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‘The Next Karate Kid’ (PG)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
September 10, 1994

What is the sound of one hand clapping?

The audience giving it up for "The Next Karate Kid."

The fourth film in the series, the newest installment has a new director, Chris Cain, and a female Kid, Hilary Swank, but otherwise it reprises the formula established by John G. Avildsen in 1984: A troubled teen conquers self-doubt and the local bullies with the help of an enigmatic karate teacher.

Noriyuki "Pat" Morita reprises the role of Mr. Miyagi, a dwarfish martial arts master who at long last finds a new pupil in 17-year-old Julie (Swank), the granddaughter of the old war buddy who saved Miyagi's life. Since her parents' deaths, the surly teen has lived with her grandmother, at whom she directs her rage.

"Grief trapped in heart become big anger," philosophizes Miyagi, who suggests that Granny move to his house in California while he stays in Boston to care for the girl. Naturally, Granny agrees. And before you can say fasten your black belts, it's gonna be a bumpy story line, Miyagi has moved in and is teaching Julie-san to finesse her stork maneuver.

This enables her to protect herself from the Alpha League, a fascistic club for bullies that seems to be the local high school's answer to the safety patrol. Lead by the evil Ned and run by a paranoid psychotic coach, the Alpha League terrorizes the student populace to keep the school clean, orderly and free of undesirables.

After a run-in with Ned, Julie is suspended from school for two weeks. It's the perfect opportunity, says Miyagi, to go visit some old friends at a nearby Buddhist monastery. Here, Julie learns to respect all living things -- even cockroaches -- and learns to perform the difficult praying mantis maneuver. One kneels in prayer -- hoping one's opponent will just stand there -- then rises, spins on one's heel and kicks the enemy's guts out.

But you should never, never do this unless you absolutely have to, says Mr. Miyagi. And Julie never would, having learned to respect all living things, but then those darned bullies wreck the prom.

Scenarist Mark Lee may not be a good writer or a subtle storyteller, but he certainly is an inventive one. And he does have an ear for gibberish that sounds as if it might mean something when spoken by an Asian person with an accent: "The sun is warm; the grass is green." Think about it.

Well, at least women have come a long way, baby-san. All the way from foot-binding to "kicking butt."

Copyright The Washington Post

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