Let’s take a trip back in time to the year 1985. I was an introverted, somewhat awkward 9-year-old who spent more time reading books and magazines, watching TV, or writing stories than hanging out with friends. Early that year, during a visit to a family friend’s home, I saw a movie that became my obsession for the next few years: The Karate Kid.
Released in 1984, The Karate Kid is the story of Daniel LaRusso, played by Ralph Macchio, a teen from New Jersey who moves to Reseda, California with his mom.
He’s shy, sensitive, an outsider — pun somewhat intended since Macchio also played Johnny Cade in the big-screen adaptation of the beloved S.E. Hinton novel — and pretty much someone I could relate to.
He quickly becomes the target of the bullies at school who are also students at Cobra Kai, a karate dojo founded by the very intimidating John Kreese (Martin Kove). Their leader, Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), is a handsome, blonde California boy who is also mean AF. He believes Cobra Kai’s mantra, “Strike first, strike hard, no mercy,” with every fiber of his being. Daniel is an easy target for Johnny and his Cobra Kai compatriots.
Things get worse when Daniel takes a shine to Johnny’s ex-girlfriend, Ali (Elisabeth Shue). At their school’s Halloween dance, Johnny and the Cobra Kai boys beat Daniel within an inch of his life until a guardian angel intervenes. His name is Mr. Miyagi (Noriyuki “Pat” Morita) and just happens to be the maintenance guy at Daniel’s apartment complex. He’s also a US Army vet and a master of Okinawan karate.
Miyagi becomes Daniel’s mentor and sensei, and while his teaching methods are odd (“paint the fence” and “wax on, wax off” come to mind), he ultimately guides Daniel to victory in the highly competitive All Valley Karate Tournament. Daniel defeats the odds, beats Johnny and Cobra Kai, and even gets the girl. Good triumphed over bad. And thus began my infatuation with The Karate Kid.
At that time, my family didn’t have a VCR, so I had to rely on friends and family to get my Karate Kid fix.
But as soon as my parents bought that magical movie machine, it became one of my go-to flicks. I watched it a grand total of 68 times in the year after my first viewing. Yes, I was proudly the kind of nerd who would track things like this. My younger sister and I thought we could learn Miyagi Do karate by watching it again and again. Spoiler alert: we never gained karate skills, but we got a few bumps and bruises along the way. And I definitely landed on my butt more than once trying to kick like Daniel. Eventually, other films caught my attention, and I spent less time with Daniel LaRusso, but The Karate Kid always held a special place in my heart.
Fast forward to New York Comic Con in 2014 and the announcement of a Karate Kid reunion. I was there covering the event, and although typically booked solid doing interviews and other press stuff, my schedule was miraculously open for that reunion panel. Half asleep, I lined up really early and snagged a seat in the front row. I was overjoyed to see Ralph Macchio, William Zabka, and Martin Kove reminisce about the film and how much it still meant to them three decades later. They also unanimously agreed that they’d revisit the world of The Karate Kid if an opportunity presented itself. I never imagined that a few years later, it would be a reality in the form of the TV series, Cobra Kai.
Following two seasons on YouTube, Cobra Kai is making the move to Netflix for its third season, coming in 2021.
Seasons 1 and 2 will have their Netflix debut this Friday, August 28th. Without giving too much away for any of you who have yet to watch Cobra Kai, we get to see where Daniel and Johnny ended up. While the original film had a very firm line between good and bad, the series exists in a more mature grey area that has me questioning my allegiances to certain characters. We also meet the new generation of kids bringing karate back to the Valley in a big way — especially Miguel Diaz (Xolo Maridueña), Samantha LaRusso (Mary Mouser), and Robby Keene (Tanner Buchanan) — and rekindling the rivalry that began in the 1984 film.
We rarely get to see where our favorite film characters end up, so I’m glad this story from my youth has been given a “to be continued.” I was lucky enough to preview Seasons 1 and 2 of Cobra Kai, and I instantly reconnected with my younger self, something I welcomed during this chaotic year. The world isn’t in the greatest place at the moment, and I needed a reminder of a simpler, more hopeful time.
Who should watch Cobra Kai?
Obviously, fans of the original film, but also their kids and grandkids. It’s a story that young and young at heart will get a kick out of. If you already lived through the 80s or just wish you did, you’re going to love Cobra Kai. It’s fun, highly addictive, and has a killer soundtrack. Take it from the girl who once watched The Karate Kid 68 times in a year and set aside some time last weekend to watch it.
(This interview was originally posted at the Wiretap Blog.)