FRANCHISE REWIND: The Karate Kid, Part III (1989)

The Karate Kid, Part III, 1989 (Ralph Macchio, Noriyuki “Pat” Morita) Columbia Pictures

“If karate used defend honor, defend life, karate mean something. If karate used defend plastic metal trophy, karate no mean nothing.”

Previously on The Karate Kid! I noted that there are characters in movies that could be dropped into adventures and “walk the Earth” and such. Marty McFly wasn’t one of those characters. Indiana Jones is (indeed there was a television series), and so are Mr. Miyagi and Daniel-San. There was a cartoon in 1989 that premiered two months after the release of this movie, starring Joey Dedio and Robert Ito, but it lasted only 13 episodes.

The nation’s love affair with martial arts was starting to dwindle until, interestingly, the arrival of Jackie Chan and Jet Li. Chan would star as Miyagi-analogue, Mr. Han, in the 2010 remake/reboot. We do a little more time traveling in-story and outside of story. The third entry into the Karate Kid franchise begins days after Daniel’s championship victory from the first movie. Emperor Palpatine Creese (Martin Kove) brutalizes his star player. Miyagi defends the kid, and the next thing you know, Palpatine’s dojo is closed down when all of his students abandon him.

Down on his luck, he turns to old Vietnam-era war buddy, Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith), who must be some kind of a mobster or millionaire deviant (I can’t figure it out), who wants to bring Palpatine’s Cobra Kai dojo back to its former glory, and in order to do that, he signs a bunch of hungry fighters, and one of them, a temperamental brat named Mike Barnes (Sean Kanan) is psychotically obsessed with the idea of defeating Daniel and becoming the national champion. Silver’s an obvious ’80s bad guy. He’s got slicked-back hair in a ponytail who has business meetings while he sits in a bathtub.

All of this happens while Daniel and Miyagi are in Okinawa during the events of the second movie. Time travel! As Daniel and Miyagi return from their adventures in the previous film, Silver sends Palpatine to Tahiti and then lies to Miyagi that he suffered a fatal heart attack. I can’t believe they buy this. Silver, in effect, becomes the new Emperor (or let’s call him “Chancellor”) as he tutors Daniel in some new karate techniques, including the unpopular “sweeping” method—that’s the illegal move Creese told Johnny to perform on Daniel in the first movie.

It’s a “Dark Side of the Force” maneuver. Think of Miyagi as Obi-Wan and Silver as the Chancellor. Did George Lucas rip this off? Daniel is being pressured to sign the application for entrance into the next year’s championships, which are actually this year because … time travel! The time travel component of the Karate Kid movies is distracting in view of the very visible aging of Ralph Macchio. He’s still thin and reasonably youthful, but his face is getting puffier. It happens to the best of us.

Silvers plays both sides, training Daniel while his minions terrorize him, threatening to destroy Miyagi’s dream of starting a bonsai tree store. It’s a paradox, you see? Daniel has to enter the tournament in order to protect Miyagi, but Miyagi wants to retire and sell his bonsai trees. In short order, Silver (using his patented “Quicksilver” method) turns Daniel into a killing machine. Henceforth, you will be known as Darth … LaRusso. At a nightclub, Daniel gets into a fight with a kid (paid by Silver) and injures him, which turns off Daniel’s friend (teen witch Robin Lively), Jessica—and I say “friend” because she had immediately put him in the friend zone upon their first introduction.

The Karate Kid, Part III was a movie that suffered from “sequel fatigue” in 1989. It was, by no means, a bad movie. It was actually a decent sequel that sought to strengthen the bonds of friendship between LaRusso and Miyagi. The movie didn’t flop, but it did make much less money than the previous two movies, while keeping the budget down. It’s amazing to me how fickle audiences can be. The franchise would be shelved for the next five years until the soft reboot, The Next Karate Kid, starring Hilary Swank.

For more Franchise Rewind, visit Second Union!

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