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  Next Karate Kid, The Equal Rights For Troubled Teens
Year: 1994
Director: Christopher Cain
Stars: Pat Morita, Hilary Swank, Michael Ironside, Constance Towers, Chris Conrad, Arsenio 'Sonny' Trinidad, Michael Cavalieri, Walton Goggins, Jim Ishida, Rodney Kageyama, Seth Sakai, Eugene Boles, Keena Keel, Tom O'Brien, Thomas Downey
Genre: Drama, Action, Thriller, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Mr Miyagi (Pat Morita) is in Boston to attend a ceremony commemorating the contribution Japanese Americans made to the war effort, and while he is there he meets up with Louisa Pierce (Constance Towers), the wife of a deceased old army buddy. She invites him back to her house for dinner, an offer he takes but while they are finishing their meal that evening, Louisa's granddaughter Julie (Hilary Swank) stomps in and almost walks right past them without even saying hello. Her grandmother goes after her to admonish her, then explains to Mr Miyagi she was sorry he had to see that...

But this gives him an idea, and the diminutive, unofficial social worker offers to take orphaned Julie off her hands for a week or two while he teaches the girl about self esteem and treating people right - oh, and a little martial arts into the bargain. As the title suggests, this was the ill-fated attempt to revive the Karate Kid franchise with a change of gender seeing as how Ralph Macchio was by this time in his sixties and didn't wish to return, so they drafted in Miss Swank in what presumably was intended to be her breakthrough role. It wasn't in the short term, because the movie flopped, but it did help to get her name out there and soon Oscars were on the cards.

Not that she offers us an Academy Award-worthy performance here, but on ths evidence she always had that physical presence and looked healthy and natural, which was ideal for a part such as the female Karate Kid. Even though she was about twenty years old when she made this, she was convincing enough as a teenager thanks to the early stages where she spent most of the time pouting and scowling, only displaying a softer side when her pet hawk, which Julie is nursing back to health, keeping it on the roof of her school after it broke its wing (huh?!), enters into the plot. But there's a certain someone who will melt her heart by and by, allowing her to open up to the possibilities of love...

No, it's not Mr Miyagi, it's her classmate Eric (Chris Conrad) who begins to look out for her when she's bullied by a gang who get her into trouble with the principal, leaving Julie with the threat of suspension. There's a worrying angle to this where it seems an awful lot of people are out to victimise a teenage girl, which does of course make it all the more imperative she learns how to handle herself, but also depicts a persecution of the main character which is perhaps not as beneficial to the overall tone as the filmmakers might have wanted. When Daniel-San was chased about we weren't concerned he might be sexually assualted by his pursuers, but the lead teen baddie Ned (Michael Cavalieri) seems to have unwholesome designs on Julie.

Anyway, don't worry about that too much because the movie doesn't emphasise it over the course of the rest of a mild at best narrative, though it is noticeable nonetheless. Where it gets altogether more cuddly is when Mr Miyagi takes Julie away to a monk's retreat where she can hang out with a bunch of shaven-headed Japanese guys and learn her craft as a karate expert, plus a reverence for the precious qualities of life in a self-improvement kind of way. Meanwhile the gang's leader, unprofessional coach Colonel Dugan (Michael Ironside) is training his underlings for initimidation, leaving Eric ousted when he refuses to bow to his maniacally strict rules, so you know what that means, don't you? That's right, a fight between Pat Morita and Mr Ironside is on its way, which turns out to be more interesting that Swank's combat, although they both last a minute of screen time after all that build-up. Nice, however, to see the girl saving the boy, and Mr Miyagi taking that Camper Van Beethoven song to heart by taking the skinheads bowling. Music by Bill Conti.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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