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Watching THE KARATE KID PART II in 2016

Originally published on June 19, 2016

It’s been 30 years since THE KARATE KID PART II was released. A sequel to John Avildsen’s 1984 film THE KARATE KID, character development and storytelling are taken to new heights when Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) and Daniel (Ralph Macchio) travel to Okinawa to meet with the former’s dying father. What they don’t expect during their visit is Miyagi falling back in love with a former flame (Nobu McCarthy) and getting tangled up in an increasingly violent feud with his former best friend (Danny Kamekona).

It has been a while since I had seen any of THE KARATE KID films. Being born in the 90’s, I first watched the original film in 2004 and was immediately intrigued by it. I watched its sequels a few months later and out of the two, I like many others found the first sequel to be quite a follow-up.

But I had a slightly different approach to watching films then as opposed to now. As a kid, it was the generic approach of, “Okay, these are the characters, this is who they are, this is what’s up their sleeve and this is the situation they’re in.” Apart from wanting to celebrate the 30th anniversary of THE KARATE KID PART II, I also wanted to see what it was like watching it now; not only as an adult, but also as someone whose perspective has developed and matured overtime on how certain people are portrayed and how particular stories are told.

The first time I watched the film, I didn’t know it was shot in Hawaii. That was something I found out later from uncovering behind-the-scenes facts and what not about the making of the film. After a year’s worth of watching documentaries and shows that were shot in Hawaii, this fact definitely became more visually evident as I watched the film this time around; especially when I looked at the mountains in the background. Mountains in Hawaii have a very distinct look.

Having been involved in two non-profit organizations the past few years that put emphasis on portrayals of Asian Americans in the media, it was definitely weird to see all these Asian American actors speak in broken English. I get that this is set in Okinawa and their characters’ first language isn’t English, but just being aware of who these people are (and were) made it incredibly bizarre for me to both hear and watch. Already when I first watched THE KARATE KID when I was younger, I found it odd to hear Pat Morita speak in broken English, for I knew how he really sounded from watching him in a children’s show that he was on when I was little.

Going back to the fact that they were playing Okinawan characters, may I ask: In a place where the languages that are normally spoken there don’t include English, why is it then that when any of the characters other than Daniel interact with each other, they’re still speaking in broken English? I don’t know if the actors were unable to speak Japanese properly or if director Avildsen didn’t want to toss in subtitles in order for the audience to understand what was being said. Regardless of the reason, it was something that made no sense to me when watching it this time around.

I did like how the final fight scene proved a point that even I’ve made to others (and this is where my knowledge in martial arts comes into play). When Daniel was about to perform the crane technique on Chozen (Yuji Okumoto), this signature move that won him the tournament in the previous film became immediately ineffective when the latter easily grabbed his foot, stopping him in his tracks. When sparring someone, your body should be facing the right or the left. If you try pulling something like the crane technique, your body is exposed and vulnerable to be hit. But hey, movie magic right?

I also found it strangely funny when it came to the tea ceremony scene with Daniel and Kumiko (Tamlyn Tomita). While I’ve seen that scene many times in the past, when I watched it this time around, my thoughts immediately went to when it was parodied in the 2014 comedy, AWESOME ASIAN BAD GUYS (apologies if I just spoiled it for anyone out there).

I can’t talk about THE KARATE KID PART II without mentioning the drum; as in the handheld, Japanese pellet drum that Miyagi reveals to Daniel as the family secret to karate. I’m sure others can agree that they can’t walk by a pellet drum without immediately thinking of this film, especially in the final fight scene when the Obon Festival attendees are all using them to encourage Daniel to defeat Chozen. In fact, a few years ago, I myself bought one at a flea market. Anytime I use it, I always picture Daniel attempting the “drum technique.”

Overall, THE KARATE KID PART II still upholds its genuine spirit of the true essences of karate and the heartfelt makings of a true bond. In fact, when I think about it now, it seemed appropriate to watch a film about the deepening friendship between Daniel and Miyagi the day before Father’s Day.

The film is exactly how I remembered. It’s just that there are certain aspects of it that are enhanced after watching it recently. I encourage other KARATE KID fans to pursue this experience, as the film continues to be discovered, viewed, enjoyed, and dissected, 30 years and beyond.

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