FRANCHISE REWIND: The Next Karate Kid (1994)

The Next Karate Kid, 1994 (Noriyuki “Pat” Morita) Columbia Pictures

“It’s stupid when neighborhood gangs kill each other with no reason. It’s stupid when countries fight wars. Not stupid to respect all living things.”

Even as the premise is stretched thin and new protagonists and antagonists are introduced, I still can’t help but enjoy these Karate Kid movies. At this point, we’re just ignoring Ralph Macchio as Miyagi (Noriyuki “Pat” Morita) attends a memorial service for the 442nd (his old WWII platoon) at Arlington where he meets his commanding officer’s widow, Louise Pierce (Constance Towers). It seems he arrived in the nick of time because her granddaughter, Julie (Hilary Swank) is a real pill, and I mean that.

A lot of it isn’t her fault. Her parents are dead (as we’re consistently reminded) and now she’s Louise’s problem. That is, until she dumps her on Miyagi. He’s not one to back away from a challenge so he takes on the dubious assignment of making a man out of this “widdle goyl.” I’m just joking, or am I? It is Hilary Swank, after all. It’s not that she has bullies like Daniel-san, but rather she’s impudent and unpleasant because of her loss—like what we would call “anger management issues” these days.

Miyagi only reluctantly teaches karate, so he uses his tutilege to help her focus and meditate. I like this idea. It’s a twist on the previous three movies, yet what she learns does not empower her in the “feminine” sense. She’s still aggressive perhaps, but less volatile. What’s more, Miyagi teaches her to dance and then he buys her a dress for the big dance (there’s always a big dance) so the movie is equal parts Bloodsport and She’s All That.

That’s not to say Swank is an ugly duckling (Rachel Leigh Cook wasn’t either, but she wore glasses—an important distinction). In fact, Swank is so beautiful and shapely, it’s hard to imagine anybody would buy her as a man, but here we are. She got a well-deserved Oscar five years later, and then another four years after that. Her performance here isn’t so impressive. She has two faces: angry baby and happy baby. No million dollar baby in sight!

Julie is what we used to call a “tomboy.” She wears jeans and t-shirts, nurses a falcon back to health, and spends time pretending to hate this guy she totally loves! Wait a minute! What kind of movie is this? Is Miyagi teaching her to be a lady? He’s definitely not a lady and he surrounds himself with old monks! What the …? It wouldn’t be a Karate Kid movie without a heavy, and we get one in this movie that is much more frightening than Martin Kove. This is a guy who could be his older brother. I’m talking about the great Michael Ironside. He doesn’t have a dojo, but he’s definitely got that Palpatine vibe.

I’m not quite sure what his purpose is at Swank’s school, but he seems to be training an elite group of students to be security thugs, or something. It doesn’t matter. Throw a little Dangerously Close into the mix. Miyagi hands him his ass in due course, and his students ditch him. This movie effectively killed the franchise due to the “sequel fatigue” I referred to in my previous review. It’s still an enjoyable movie even if Morita is phoning it in at this point. He seems tired and cranky, but Morita did continue to work for ten years after this movie, as well as accumulating an impressive list of posthumous performances.

For more Franchise Rewind, visit Second Union!

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