The Onion’s AV Club recently made a list of sequels that were as good or better than the original movies they followed, and I’d like to suggest that there’s a fairly glaring omission there. Of course, I first have to admit that if there’s a quality threshold for their list, I can see why this movie didn’t make it on — some of the acting is a little stiff, and the plot is pretty predictable (particularly if you’ve seen the first one). But I will make the argument anyway, because… honestly, right now, I’m captive and at the mercy of the movies playing on cable, and guess what I’m watching.
My nominee is The Karate Kidd Part II (available in its entirety on Hulu). Why do I think it’s better than the first? Well, it’s on location. Okinawa! Exotic Okinawa! Well, OK, maybe not, but the movie — around all of the “avenge your honor!” plots — manages to actually provide some honest information on the idyllic village that Daniel-san and Miyagi visit. In one short walk down the village path, Miyagi manages to explains the evils of corporate fishing and World War. The movie also doesn’t let American interloper Daniel-san be the big, burly American hero: in fact, Americans (and American-like capitalism) come off very poorly in the movie, with villainous Sato driving a big finned Cadillac while heroic Miyagi walks from place to place, and Daniel pointing out the stupidity of the U.S. GI’s who are thinking with their muscles, not their heads, in the arcade:
The first Karate Kid movie was a typical Hollywood formula: two outsiders find each other and become all the stronger for it. The second, though, focuses on the theory behind Miyagi’s brand of Karate, and squarely on the idea that defense is, well, the only defense for violence. The hero of the movie — Mr. Miyagi — is somethign of an antihero, in that his entire goal in the movie is not the typical aggressive protection or even reclamation of his homeland — he just wants to come home, visit his dying father, and then leave, peacefully. When Sato tries to fight him, his only plan is to block. No schemes, no counterattacks; he doesn’t even seek revenge for the destruction of the life-sustaining garden of his long-lost love, Yuchio, from Sato and his evil nephew. Though he’s got great power — we see it on display in that first garden scene — he remains quiet through most of the movie. When bulldozers come to tear apart the village’s gardens, Miyagi finally agrees to fight, but only if the deed to the village land can pass win or lose to the village. He’s not the overconfident warrior willing to bet on his own prowess — he’s the reulctant hero at every turn.
The on-location strategy isn’t a bad one for a series like Karate Kid, because it allows both Miyagi and Daniel to remain outsiders. In coming to Okinawa, the entire plot of the first movie is left behind, except for the important bond between Miyagi and Daniel. Daniel’s crane victory in the first movie is irrelevant here, and it makes the movie like a new try at the same storyline, except with a much prettier background.
In the end, it’s the heroic bravery of Daniel-san in the face of a deus-ex-machina hurricane that saves the day, wins Sato’s heart back to peace, and releases the island from years of near slavery to his whims. Daniel and Miyagi return to America, to make a third installment that’s not even close to as good (in part because it ignores the romantic advancements of the second movie).
As a final bonus, the second movie features a way better soundtrack. Put on your best 80s headband and then tell me that “Glory of Love” isn’t a better a song than anything out of the first Karate Kid. Don’t make Peter Cetera challenge you to a crane-off: