and I knew if her family wanted to see a movie in a theater, it was going to be incredible. I had never seen the original The Karate Kid, so I had even less frame of reference than your average five-year old, but thankfully the sequel opened with clips from the first. The Cobra Kai pummeling Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) in their skeleton costumes frightened me and, as the sequel picked up immediately after Daniel’s triumphant crane kick, I nearly puked at the sight of the evil sensei’s fists bloodied from tangling with Mr. Miyagi (Noriyuki “Pat” Morita). But I laughed until my face went hot when, instead of dealing the sensei a final blow, Miyagi honked the man’s nose.
From there, Daniel and Miyagi’s trip to Okinawa and the clashes that ensued mesmerized me. Eventually, my mom would tape the original and its sequel off network TV and I watched them so often that the tracking went to snow. A home movie featuring me front kicking and slashing openhanded at my reflection in the patio door became family lore. And though the original film also entranced me, I always held a special place in my heart for Part II, set in an exotic locale with violent storms, equally violent villains, decades-long grudges and threats of fights to the death. In my young eyes, the sequel trumped the original. Though I lost interest in the films as I grew into adolescence and the ’90s offered more special effects driven action, they still exerted a subconscious influence on me. In my teenage years, I practically lived for karate class and I spent several months in Japan in my early twenties. I would see bits and pieces of the original on cable now and then, but never so much as a frame of my beloved sequel. All that changed last week when I watched both films back-to-back.
The first has aged wonderfully, a tale of challenges overcome that holds up today despite an overtly ’80s soundtrack. Even at 30, I still get chills watching the (admittedly simple) crane kick that wins the tournament for the plucky Daniel-san. From the opening moments of The Karate Kid, Part II everything’s off. Miyagi’s goofy nose-honking comes out of left field and, in fact, his whole character has grown more childish. Rather than the stoic master, he’s a caricature of himself, spouting quasi-wisdom as though pilfered from a fortune cookie, and pining for a lost love that we didn’t even know about in the original.
There’s plenty more regression where that came from. Daniel’s girlfriend Ali (the adorable Elisabeth Shue) has been dispatched. Ali is half the heart of the first film, but fuck it, in the sequel Daniel dismisses her as a shallow bimbo smitten by the kind of meatheads she’d previously shunned. And Miyagi’s dead wife and infant son from the first film? Not even mentioned, as his true love is still alive and well in Okinawa, where he must return after a 45-year exile to tend to an ailing father. Daniel tags along because, well, he doesn’t have anything better to do. The bad guy this time around, Sato (Danny Kamekona), happened to also learn karate from Miyagi’s father before an arranged marriage to Miyagi’s true love, forcing Miyagi to flee rather than fight him for some reason. Apparently, for the martial arts-inclined, even melodrama comes from within.
Of course, once Miyagi and Daniel arrive in Okinawa, Sato sends some thugs to bully the pair. For a Japanese prefecture, everyone seems more inclined to speak in broken English than in their native tongue, even when rendering threats or whispering sweet nothings. Daniel strikes up another courtship with another beautiful girl and Miyagi clumsily does the same with his old flame who, it turns out, didn’t marry Sato after all (nor did she bother to mention this to Miyagi for the past half-century). Daniel is again bullied mercilessly by immature assholes and is again forced to rectify the situation by using karate as a last resort.
Viewed in 2011, I couldn’t help but feel that The Karate Kid, Part II is essentially The Hangover Part II of the ’80s. Both follow the exact formula that made the first films successful, even mirroring specific scenes (douchebags break shit, Daniel attends teenage dances and Miyagi once again looks on proudly in the final shot after Daniel knocks out the big, bad bully with a fool-proof finishing move). Both travel to seemingly exotic Asian locales and up the stakes by doing essentially the same thing but with more severe consequences. Both suck.
I’d gone into my recent viewing of Part II knowing it’d shatter my rosy memory, but I couldn’t have imagined it’d accomplish that feat so completely. Not only does the sequel fail to live up to the original, but it actually pillages the charm of the first; any growth in character or story is a malignant one. The lone redemption the ham-fisted sequel left with me is reaffirming the quality of the original – a tale of unlikely friendship that serves as a slice of ’80s culture worthy of placement in a time capsule. In every other respect, Part II deserves no mercy.