Last week YouTube Red was poised to strike with its latest release, Cobra Kai. The 10 episode series is a highly anticipated follow-up to iconic 80’s film, The Karate Kid starring Ralph Macchio and William Zabka. The Karate Kid, released in 1984, tells the story of Martial Arts Master Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) teaching karate to bullied teenager Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio). Mr. LaRusso learned self-defense, confidence, patience and what turned out to be many life-changing lessons. Mr. Miyagi’s unorthodox training methods are at first confusing and tiresome to Daniel but prove to be invaluable when he faces off against his bully, Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), during the All Valley Karate Tournament. It is Daniel’s signature crane kick that causes Johnny’s inevitable downfall. Fans were left to wonder whatever happened to the shamed Mr. Lawrence after he let down his Sensai John Kreese and the Cobra Kai dojo. Wonder no more.
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Care must be taken when it comes to revisiting an iconic and well-loved film. Fans, especially us 80’s pop culture aficionados, are quite skeptical when it comes to messing with memories we hold dear. While a part of us may think we want to know ‘what happens next’, there is also a fear of being let down. No need to worry though as Cobra Kai does an amazing job of emulating all that we loved about The Karate Kid, providing answers to our burning questions and insight into things we had not considered. All this was done in a way that pulls at your heartstrings while providing a bit of retro humor and some great tunes.
*Spoiler Alert* (The following gives specific details to the series)
It is during the very first episode that we see the script has flipped for our karate contenders. An often inebriated Johnny living in a tiny apartment is clearly struggling to make ends meet while Daniel is the owner of a successful car dealership, a stunning home and beautiful family. We also learn more about Johnny’s upbringing and the emotional struggles he endured as a child which may explain a bit about the strained relationship he has with his own son. It is actually because of their children that Johnny eventually crosses paths with Daniel. Needless to say, all is not forgotten. The rivalry is renewed and Cobra Kai is re-opened.
Both Johnny and Daniel definitely have their faults, but we also see that both have good intentions. It is slightly more challenging to see that from Johnny though as he spends much of his time berating his students. Yet, he does it in a way that makes us believe he actually cares for the band of misfits that have come to learn the way of Cobra Kai. Daniel, on the other hand, inadvertently finds he has a willing pupil, Robby, wanting to learn from him, a pupil that also wants revenge on a common nemesis. The bond between Daniel and Robby is reminiscent of that between Daniel and his former Sensei Mr. Miyagi. I watched with great fondness as Daniel utilized some all too familiar techniques in training Robby, even showing him a new signature move.
While years have passed and technology has advanced since last we saw young Mr. LaRusso and Mr. Lawrence, some things never change. Teenage turmoil, family friction and unbridled ego make for some tense and sometimes humorous moments throughout the series. Thankfully the creators behind Cobra Kai are also big fans of The Karate Kid; their clever writing modernized a classic tale while allowing us to relive our past emotions.
Anticipation builds throughout the series and when we finally see dojos unite for the 50th annual All Valley Karate Tournament, we are on the edge of our seats. Does the good guy win? Who IS the good guy? Is the story over? Well, you’ll just have to watch and see… no mercy! 😉
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