On occasion, I’ve tried the Pixar exercise that suggests taking a movie you disliked and reimagining it as something you would like. I love the idea of repurposing crap–and I’m right now outlining a story based on my reimagining of the crap Omen sequel, The Final Conflict–but I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s at least one movie that can’t be reimagined in any kind of workable way, given the materials it has.
The Karate Kid III.
The flick makes two catastrophic decisions in the first ten minutes. The first is to have our heroes sink everything–including Daniel Laruso’s college money–into Mr. Miyagi’s (unmentioned until it was needed for this film) retirement dream of owning a bonsai tree shop. Never mind that Miyagi wouldn’t have needed Daniel’s college fund if opening a shop was really what he wanted to do. He owns a house in Southern California with a lovely garden and a collection of classic cars. Selling the cars off, renting them to the studios, or taking out a second mortgage would bring in plenty of cash for seed money (pardon the pun). Never mind this. The real issue is that starting a small business has nothing to do with what made these characters interesting in the first place.
Laruso and Miyagi first got together to solve an urgent problem, the Cobra Kais’ nasty habit of beating the crap out of Laruso wherever he goes. That’s a situation that suggests a number of exciting possibilities. By contrast, Karate Kid III‘s bonsai tree collaboration promises little except for filling out forms and filing bark beetle insurance claims. If you put “Karate” in the title of your movie, you don’t want to put your heroes in situations that’ll have them patiently waiting outside the office of Harold J. Krumb of the Small Business Administration.
The second catastrophic decision is the choice of villain. See, the dojo master in the first movie was financially backed by the evil Terry Silver, CEO of the Dynatox (seriously, that’s the company’s name) Corporation. Thomas Ian Griffith plays Silver for all its worth, gleefully chewing scenery. Still, the idea that a character like Silver would literally put all of his wheeling and dealing on hold to wipe out an old man and a college dropout, who seem to be doing a fine job wrecking their own futures with this bonsai tree store, is simply insane. If all he wanted to do was help his old Vietnam War buddy reestablish his karate dojo business, he’d have dropped fifty grand on Kreese and hired him a publicist to spin his misdeeds at last year’s All Valley Under-18 Tournament. Then Silver could have gotten back to polluting the Earth and going on “hunting” trips with long time pal Dick Cheney.
Roger Ebert pegged the fundamental problem of Karate Kid III in his review of the picture:
I think I have the message by now. It was contained in “The Karate Kid” (1984), which was a wonderful movie, and then it was recycled in “The Karate Kid, Part II.” Now we have “The Karate Kid Part III,” and still the message is the same. This material is wearing out its welcome. I have mastered all of the lessons “The Karate Kid” movies have to teach and all of the surprises they have to spring. I am also intimately familiar with the plot formula, so that nothing in this third film comes as the faintest surprise. Perhaps it is time, as Mr. Miyagi might say, to study something else.
Market forces, and nothing else, explain why Karate Kid III was made. It was a failed attempt by Columbia Pictures to take a one-shot story about class differences and high school bullying and turn it into a franchise. I don’t have to reimagine Karate Kid III as a movie I’d like because that movie was already made. They called it The Karate Kid.