The Weekend Australian - Review
Karate Kid sequel’s got all the right chops
Cobra Kai is having a moment. Recently ranked the second most popular series on the Australian iteration of Netflix and already a big hit in the US, the half-hour sensation is the unlikely yet completely logical sequel of the Los Angeles-set 1984 teen sports drama The Karate Kid.
No less a sage than Roger Ebert began his review of the 80s classic by saying “I didn’t want to see” but proclaimed “one of the nice surprises” of its year.
Watching the original isn’t necessary to prepare, but it’s a fun way to reconnect with a film that has aged surprisingly well. It also allows a greater appreciation of the mischievously comedic yet utterly respectful way in which a trio of creators who bonded over the film as childhood mates have combined a “where are they now?” adult drama with an increasingly overheated comingof-age high school saga.
“Back in the day,” someone says, “karate in the [San Fernando] valley was like football in Texas. And Daniel was a champion.” Daniel is Daniel LaRusso (then, as now, Ralph Macchio), who started as a friendless, picked-on New Jersey transplant but rose to a champion of the sport by besting high school bully Johnny Lawrence (the returning William Zabka) for the golden trophy in the 1984 All Valley Under-18 karate tournament. He did this under the precise tutelage of his apartment building’s custodian, Okinawa-born martial arts master Nariyoshi Miyagi (Pat Morita). It was their improbable but undeniably sweet friendship that sold the film, and Morita, who had already established himself in the popular sitcom Happy Days and died in 2005, was Oscar-nominated for his performance.
Thirty-six years later, the 50ish Johnny is a seethingly resentful handyman living in Reseda, while Daniel smiles down from roadside billboards as the cheerful and prosperous frontman for the local used car-chain LaRusso Auto Group. Fate and the younger generation bring them together when a car bearing Daniel’s daughter Samantha (Mary Mouser) smashes into Johnny’s and it is towed to her father’s flagship repair shop. In an epiphany, Johnny seeks an initially misguided redemption by reviving Cobra Kai, the dojo in which he was trained by the ruthless Kreese (Martin Kove, also back again), taking on young Miguel (Xolo Mariduena) as his first pupil.
Meanwhile, Daniel finds his own interest in the sport revived, and begins training juvenile delinquent Robby (Tanner Buchanan), unaware that he is Johnny’s estranged son. The teenagers all go to the same high school, so while the first season is an astute generational reworking of the movie’s plot, the second amps up the adolescent intrigue and is capped by a knockdown, drag-out brawl the likes of which haven’t been seen since the climactic shopping centre melee in Jackie Chan’s 1985 action classic Police Story.
Cobra Kai creators, executive producers, showrunners, writers and directors Josh Heald, Hayden Schlossberg and Jon Hurwitz have been friends for more than two decades.
“We all ended up having separate screenwriting careers,” Heald recently told an interviewer. “I did the Hot Tub Time Machine movies and they did the Harold and Kumar series. We always kept coming back to Karate Kid … Streaming has taken over this ability to tell this long, serialised story … It became more and more likely that something like this could hit.”
And hit it has. The show originally was produced by YouTube Premium, then Netflix acquired it and reportedly has a third season finished but as yet unscheduled. When released, it will once again stand as one of its year’s nice surprises.
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