Like Mr. Miyagi might say: “Never put sequel before principle. Even if win, you lose.” Indeed.
If Karate Kid Part II was an example of the right way to do a cash-in sequel, Part III is a great example of the wrong way. It’s ugly, overlong, boring and repetitive. It takes the characters to pointlessly unpleasant places and just has them wallow there. And its fight, well….
3) The Karate Kid Part III: Daniel vs Mike
- Daniel LaRusso, the Jersey transplant and amateur karate enthusiast. The film takes place six months after the second one and nearly a year after the beginning of the first one (and it opens with the two heroes getting off the return flight from Okinawa, so does that mean they hung out there for like six months? Nice), so he’s idling around while he saves up money for college. He shows renewed interest in competing at the tournament level again now that they’ve instituted a rule where the reigning champion doesn’t have to fight until the very end (seems unfair to the contenders, doesn’t it?), but Miyagi shoots that right down and initially opts not to train Daniel-san any further. Played by Ralph Macchio.
- Trained by: Kesuke Miyagi, now starting his own business selling bonsai plants. Played by Noriyuki “Pat” Morita.
- Mike Barnes, a rising martial arts star who’s earned the absurd nickname of “Karate’s Bad Boy.” Whereas Chozen offered an interesting contrast to Johnny, Barnes is basically just another Johnny, only more so: stronger, better, meaner, louder. And without any of the depth that made Johnny interesting. Played by Sean Kanan.
- Trained by: Nobody, actually, at least not who’s mentioned. But his benefactors are the absurdly wealthy and hilariously named Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffiths, who is actually four months younger than Ralph Macchio) and the returning John Kreese (Martin Kove), so they roughly fill Barnes’ “mentor” role. Silver is a longtime friend of Kreese’s: they served in the same unit in Vietnam, with Kreese having saved Silver’s life numerous times. The bonds men form in wartime are some of the most deepest and most indelible of all, and are frequently mined as a source of good drama… but in Karate Kid Part III such bonds only exist as an excuse for one jackass to have a rich jackass friend who’ll help him to be an even bigger jackass, because Karate Kid Part III is a jackass movie.
The Setup: Kreese pretty much hit rock bottom after his team’s defeat at the end of the first film, a situation he blames entirely on Miyagi and LaRusso, somehow. But that changes when he re-connects with Silver, who cleans him up and helps form an epically petty plan to not just rebuild the Cobra Kai brand (shady businessman Silver actually owns the dojo) but also take excruciating revenge on Team Miyagi.
The bulk of the movie is Silver pretending to be Daniel’s friend and training him in punishing techniques that wrack his body and drive a wedge between him & his surrogate father. Meanwhile Silver also covertly hires Mike Barnes as a ringer to compete in this year’s All Valley Tournament, and Barnes continually harasses and finally blackmails Daniel into signing up for the tournament so they can fight it out. After the trio’s plans are revealed (and Miyagi beats up all THREE of the bad guys at once, because Miyagi is invincible), Miyagi agrees to train Daniel, but his “training” involves just a short montage of the two practicing the same kata together, over and over. Little wonder things go the way they do.
The Fight: Execrable.
Just before the fight, Silver and Kreese go over their plan with Barnes, counseling him to score a point on Daniel and immediately lose it with some illegal (but not disqualifying) shot then rinse & repeat; this way there’s no clear winner but Daniel is thoroughly worn down and humiliated. This is to continue until time runs out, and Mike scores the final blow in sudden death so that Daniel is not just beaten but destroyed.
The two battle buddies’ faith in their “Bad Boy” is not misplaced, because that’s almost exactly how it plays out. Between his superior skills and Daniel still being rattled, Mike is so far above Daniel it’s not even fair, let alone entertaining. Daniel does indeed get repeatedly abused and embarrassed. He has some success in dodging a few of Mike’s relentless blows and at one point trips his foe up a bit, but he never does land a solid hit. (Daniel’s only cool moment during the main match is when he punks out Barnes’ friend who’d leaned in to jeer him.) Where’s the Drum Punch when you need it?
This continues until sudden death, when Daniel doubles over in pain and breaks out crying front of everybody like a little girl. This is a surprisingly strong reaction from a guy who faced MUCH higher karate stakes in his previous film. Miyagi comes over and gives him a pep talk about true karate being inside and blah blah blah, then Barnes runs over to give him an anti-pep talk by aggressively taunting him, calling his karate “shit” and his master a “joke” (and a “slope,” a racial slur that gets a lot of use in this film).
LaRusso finally finds the motivation to get up, but as the round begins Daniel instead just goes into his favorite kata. This perplexes Mike for a moment, but he rushes in when Daniel finishes up and assumes a ready stance. When he does, Daniel flips him over bodily and, taking more than enough time for Mike to block, pops him in the chest and wins the final point.
Daniel wins! For some weird reason. I suppose it… relaxes Daniel enough that he’s able to get the drop on Mike? Sure, whatever. Really, the kata thing is not all that much sillier than the Crane and Drum techniques, but is a lot less iconic than either. Plus, the whole “at the last second Daniel returns to a specific move that had been foreshadowed earlier” thing was already quite played out by this point, and certainly wasn’t rejuvenated by being done again only lamer.
This fight is barely even a fight. It’s a joke and an embarrassment for all involved. The Karate Kid series didn’t really need to be re-visited at this point, and definitely not like this. This whole movie can just wax off.
Coming Attractions: The series takes a swanky turn.