Tuesday, 26 May 2009

DVD Box Set Review - The Karate Kid I, II and III

The Karate Kid is a typically cheesy 80s movie but despite stereotyped characters and a rather predictable plot, it has enough going for it to be a very enjoyable movie. It's a standard tale of the underdog coming good, with a karate twist of course. A young lad named Daniel Larusso moves into a new neighbourhood, falls for a local girl and falls foul of the local bully, who just happens to be the ex-boyfriend of the girl Daniel has fallen for. By another amazing coincidence the bully, Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) just happens to be the top pupil of nasty karate teacher John Kreese (Martin Kove). The girl, Ali Mills (Elizabeth Shue) feels that their relationship is well and truly over, but Johnny doesn't quite see it that way. Soon enough Daniel ends up hating his life in the new town, a place he never wanted to move to anyway.

Living nearby is Mr Miyagi (Noriyuki "Pat" Morita), the local handyman. Daniel finds out that this mild-mannered man is an unlikely karate expert and pesters him for training, but initially Mr Miyagi refuses. Eventually he changes his mind but it seems to Daniel that he's just being used to do all the DIY rather than any actually receiving any karate training. The scene in which Mr Miyagi shows him that waxing the car, painting the fence etc is actually crucial to his karate technique is quite brilliant.

Perhaps a little slowly paced and definitely containing some very contrived situations and one-dimensional characters. The Karate Kid is nonetheless extremely enjoyable. The karate scenes looked passably realistic and some of the action was fun; Elizabeth Shue was cute, Ralph Macchio was earnest and Martin Kove /William Zabka were easy-to-dislike villains. However it was Mr Miyagi himself who made the film enjoyable; he has some great lines to deliver, thus making the film very funny on frequent occasions, and having a seemingly defenceless old man make mincemeat out of overtly aggressive tough guys is always entertaining.

The second film sees Mr Miyagi and Daniel travelling to Japan as aged karate master's father is dying. There are some old scores to settle though and Mr Miyagi soon runs into an old friend / enemy... while Daniel, predictably enough, finds a nemesis and a girlfriend, all in his first day. The characters are again paper thin, even more so than in the first film, and the story follows a predictable path. With an embittered former friend, a henchman lacking honour but not karate skills and a pretty girl thrown into the plot pot, it all reaches a crescendo with the predictable final grudge battle between the good guy and the bad guy. Still, there's a decent amount of action and quite a bit of humour, so while not exceptional I still feel Karate Kid Part II is worth watching as light entertainment. It also has my favourite line of all the films; Daniel observes someone karate chopping a small log clean in half, and asks Mr Miyagi if he can do that. The reply?

"Don't know. Never been attacked by tree."

Now we come to the much-maligned third film in the Karate Kid series - a film that has no less than five Razzie nominations. It's a shame the acting was so hammy and the characters descending further into pantomime proportions, because the plot had glimmers of good ideas there. A rich and evil friend of John Kreese (from the first film, remember?) wants to help him get his karate academy back; to do this he aims to not only train the winner in the local karate competition, but to utterly destroy Daniel in the process. Thomas Ian Griffith overacts so amazingly that you wonder if he's lost a bet. There are one or two decent bits, but overall it's pretty awful. The familiar sight of Daniel being beaten into a squashy pulp - repeatedly - makes his eventual victory seem ever more preposterous (at least in the first film it seemed somehow plausible that he defeated all the odds), and at the final scene the films ends so abruptly that you feel the makers were embarrassed and wanted to put it out of its misery.

So we have a good film, an inferior but still entertaining sequel, and a third movie that has been deservedly panned by all and sundry. Director John G. Avildsen showed a creative spark in the first movie that dwindled in the second and was lost by the third. The music and cinematography was good in places but not in others; average overall. The acting was pretty hammy a lot of the time, but that's the eighties for you.

There are no DVD features to speak of in this collection, just three very simple games based on the film (these games are repeated on each DVD for some reason) and an okay documentary looking back on the films (on the Part III DVD). Still, three films for a tenner (about fifteen dollars by current exchange rates) wasn't bad and, even though the second was average and the third pretty awful, represented decent value for money.

Overall this is a decent box set to get if you see it cheap, but I wouldn't spend much on it (unless you already know that you like the second and third films more than I did). Some consider the first film a classic; personally I wouldn't go that far, but it's a good film. A relatively decent set but nothing great.

Other DVD Box Sets

Gremlins 1 & 2
Ghostbusters 1 & 2
Jean de Florette / Manon de Sources
Rush Hour 1 & 2

See also:

CaptainD's Top Ten Movies of the Eighties

CaptainD - Movie Reviews Blog

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