R111 The Karate Kid, Part III

(1989, Action/Drama, color)


Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy


Rating: ***

In a Nutshell:

Daniel-san and Mr. Miyagi fend off attempts at vengeance and open a bonsai shop.


Row of Faces III: The Row of Facesening
Having won a karate tournament in the first movie and studied martial arts in Okinawa in the second, Daniel-san (Ralph Macchio) and Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) return to the United States. Daniel-san’s mom is caring for a dying uncle, forcing him to stay with Mr. Miyagi a while longer.

Subplot number one involves Daniel-san blowing all his college money on a broken-down storefront in a bad part of town so he can open a bonsai shop with Miyagi. There’s some tripe here about a supervaluable bonsai that gets broken and then is healed because the root is strong, hammered home many times as a metaphor for Daniel-san’s non-crisis of karate faith. The subplot peters out without going anywhere.

Subplot number two involves the pottery girl next door. She’s in a committed relationship with someone else but pals around with Daniel anyway. She occupies cinematic space serving no real purpose until it’s time to go home to her real boyfriend twenty minutes before the end. During the climactic tournament battle she reappears in the crowd to give our hero strength in his most desperate hour... Um, okay, no she doesn’t. Having forgotten all about her, the movie ends without resolving this subplot either.

Somewhere in the middle of subplots one and two, the main plot struggles off the ground. It seems that prior villain John Kreese (Martin Kove) is still smarting from his defeat two movies ago. He runs crying to his evil karate master Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith). Silver hires an anti-Karate Kid named Barnes (Sean Kanan) to defeat Daniel-san in the tournament. At Miyagi’s suggestion, Daniel-san refuses to sign up for the tournament at first, changing his mind only after Barnes uses a series of strong-arm tactics that would get any real-world perpetrator locked up without bail.

Mr. Miyagi and pottery girl share a moment.
Disappointed, Miyagi refuses to train Daniel-san for the tournament. Sensing his opportunity, the improbably villainous Silver feigns friendship, offering a sympathetic ear to Daniel-san’s troubles. Daniel-san trains with Silver in secret, learning secret karate techniques such as punching and kicking. Eventually Daniel-san learns the error of his ways through Miyagi’s patient teachings and visits Silver to try and withdraw from the tournament. Silver cackles wildly and reveals his collaboration with Kreese and Barnes. They beat up on Daniel-san for a while, until Miyagi strolls in and thoroughly trounces all three. For some reason, this makes them all cackle more.

At the tournament, Barnes keeps the score even while inflicting as much pain and humiliation on Daniel-san as possible. Does he use tactics that would get any real-world athlete disqualified and barred from future competition forever? He does indeed. Daniel-san takes the beating until the end, when he remembers enough of his training to land a punch and win the match.


Mr. Silver steps out for an evil chuckle in private.
I usually remember the horrible films of the eighties with affection. Up until recently, for instance, Highlander stood out in my memory as wicked awesome, or eighties slang to that effect. Karate Kid III held no such nostalgia for me. Odd, considering it had karate in it. For my indiscriminate high school self, that was usually enough.

Now that I’ve seen it again, of course, the mystery is solved. The answer: there is almost no karate in it. Six or seven minutes maybe? The other ninety-plus minutes are pretty much worthless, but that’s to be expected from the second sequel to anything, especially a popular teen fantasy that was of suspect quality to begin with. If the ratio of karate to non-karate were significantly higher, Teen Me probably would have loved it.

Modern Me would have noticed other things. He would have complained that the little bit of karate we actually got to see really, really sucked. He would have pointed out that the movie should have ended after the first rock climbing scene, with Barnes and cronies incarcerated for attempted murder. He would have noted that the movie’s refusal to clarify Miyagi’s initial objections to the tournament made his subsequent change of heart kind of meaningless. He would have cringed while Macchio vomited inane babble like a primordial Shia LeBeouf.

It has Ian Michael Griffin in it though, so that’s something. His gleefully wicked Terry Silver will be forever enshrined in the pantheon of Happiest Villains Ever. (“I wish I loved anything as much as he loves being evil,” says Kevin.) In looks and mannerisms, he reminds me a lot of a post-glasses-and-mustache “Weird” Al Yankovic. I have a feeling, however, that even Mr. Yankovic would have not played it that far over the top.

A few favorite comments: When Daniel-san asks Miyagi if he wants to open a bonsai shop, Kevin asks, “Do I look like an elderly lesbian from Vermont?” While Daniel-san and pottery girl stumble over their meet cute, Mike says, “It’s like watching lobotomized kittens flirt.” When Daniel-san can’t stop repeating himself, Bill speculates, “Johnny Two-Times was his father.” The commentary is fast and witty, but only partially makes up for the fact that this is a dull, meaningless little karate film with no karate in it.