Sunday, 5 April 2009

The Cheap-Arse Film Review #27- "THE KARATE KID, PART III."









PRICE: 50p

We all have a contradiction or two to our natures, it's what makes us interesting. Or annoying. Take your pick. I have a couple of big ones. For a start, I'm very into order, lists and everything being in its right place, but at the same time I can go Caveman at the drop of a hat, usually when I'm unhappy. Another is, I'm a pretty opinionated guy (you're shocked, I can tell), but I will often find myself agreeing with things and opinions I actually don't, for no other reason then to live a quiet life. This is very high on the list of things I hate about myself. But the big one, the one that confounds even me is the fact that I consider myself a pretty gently, placid guy... and I love fighting.

Now, when I say I love fighting, that doesn't mean I like nothing better of a weekend than to dress up in my best clothes and go out trawling the streets looking for a good ruck. I wouldn't do that even if I could, which I can't for a multitude of reasons. But I love watching it, something about it always got my blood pumping. I couldn't get into any sport that didn't have some form of combat involved with them. I really didn't like Football for example, and whilst I say I do now, and would even go so far as to say I support West Ham (it's character building if nothing else), in truth there's always this niggling suspicion at the back of my head that I only watch it because it's another excuse to go down the pub. Whereas give me a boxing match, or an MMA fight, or something obscure off one of those fringe sports channels, and I'm happy as Larry, even if I have to stay up until Stupid O'Clock in order to indulge.

I've never been that into fighting movies, though. I like a good action film, but I'm not counting them. I mean films like the "Kickboxer" or "Bloodsport" series. I could just never be bothered with them. At first I thought it might be a case of simulated fighting versus actual fighting, but then I remembered I love professional wrestling, and that's simulated violence disguised as actual violence (actually, I think most of the time it would be better described as actual violence diguised and simulated violence disguised as actual violence, but this is not a discussion to be getting into here...). There's only two fighting-based franchises I've followed in an way over the years, and those are the "Rocky" movies, which I don't think you have to like boxing to enjoy, and the "Karate Kid" movies. And of those two, "Rocky" probably takes the top spot, because whilst I watched every installment of that saga excitedly and will still willingly watch them if I find them on (yes, even the fifth one), I could never really muster the same level of excitment about the other "Karate Kid" films. I mean, the fact that I've not seen the third one until now should tell you everything you need to know. I saw "The Next Karate Kid" before I saw this. Think about that.

I think alot of it had to do with the fact that I didn't really think the sequels were needed. Take the first "Rocky" movie, for example. I understand that the movie was all about believing in yourself and proving you belonged and were somebody, and that the message it was putting across was made all the more powerful by the fact that he didn't win the title (OMGSPOILERZ!). I know, respect and love all this. It's amazing storytelling. But, if I'm honest... I wanted to see him win. I loved that character so much that I wanted to see him achieve his dream. I think everybody did. So with "Rocky 2," you had a reason to WATCH, to see if he could do it. With the first "Karate Kid," Daniel wins the tournament (OMGSPILERZAGIN!!!), and that's it. Instant gratification. No reason to come back even once. But come back I have.

We first find ourselves in flashback land, as the opening credits for this movie occur over a montage, explaining the history Daniel (Ralph Macchio) and Mr. Miyagi (the late, great Pat Morita) have with the Cobra Kai, a rival karate dojo, and its sensei, Johnny (Martin Kove). It's a decently-done effort, but it's a little bit patchy and leaves out some things you'd expect to see. For example, we see Johnny make his infamous "Sweep the leg" decree, but then we don't actually see the leg being swept, nor do we see Mr Miyagi healing Daniel backstage following its devastating effects. We do however see the brief scene from the beginning of the second one where Miyagi humiliates Johnny in front of his students, getting him to punch through two car windows and then making it very obvious he could kill him, before deciding not to. It's this, coupled with Johnny's violent distain for his student's failures that presumably landed him where we see him when the film picks up properly, that being the head of a dojo with no students. For a brief moment, he cuts a quite sympathetic character as he listens to an answering machine message from the organisers of this year's karate tournament, who presume he won't be entering.

And this continues when he goes to meet his friend, war buddy and the owner of his establishment, Terry Silver, played by Thomas Ian Griffith (who I am convinced is an evil alternate reality version of Paul Rudd), walking in on him kicking the shit out of two dudes during a spot of karate sparring. He has his bags packed and is ready to chuck the whole thing in, but Terry doesn't want to hear it, telling him he owes him his life several times over and pretty much doeasn't expect a penny for him, instead offering to pay for him to go on vacation to Tahiti that very second. So far I was really surprised by this portrayal, as it seemed to geared towards humanising Johnny and making him less of a cartoon. Of course the moment I start thinking something is the second it usually flies out the window, and sure enough, in the next scene, as Terry's driving him to the airport he swears to him that he's going to devote all his time and resources (of which he as alot of, as the movie establishes very quickly that he's a very rich man, dealing dubiously with the chemical industry), to destroying Daniel and Miyagi, proclaiming, "I'm gonna make them suffer, and suffer, and when I think they've suffered enough, then I'm gonna start with the pain!" It's the kind of thing you'd expect a super-villain to say, and as the movie goes on, it becomes obvious that that's pretty much what Terry is.

He drops Johnny off at the airport, and as he enters the terminal, who should we see walking the other way but Daniel and Miyagi, returning from their adventure in the Japan! What a coincidence! I want to talk a little bit about Ralph Macchio before I continue with this thing. It's often said that this guy's career was blighted by the Curse of the Babyface, and in nowhere else is that proven more accurate than this film. Within continuity, it takes place about a year after the events of the first one, but in reality that came out in 1984, whereas this one came out in 1989, five years later. And he's not aged a day. Not one. He looks exactly the same as he did in flashback at the beginning. And looking at recent pictures of him I found, he still pretty much does. Well, that's en exaggeration, but the fact is he's two years shy of is 50th Birthday, and I personally think he could pass himself off as being in his mid-thirties (in many ways I'm envious, because I'm in my mid-twenties, and when I recently asked a woman to guess how old I was, she put me at 32. I blame it on being fat). None of this is what blew my mind, though. No, what succeeded in doing that was when I looked up information on both Macchio and Thomas Ian Griffith and discovered that... they're practically the same age. Infact, it gets better- Macchio, playing a kid young enough to just be starting college, is five months older than Griffith, playing a guy old enough to have fought in Vietnam. Five. Months. Older.

Back to the movie, Daniel and Miyagi's homecoming doesn't go quite as they hoped- Daniel discovers his mother, who he wanted to surprise with his return, has had to leave town to care for a sick elderly relative (a plot device that exists for no other reason than to write her out of the movie, which I'm totally fine with, as she's a terrible actress), and Miyagi finds himself in enforced retirement when his building has been sold. He's of course saddened by this turn of events, but Daniel decides to try and cheer him up by helping him realise his dream of opening a Bonzai store, buying the lease to a building in a "developing" (read: shit) area of town, with the money he had saved to pay for his college education, which is a sweet thing for him to do, but I can't help but think of the spasm his mother will have when she finds out. It almost makes me wish they'd bring her back just so we could have that scene. Almost. Miagi is touched by this, and after some initial reluctance agrees to open the store, with his only stipulation being that Daniel adds his name to the lease.

As this is going on, we get updates on Terry and the plan he's formulating. Over a telephone conversation with Johnny in Tahiti as he's getting rubbed down by two women, he reveals he intends to somehow convince Daniel to let him train him for the upcomng tournament, where he'll beat the shit out of him virtually without him knowing it, thus weakening him and sending him into the fight ready to be humiliated. He has a tool (both figuratively and literally) for that too, in the form of Mike Barnes (Sean Kanan), "Karate's Bad Boy," who he brings in especilly for the task with the promise that he'll be a 50% partner in all the new schools Terry intends to open. It was originally supposed to be 25%, but he gets Terry to double his offer by threatening to walk. Mr. Silver would be hopeless on "Dragon's Den." The only way I can think to describe Barnes is that he's fucking psychotic, marching around shouting at things he doesn't like, threatening to either hurt or just outright kill people at almost every turn. Then again, he fits in well with the company he keeps, as Terry assigns him henchmen (one of whom is named Snake)(SNAKE!), who only seem to exist to derive joy from his bastardly behaviour. Terry himself is also starting to seem slightly unhinged, as in the phone scene he debuts his laugh, which becomes his trademark as the movie goes on. Sometimes it's loud and booming as it is here (where it's also accompanied by him yelling, "I LIKE THAT!!! I LIKE THAT JOHNNY!!!" like some S&M freak when Johnny says he wants him to make Daniel's knuckles bleed), sometimes it's a small chuckle, but it's always full of bad intentions and accompanied by a sadistic glint in the eye.

Of course the whole plan is built around Daniel agreeing to take part in the tournament, which at this point doesn't seem likely to happen, since for some reason he seems to need Miyagi's permission to take part and the old man won't give it. There are a few issues that come with this permission slip thing, but I'll deal with the one that's brought up in this scene, that being the change in rules that Daniel tells Miyagi about- rather than fight in the entire tournament, the defending champion only has to fight once, in the final. I can see why they did this, because this way they don't have to shoot alot of tournament stuff and can just get straight to the final, but it's stupid on several levels. For a start, no legit tournament that takes itself in any way seriously would work this way, because putting a dude who's had to win several fights to get where he is against a guy that hasn't had to break so much as a sweat just isn't fair. Then there's the fact that this set-up makes the villain, in a strange way, seem more heroic than our supposed protagonist, because he's had to work his arse off to get where he is.

In any event, Miyagi says no, and attempts to distract Daniel by, for all intents and purposes, pimping him out. He sends him over the pottery store next door to get pots for the trees, where he finds a girl moulding clay. Her name is Jessica, and she's played by Robyn Lively, who lovers of shit eighties teen movies will know from "Teen Witch" (which I'm very ashamed to say I've seen), and lovers of quality television will know from "Dougie Howser, MD," "Twin Peaks," and more recently "30 Rock." She pretty much throws herself at Daniel the second he walks through the door (she herself admitting she "came on pretty strong" in a later scene), making plans to meet up with him later that night. However, when they meet again, she cools things off almost instantly, saying she's got a boyfriend she's been having problems with that she's decided to give another chance, and will be moving away to be with him pretty soon. I thought this would just be a hurdle in the path of them eventually getting together, but surprisingly they don't, they just become plutonic friends, and Daniel seems more than okay with it. And it's quite nice to see a relationship between a man and a woman presented on screen that's in no way sexually-driven, something unexpected and different, especilly in a movie aimed at a teen audience.

She soon learns that hanging around with Daniel might not be good for her health though, as not once but twice are their get-togethers ruined by Barnes and his crew showing up to violently demand Daniel sign the entry form they have and enter the tournament. See, in an earlier scene, Daniel had come round to Miyagi's way of thinking and burned the form, which was witnessed by Terry, who had snuck into Miyagi's place in order to dig up information on him to use to gain his trust. What with the tournament being the main component of his plan, Terry instructs Barnes to terrorize Daniel until he signs. Which is the second problem I have, as it was established before that it was Miyagi's signature that was needed, but now the movies expects us to forget that and go along with the idea that Daniel needs to sign it, ignoring questions like if that was the case, why didn't he just sign it himself to begin with? As continuity mistakes go, this is amateur-hour bullshit, especially for a production like this. The first time they show up at Miyagi's store, Snake (SNAKE!!!!!) does most of the talking, alternating between sneering and smirking, only for Barnes to step in and insist he enter the tournament, then flip out and have to be restrained when Daniel tells him to fuck off. The second time they show up (and both of these happen when the place is supposed to be closed, which begs the question, why don't they just lock the bloody door?) they interrupt a pleasent meal between Daniel and Jessica, where he gives her Maccaroni & Cheese "11 out of 10" (dude, it's Mac & Cheese, the most idiot-proof food in the world. I could make Mac & Cheese, and my idea of being fancy is putting mayo on something). This times things get violent, with them smashing up the store, Daniel getting beaten up, and Jessica actually getting kicked in the stomach. Miyagi himself has to show up and save the day, throwing the little shits out and into Barnes' convertable, where he start doughnutting and screaming about how this isn't over. Yes, that's perfectly rational. Miyagi then says at least they didn't take any of his stock, since it wasn't there (nice attitude there. "A young girl just got assaulted, but at least my business is fine!"). However, once he and Daniel get home, they discover the Bonzai have been taken by Barnes and his goons, who left the consent form behind in their place. It's worth mentioning that the trees had seemingly been left on a table ouside Miyagi's place, and therefore were never all that safe in the first place.

Bummed out about the damage and the loss of stock, Daniel decides to help Miyagi make up financially for all he's lost. However, he decides to do this in a very questionable way, that being to dig up and sell the Bonzai tree Miyagi had brought with him from Japan. In an earlier scene, Miyagi had told him about this tree, that it was worth thousands, and that he had planted it in "The Devil's Cauldron," a sort-of bowl-like mountain area that filled up with water when the tide came in. Daniel and Jessica scale down the rock-face to retrieve the tree, only for it to be dropped into the salt water below, which is apparently poison for the roots. They retrieve it and go to make their way back up, only to find their ropes have been pulled up by Barnes and company. Their offer- sign to compete, and they'll throw the ropes back down, otherwise they'll leave them there to drown. With little other choice, Daniel relents and signs, and the bad guys amazingly prove to be good for their word, tossing the ropes back down and even helping pull the pair up. They make their nasty pints back by snapping Miyagi's tree down the middle though, which was a predictable-but-still-dastardly touch. Daniel shows Miyagi the tree and tells him what happened, and for a second there appears to be a crack in the old man's Zen-like attitude, but the he composes himself and accepts Daniel's apology, though he still refuses to train him for the tournament, much to Daniel's dismay.

Which is where, finally, Terry's plan kicks into high gear. He had introduced himself to Daniel and Miyagi earlier, claiming he'd come to apologise for Johnny's actions, and that the man himself had passed away of a broken heart due to the failure of his school. He slimes his way into Miyagi's affections by using information about his military background he'd discovered, before setting his sights on Daniel, praising him to the moon. The seeds of trust are then totally sown when he "saves" Daniel from an attack by Barnes, making it as easy as possible so he'd look irresistable as a trainer, which is what he becomes to Daniel following Miyagi's refusal. I have to say, it's quite a sight seeing Daniel in a Cobra Kai uniform. There's something just fundamentally wrong about it. Over the course of their trainning sessions, Terry slowly lets the friendly, cuddly act slip and he becomes more aggressive, as do the things he teaches. There's not much technique to it, all he's really having Daniel do is punch, kick and elbow a wooden dummy to the point that he injures himself and (as Johnny asked) makes his knuckles bleed. Miyagi at first heals Daniel's injuries with magic healing powder (don't look at me like that, that's what it is), but as time goes on and distance grows between them, Daniel starts usng it himself without permission. "Hope confusion end soon, Daniel-san," he says sadly at one point, "Miyagi heart empty without you." AWWWWWWWW.

His confusion and confliction about the new methods he's being taught does indeed come to an end soon, as whilst he's out at a dance club with Jessica (the band performing there being fronted by one of the most sorry examples of an eighties fashion victim I've ever seen. Hello, white turtle nuck and polka-dot blazer!), spending time with her before she leaves the next day, Terry gets some dude to hit on her, causing Daniel to punch him in the face, breaking his nose without even thinking and appalling his friend, who storms out. Personally I would have left before then, just after he claimed, "I'm so thirsty I could drink a horse." Seriously, WAT? Anyway, Terry tries to sel it to him that what just happened was a good thing, that it proved he'd developed killer instincts and was now doing these things without even thinking, but Daniel is nothing but ashamed of himself and insists on making things right with all the people in his life. He makes peace with Jessica before she leaves (and she really does leave. I thought she might return for the tournament, but nope, she's just gone), and Miyagi as well, before going to he Cobra Kai dojo to respectfully tell Terry that he won't be training with him anymore.

Which is the exact moment the film turns into a nightmare, as Terry not only has Barnes there with him, but also Johnny, back from beyone the grave/Tahiti, to terroize and physically destroy this kid. This parts really makes no sense. Think about it- what were Johnny and Barnes doing there? Logic would seem to say Terry had them come, but how could he have been so sure Daniel was going to show up? And what if he hadn't? What would they have done then? Gone out to dinner? It's ludicrous movie logic, saved only by the three men themselves. Put bluntly, they're... evil. Johnny even growls like a beast at Daniel when he jumps out at him. "ARRRRRGH! ARRRRRGH!" And the laughing. Dear God, the laughing. Even when Miyagi shows up to hand them all their arses, even when you take into account the fact that this great plan is technically a total failure, they're still laughing, cackling, about all the awful things the've done and are going to do. THEY KNOW THEY'RE EVIL. AND IT AMUSES THEM.

Into the final straight now, as Miyagi has agreed to train Daniel, and we find ourselves at the tournament. It's almost like the writrs knew they fucked up a little having Daniel only have to fight one match, because they then show Barnes employing dirty tactics in his encounters, teeterig on the edge of disqualification before winning, thus making him appear as un-noble as possible. They then have him kick the shit out of Daniel for most fo their scrap. I don't know how the scoring in karate matches is done, and I doubt this is all that faithful to them anyway, but they way it seems to work is Barnes would get a point, before then doing something underhanded and having that point taken away from him. Of course this leaves the door for Daniel to make a comeback, which he does following the rest period, confusing Barnes by waving his arms around a bit, then catching him with a throw and gaining a point. Strangely, this one point is enough for him to win the match. Me no understand. The he and Miyagi celebrate as the bad guys slink off, presumably back to Hell.

Mots of this movie had a very "going-through-the-motions" feel about it. The direction is unexciting, most of the performances just there (with the exception on Morita, who's so good he could make an Alien Ant Farm video watchable), and in truth, alot of the time it's quite boring. Except when the bad guys are on the screen. Then, it comes alive. They say all heroes are only as good as their villains, ad that's totally the case here. Griffith, Kove, Kanan, this is their movie, and they save it with their gloriously over-the-top antics. I tell you, after watching this, I'd rather be a Cobra Kai. It looks like so much fun, and who knows, one day maybe I'd get to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with my sensei and chuckle demonically about the misfortunes I've brought down upon others. And also maybe I'd get to sweep the leg.



When it was good, it was really rather dull. But when it was bad, it was wonderful.

Until next week, I'm The Cheap-Arse Film Critic, and I want Tong Po! GIVE ME TONG PO!


The Lam said...

Damn man, I feel embarassed as a film lover. I had no idea there was a Karate Kid Part 3. I always thought part 3 was the abortion of a movie that was the Hilary Swank one.

The Cheap-Arse Film Critic said...

As far as I can tell it's the forgotten sequel. Almost all the attention was focused on the second one, and this one sort of slipped out. I do remember it being briefly profiled on some VH1 nostalgia show, something like "Greatest Villains of the 80s," or something like that.

Jimbo said...

I actually found the second Karate Kid movie to be far more boring in some scenes. The whole story of Mr Miyagi's past became tiresome about the mid section of the movie.

As cheesy as the third one was, it kept me on the edge of my seat and I found it just as entertaining as the first one, if not slightly more so.

Im still yet to watch the 4th one (Hilary Swank), I know it's not going to be as good as the films before, but surely the excellent Pat Morita saves it??

Jimbo said...

Just watched the 4th one, I retract my statement!