The Next Karate Kid (1994)

the next karate kid

“Oh my god! My teeth don’t match my nose!”

The Scoop: 1994 PG, directed by Christopher Cain and starring Hilary Swank, Michael Ironside and Noriyuki “Pat” Morita.

Tagline: Who says the good guy has to be a guy?

Summary Capsule: Mr. Miyagi phones it in for a quick paycheck takes a “spunky” girl under his wing and teaches her to be beautiful by kicking the crap out of bullies. Also, dancing monks.

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Mike’s rating: In serious need of some Zabka.

Mike’s review: Being the sucker for movie nostalgia that I am, I tend to view the Karate Kid series (almost) in it’s entirety with rose-colored, lemon-scented glasses, which is to say that the first three films, despite a lot of glaring flaws, have a special place in my heart. The Next Karate Kid invades that place uninvited and starts smoking smelly cigars and kicking its mud-covered boots up on the furniture while telling off-color jokes to my Grandma. It’s that unwelcome. It’s one thing to be a bad entry into a good franchise, it’s quite another to be an entry so mind-numbingly horrible that the lead actress has to go and win  the Oscar for best actress, twice, just to wash the stink off.

In keeping with the overall theme of boredom this movie is awash in, the location moves Mr. Miyagi from Southern California to… some place far less interesting. It might have been Washington state, but since it wasn’t Seattle,we don’t care. He’s attending the funeral of an old army buddy who he was apparently pretty good pals with, because somehow he ends up the guardian of said buddy’s “teenage” daughter Julie. I put “teenage” in quotes because the writer of this movie has obviously never seen a real teenager outside of the movies. Julie throws fits, is sullen, moody, freaks out for no reason, apparently has no friends outside of a hawk she babysits on her school’s roof, and as far as the script is concerned, has no discernible attributes. Ten minutes into this, you’ll fervently wish that Swank would go the route she would take in her future projects and soundly get beaten to death. Unfortunately Mr. Miyagi discovers she has some talent for martial arts and rather than wisely crane kicking her to the throat, he starts teaching her Karate.

Remember in the first movie when Miyagi explains to Daniel about where his family’s karate came from, and Daniel says something about always thinking karate came from Buddhist temples and stuff like that, to which Miyagi replied “You, Daniel-san, too much television?”

Well for no reason there’s a mid-movie road trip to, guess where?  If you said “a Buddhist temple” congratulations, you’re correct! If you said “that’s stupid!” congrats again, you’re smarter than everyone who made this movie!

Ultimately, Morita could have saved this film if he’d been allowed to portray the character we’ve all grown to love, but he isn’t really playing Mr. Miyagi here so much as playing “Mr. Miyagi”. He’s a caricature of himself, spouting wisdom and teaching his pupil, going through the motions, but  it’s glaringly apparent that the character is being written with no respect or reverence to the source material. One gets the impression that the writer had only a passing interest in the previous films, completely missed the point of Mr. Miyagi as a character, and wrote him in that vein. I really wonder if Pat Morita (who was integral in creating the character of Miyagi not only on screen but also drew upon his own experiences in an internment camp to create his backstory) was frustrated with the direction that his character took. I know I was.

Since this is simply an uninteresting carbon copy of the original film, there are the prerequisite bullies led by an overly aggressive adult figure. In the first it was the Cobra Kais, and their sensei, played to perfection by Martin Cove. Here it’s a lame ROTC-style club being led by Michael Ironside, who I don’t think has ever made it out of a movie without being horribly killed or least beaten up like a 98-pound weakling who said “yo mama” to Mike Tyson. These bad guys commit a few mildly threatening actions of almost-violence that they’d never get away with in real life and then pick a fight with the heroine which we already know she’ll win because we watched the trailer. Ironside does his usual acting trick of looking vaguely annoyed and slightly bored by the whole thing, even when Miyagi-san is unrealistically defeating him in hand to hand combat.

Sadly, by this point in the movie, we all know how he feels.

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Justin’s rating: Stinky, not Swanky

Justin’s review: Sometimes, things from the ’80s should stay in the ’80s.

Movie franchises are never dead, as long as there’s a possible profit in them. There’s always a possibility that a film might see an unfortunate resurrection, and that means nothing you like is ever safe. Alien 3. Nothing is sacred. The Phantom Menace. It’s a great threat that Hollywood likes to dangle over our heads, perhaps in an attempt to coerce us to see more schmaltzy romantic comedies and eat our brussel sprouts. Don’t mess with them, unless you want to see Ghostbusters Got Served coming soon to a disaster near you.

The Next Karate Kid is a mild embarrassment to all involved. It’s a bland rehashing of the same Karate Kid formula that served the series well in part I and part II, and ended up sputtering to a halt in the lame part III. Whoever thought that reviving the series five years later and substituting Hilary Swank for Ralph Macchio was a good idea needs to learn the valuable lesson of “Quitting While You’re Barely Behind.”

As part IV relocates to exotic Boston, the only thing this series has left to stand on is the reliable Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita). Now, I love Miyagi as much as any child of the ’80s, but his Yoda-esque gobbledygook is near-incomprehensible here. Miyagi’s entire belief system seems arranged around whatever fortune cookies he’s cracked open lately, while those around him constantly mistake insanity for deep Miyagi wisdom.

Julie (Swank), the grandchild of Miyagi’s old war buddy, is all about being grouchy and rebellious and stuff. As part of the patented Mr. Miyagi Attitude Adjustment School For Ugly-Looking Teenagers, she enlists for a school year full of pithy sayings and car waxing (no, Kyle, I said “car” not “bikini”). What makes this movie accessible is that Julie really has all of the typical troubles of any teenager living today. For example, she acted in a horrible Buffy movie, she’s secretly nursing a wounded hawk back to health on the roof of the school, and she becomes the target of a neo-Nazi school gang led by Michael Ironside. Who wouldn’t relate?

Because “keeping your head down and working hard on your grades” is too pat of an answer for Miyagi, he instead kidnaps the precocious youngster to the wackiest Buddhist monastery you’ve ever seen. At this point in the film, any attempt at trying to keep a straight face for the audience is largely abandoned, and the director starts popping pills for plot inspiration. Inside the monastery, the following happens — and I make NONE of this up for comedy’s sake:

  • Miyagi shows Julie a Zen sand garden which is “sacred ground”, then promptly orders her to run and jump across it, thus defacing it.
  • Monks hide in haylofts in a barn and throw sacks at Julie, which is supposed to… I don‘t know… make her afraid of ambushing sacks everywhere.
  • At dinner, Julie spies a cockroach and tries to kill it, but is stopped by a mortally offended monk who saves Mr. Cockroach by scooping it up in his hand and leaving the room. The rest of the monks give Julie the cold shoulder after she “disrespects a form of life.” Apparently, disease and filth is the “in” thing with the monks that year.
  • Julie wins them back by finding a Praying Mantis and getting all sappy about it in front of a monk.
  • Then, the monks come into a room where Julie is working out to music, and they start dancing. DANCING. Dancing in the slowest, most painfully formal manner.
  • The lead monk fires an arrow at Mr. Miyagi for no good reason, but Miyagi catches it.

Julie returns, a changed and brainwashed woman, and resolves all sorts of plot points, such as standing up to bullies and falling in love with the goofiest looking jock in the school. Oh yeah, Miyagi also teaches her to dance for the prom using karate. It’s priceless.

Obviously, The Next Karate Kid’s only strong suit is being a wide open target for your derision. It lacks any sincere threats or suspense for Julie, which is compounded by Julie’s unlikability — Swank manages to look cross or ditzy depending on whether she’s projecting “rebellious” or “reformed”, and she exists solely to be the receptacle for which Miyagi can mold another convert to his car washing program. Even the end fight is a non-event, with the climactic kick done in confusing slow-motion and for no great prize.

I’m all for bad sequels, but this is inexcusable as a theatrical release. Straight to video, then straight to bed for you, young lady!

This has nothing to do with the film, I just wanted to remind myself of better times.
This has nothing to do with the film, I just wanted to remind myself of better times.

Intermission!

  • The music that Miyagi turns on when he is teaching Julie to dance is the same song that Johnny and Ali dance to at the country club in the original Karate Kid.
  • You should really go watch that one rather than ever assaulting yourself with this steaming pile.
  • The fight choreographers gave Hilary Swank a “pink belt” for her mastery of the most flashy techniques, but none of the basics.
  • Seriously, even Karate Kid 3 was better.
  • The train yard that Eric worked as a security guard is the Mass Bay Transportation Authority’s, Red Line’s Cabot Yard located in South Boston.
  • Yeah, go watch 3. I mean Thomas Ian Griffith was great in it, and Robin Lively, remember her? Teen Witch? Yeah she was in it too.
  • The Kata Hilary Swank performs in the monk’s hall and under the waterfall is a portion of the first Iron Horse form (Kata), “Naihanchi Shodan”. This is a form in Tang Soo Do, (a Korean art) the style of Hilary’s instructor for the movie. Tang Soo Do shares this Kata with other arts in Japan (Shotokan) and Okinawa (Shorin-Ryu). Miyagi-San identifies his style only as “Okinawan Karate”, but that could be any of the Okinawan styles that share this form. Since in The Karate Kid 2 (1986) Miyagi’s nemesis runs a school in Naha with the Gojo Ryu fist as a logo and his students wear the Gojo Ryu fist on their uniforms, then Miyagi is probably teaching Gojo Ryu (one of the five main styles of Okinawan karate), since Miyagi’s father taught both him and Sato.
  • …or Teen Witch even! Go watch that if you can find it. Just stay away from this movie.
  • A military marching band? Is this A Few Good Men all of the sudden?
  • Cannon salutes are so cool
  • Miyagi likes to refer to himself in the third person a lot
  • Yeah, she’s about the most unlikable teenager within the first ten seconds
  • Hehe… nice angry exposition about how you lost your parents, there
  • Julie does exposition to the dang BIRD now… sigh
  • What a masterful escape from out-of-shape police officers
  • Mr. Miyagi the babysitter! Mr. Miyagi the chauffeur!
  • Wow, you really fill out that t-shirt with your mighty muscles, dude
  • Julie’s threats are quite lame
  • Michael Ironside’s got a bit of the Jack Nicholson going on
  • How can you be trespassing on PUBLIC school property?
  • This guy’s really in love with his car
  • REALLY in love with it
  • Mr. Miyagi is a pervert. I knew it.
  • Gongs scare Julie
  • Cockroaches are sacred
  • Monks dancing
  • Karate can teach you dancing! It can fight cavities! It can resolve foreign policy!
  • Buddhist monks drive VW minibuses
  • Zen bowling
  • Bungee-jumping bad guys

Groovy Quotes:

Mr. Miyagi:  The sun is warm, the grass is green.
Julie: What?
Mr. Miyagi: If today Julie-san get angry, just you repeat those words.

Julie: Oh my god! My teeth don’t match my nose!

Julie: What’s going on?
Mr. Migayi: Nothing. Just monks having good time.
Julie: I thought they were supposed to be spiritual.
Mr. Miyagi: Never trust spiritual leader who doesn’t dance.

Mr. Miyagi: Ambition without knowledge is like a boat on dry land.

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3 comments

  1. Another popular Karate Kid series with gender change. The reason for me to watched this movie is because Miyagi presence. Believe it or not, there are some simple karate techniques that we can learn from this movie. I have tried it….

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