Movies · Projects

How The Karate Kid Part II Fights for the Honor of Sequels

By  · Published on September 22nd, 2016

Miyagi is the hero we’ve been dreaming of.

Any film you have ever watched is, like music, composed of beats. These beats are story elements that fall at specific points within the run time to establish a rhythmic pace. It sounds oppressively highbrow, but I promise it’s not. In fact, the movie that taught many of us of a certain generation about scoring the beats of a film plot was Ghostbusters II.

Why? Because Ghostbusters II so identically mimics the beats of the iconic first film as to be charged with plagiarism. While GB II stands accused, it does not stand alone. This practice of cloning a successful film ‐ changing just enough to slap a numeral behind it and resell it to audiences ‐ is all too standard. This is likely the reason that the very concept of a sequel carries in tow a presumption of inferiority.

The Karate Kid Part II carries with it something else: a body bag for that presumption.

Production on The Karate Kid Part II began just ten days after the release of its wildly successful predecessor. The easiest thing to do would have been to merely ape the conventions of The Karate Kid; playing the same notes to teenage audience too busy coughing up box office cash to notice that the song remained the same. In truth, the writers of the sequel were divided on which direction in which to go. Some of them wanted to focus on the revenge of Cobra Kai sensei John Kreese, which is why Karate Kid Part II opens with the aftermath of the All Valley Tournament before leaping ahead six months, setting up that proposed route for Karate Kid Part III. The winning faction of writers however, opted for something drastically different.

In many ways it’s fitting that The Karate Kid and The Karate Kid Part II were helmed by Rocky director John G. Avildsen. After all, the first Karate Kid is an underdog story in which an unlikely champion trains hard and faces a seemingly impossible foe in the final act. And indeed, Rocky II feels very much like Rocky again; the same combatants squaring off for the same final confrontation. The second film in this teen martial arts franchise however, shifts focus from Daniel LaRusso to his trainer Mr. Miyagi.

In the first film, as memorable as Pat Morita was able to make him, Miyagi is a one-note character; a soft-spoken mystic with martial arts abilities that belie his age and demeanor. In The Karate Kid Part II, we follow Miyagi back to his village in Okinawa Japan to learn his origin. Daniel tags along, but he is kept carefully on the periphery of what turns out to be a heartrending tragedy that has forged one of the most honorable men in cinema history. This is not a cheesy 80s martial arts flick anymore, not a rehash of the Baby Bloodsport that defined the first movie, instead we are delving deeply into themes of lost love, honor, heritage, and classism in a beautifully composed film that proves to be the best of the entire franchise.

The voiceover from Karate Kid Part II’s trailer says it all, “no more tournaments, no more cheering crowds.” The beats we expected to see again are cast aside for what is essentially a samurai story, about an old ronin returning home to make peace with his past and try to avoid the one fight he knows he can win, but desperately doesn’t want to. We learn about the woman Miyagi loved but had to abandon to uphold his own personal bushido, and about his former best friend who grew up driven by greed and pride. This movie could have been called Akira Kurosawa’s Miyagi!

Pat Morita gives a phenomenal performance that adds so much depth to Miyagi and reminds us that he’s the real reason we watch any of the first four films. This performance is supported by gorgeous scenery, by a powerful Bill Conti score, and by the fact that until the last five minutes of the movie, Daniel gets completely out of the way and the film is permitted to be The Miyagi Show.

It’s not until moments before credits, when the script has earned the change of heart of its central villain, that the movie reminds us that it is in fact called The Karate Kid Part II; Daniel allowed a brutal final fight with the villain’s number two. Yet even though his role is marginalized in the sequel, we still get the sense that the staggering honor and love displayed by Miyagi has impacted Daniel at every turn and made him a better person, enriching both characters simultaneously.

To hear more about why we love The Karate Kid Part II, and not just because of that kickass Peter Cetera song “Glory of Love,” listen to this week’s Junkfood Cinema podcast!

As a special treat, anyone who backs JFC on Patreon will have access to a weekly bonus episode covering an additional movie from the summer of 1986, a new movie in theaters, or a mailbag episode devoted to your submitted questions! Have a couple bucks to throw in the hat, we’ll reward you!

On This Week’s Show:

Get In Touch With Us:

Follow the Show:

Related Topics: , , ,

Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.