Before she became a Million Dollar Baby, Hilary Swank was The Next Karate Kid in the final installment with the late Pat Morita returning as Mr. Miyagi. However, the same thematic story applies as the young teen faces bullies and learns about herself in the process.
When Mr. Miyagi goes to an event celebrating Japanese fighters in the USA during World War II, he meets Louisa Pierce. Louisa is the widow of Miyagi’s former commanding officer. When the two become friends, Miyagi learns about Louisa’s rebellious granddaughter Julie, who is going through problems of her own.
Still haunted by the death of her parents, she finds herself rebelling against those close to her. However, at school, she finds herself bullied by a high school group led by Ned. The only thing she finds solace in is her care for an injured eagle named Angel. When Miyagi tries to get through to Julie, it comes with failure until Miyagi sees Julie nearly hit by a car. Julie does a jump on the hood and Miyagi is stunned to learn she studied martial arts.
To help her cope with her anger, Miyagi decides to train Julie in karate. However, when Ned causes Julie to get suspended from school on a bogus charge, Miyagi decides to take Julie to a monastery. There, Julie begins to go through the change from angst to friendly. At the same time, she begins to learn more karate and forms a bond with Miyagi that delves beyond student and teacher, but as friends.
Upon her return to school, everyone sees that Julie has changed, including new student Eric. Eric has had eyes for Julie since he first met her but his association with Ned and his coach in Army training, Dugan, forced him out of the picture. However, Eric admitted he left the group because of their no holds barred policy and Julie goes to the prom with Eric. That night, a confrontation leads Julie to do what is right, even if it means taking on Ned once and for all.
Just when people thought they would never see the witty maintenance man and karate teacher Mr. Miyagi, he returns. Five years after his final film with Ralph Macchio as Daniel LaRusso, the late Pat Morita returns as Miyagi in this new adventure. This time, he finds a new student in a rebellious teen girl who has angst within herself and shows it towards others. Replacing Macchio as the student is future Academy Award winner Hilary Swank in one of her first roles.
Swank does pretty well in the role of “Karate Kid” Julie. Like many protagonists, Julie starts out as angst-ridden with tragedy still in her heart. Not knowing how to cope, she lashes out. However, it is after she goes to a monastery that she changes both in her manner and in her training. Judging from what we see here, it may have been in fact a precursor for Swank’s Oscar win for MILLION DOLLAR BABY a decade later.
While Miyagi and Julie have that chemistry, it seems like that is all the movie has in terms of its good points. The secondary characters, including school bully Ned and Julie’s love interest Eric take a backseat to Miyagi and Julie. The reason why the original Karate Kid worked was that we got a feel for the characters, including the Cobra Kais. However, the problem with this film is that they attempt to make it a gender reversal of the original film. Sadly, it falls flat in terms of secondary character emphasis and even the fight scenes seem a little subpar comparing to the original trilogy.
Only see The Next Karate Kid if you liked the originals and seeing Mr. Miyagi continue his wit with a new student. Otherwise, it is best to stay away.
WFG RATING: B-
A Columbia Pictures production. Director: Christopher Cain. Producer: Jerry Weintraub. Writer: Mark Lee; based on characters created by Robert Mark Kamen. Cinematography: Laszlo Kovacs. Editing: Ronald Roose.
Cast: Pat Morita, Hilary Swank, Chris Conrad, Michael Ironside, Constance Towers, Arsenio “Sonny” Trinidad, Michael Cavalieri, Walt Goggons, Jim Ishida, Rodney Kageyama, Seth Sakai, Eugene Boles.