THE KARATE KID is alive and, yes, high-kicking in a surprisingly eloquent sequel to the martial arts adventure, with Ralph Macchio and Noriyuki "Pat" Morita reprising their original, winning roles.
"The Karate Kid Part II" is every bit as entertaining as its forebear, but it's a loftier, more grown-up exploration that focuses on Morita's character as he journeys to Okinawa, his ancestral home.
Morita's enigmatic Miyagi is the surrogate father and mentor to Macchio's Daniel, a sweet, gangly teen who learns karate under the wise Asian-American's wry tutelage. The father-and-son relationship expands here to find Daniel comforting a grieving Miyagi upon his father's death. The two actors make the friendship as intense as before, though Daniel becomes more self-reliant.
"Kid II," like an old-fashioned serialized cliffhanger, begins precisely where it left off, after a fast refresher during the credits. Then it's into the shower after the Kid's winning match, and then out into the parking lot for a set-to with the villain karate teacher from Part One.
Parallel plots put the two martial artists in danger when Miyagi rekindles an old flame, Yukie, and inflames an old rival, Sato, who demands a fight to the death. Likewise Daniel falls in love with Yukie's niece, Kumiko, and makes an enemy of Sato's nephew, the cruel Chozen. That makes for two fights to the death and several minor skirmishes. Plus a rip-snorter of a typhoon.
"Kid II" doesn't lack action, its fights again choreographed by ninth-degree black belt Pat Johnson. But the bullies, led by Yuji Okumoto as Chozen, are as vicious as rabid dragons, and clash with the movie's poetic, coming-of-age aesthetic.
John G. Avildsen, who directed "Rocky" and "The Karate Kid," is an old pro at formula fight films, but this one is enhanced by its island setting and haunting pan flute score. It's a strangely pleasing but not altogether fluid blend of "Sayonara" and "Enter the Dragon." Punch and beauty.
The pithy humor of Miyagi's estimable epigrams is again the work of samurai screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen. "Can you break a log like that?" asks Daniel after a champ chops one, barehanded. "Don't know," says Miyagi. "Never been attacked by a tree."
"Kid II" is an enlightening experience. It teaches you a little about courage, mercy, and the zen of movie-cycle maintenance. -- Rita Kempley THE KARATE KID PART II (PG-13) - At area theaters.