The Karate Kid movie franchise started before I was even born. But even for someone like me, I know it was a cult hit in the 1980s and I know it was such a hit that it helped to pique interest in the martial arts genre in the West.
I grew up loving the martial arts genre, I watched heaps of Jackie Chan films and the classic Hong Kong films like Police Story and Iron Monkey. My love of martial arts films inspired in some ways to compel me to learn martial arts myself. I picked up a form of kung fu called wing chun and trained in it for well over 10 years. Wing chun was the martial arts that the legendary Bruce Lee started his martial arts journey in. Bruce Lee would later found his own martial arts, Jeet Kune Do. Wing chun on the hand had a renaissance with the release of several films relating to Bruce Lee’s first master, Ip Man. If you like martial arts, you should watch the Ip Man franchise. The stories and the choreography is amazing.
My only experience of Karate Kid, other than watching short clips from the film on YouTube, was the not too faithful ‘remake’ titled Karate Kid, which released in 2010 and starred Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith. The film was enjoyable to watch, but let’s face it. They weren’t doing karate, they were clearly doing kung fu. Karate is Japanese and kung fu is Chinese martial arts. Jackie Chan was clearly teaching Jaden the fine ways of kung fu. If they chose the right name, maybe we would have seen Kung Fu Kid 2. At least in China, it was rightly titled ‘The Kung Fu Dream’. (You wouldn’t want to get that wrong in China…)
Cobra Kai is a continuation of the Karate Kid movie franchise. For people who didn’t watch the films, this television show does a great job of showing flashback clips of the film’s most iconic moments. For me, who never watched the original films in their entirety, I feel like I knew the story of the films by watching these flashbacks and was able to get straight into the series with no problem. I think the show-runners knew this and that’s why they made it very easy for people to jump straight into the series.
The title of the show Cobra Kai is named after the dojo of the same name. The Cobra Kai dojo was prominent in the Karate Kid films as the big bad dojo that trained young people into ruthless fighters. The creed of Cobra Kai’s pupils is simply to show no mercy in fights and to win at all cost. In many ways, Cobra Kai trains its pupils to be aggressive and in turn their win at all cost mentality affects their day-to-day lives.
The show brings back apparently a lot of the actors and actresses from the original film series and mixes them with some new young faces. It’s a pleasant mix of talent. Each talent knows a few cool moves or two. Throughout the series, it’s clear that the creators loved the original franchise so much that made several nods to the film series.
The series starts by following Johnny Lawrence, the fighter who lost to Daniel LaRusso in the first film and evidently scarred by those memories, as he goes about his dismal life. He is poor and has clearly made a lot of poor life decisions. He lives in squalor and is at the bottom of the totem pole. Daniel LaRusso, on the other hand, is successful and wealthy. He has everything going for him, a family, a well oiled car sales business and the ‘fame’.
The story intensifies when Johnny decides to bring back Cobra Kai. Due to a series of events, or should we call them coincidences, Johnny decides he wants to start the dojo to empower the youth to be strong and ‘cool’. Due to this and other coincidences, Daniel see his mortal foe return and is riled into starting Miyagi-do to counter the influence of Cobra Kai. The rivalry between the two dojos intensifies throughout the series and reaches boiling point at the end of season 2.
The series is an enjoyable clash of ideas and characters. It is so interesting seeing the ‘villain’ from the first Karate Kid film become the main character of this series, while the ‘hero’ becomes the antagonist (in a way). I have to admit that Johnny’s story is more interesting and the show runners we right to go with him. He acts as a catalyst to the rivalry in the 2010/20s, and he has much to grow and develop. There is a lot of potential in his character and that’s what makes him an interesting character. As a viewer, I noticed his character change over the course of the series in a positive way and I’m interested to see where it goes in series 3 and maybe beyond.
Cobra Kai started as a YouTube Original and was exclusive to people who subscribed to YouTube’s premium service. Fortunately, the series, including seasons 1 and 2, moved to Netflix in August 2020. In 2021, Netflix is looking to air season 3, which was filmed in late 2019. I am looking forward to the next chapter, because unlike season 1, season 2 left on a huge cliffhanger.