I Had Never Seen The Karate Kid — But I Love Cobra Kai

Yup, you read that correctly.

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Photo: Netflix

I’m a child of the 80s, but The Karate Kid managed to slip by me.

I was a smiley, toothless, gassy ball o’ baby when the first movie came out, and a smiley, less gassy ball o’ toddler with some teeth when the second movie came out. In other words: The zeitgeist had escaped me.

By the time I started watching grown-up movies, I figured I wouldn’t be interested in a movie about a boy learning karate. (Even though at the age of nine I took karate for one year but dropped out after a kid crane kicked my crotch and I couldn’t pee for two days.)

Time went on and The Karate Kid continued dropping on my list of must-watch movies, even though countless geriatric millennials and Gen Xers told me I was missing out — and I had begun dating a man who has a Karate Kid-themed rock band.

Then Cobra Kai arrived on Netflix.

My boyfriend, who still has a Karate Kid-themed rock band, put the series on one night after I fell sleep. The next day he was gushing about how infinitely watchable the show was. That night, I joined him on the couch to watch episode #5, and within 5 minutes I was hooked.

I’ve since devoured every episode, and am now visiting the first four episodes I had missed — and The Karate Kid movies.

That’s how good Cobra Kai is: You can go your entire life not seeing The Karate Kid movies AND miss the first four episodes of the series and still enjoy the living shit out of it.

Why Cobra Kai is so good

Since I had never seen The Karate Kid, nostalgia was not a part of my viewing process. That’s not to say I didn’t appreciate the show’s 1980s references and song choices. Even without seeing the movie, the show made me feel like I had seen the movie with purposeful flashbacks.

What pulled me in was the writing and William Zabka’s performance. (Can we get Zabka on the Emmy short list, yeah?)

Several folks have told me they steered clear of Cobra Kai because they assumed its cheese factor was an 11. I’ve explained to them how mortally wrong they are. While the series does have its corny moments (it’s based of The Karate Kid, y’all) the characters are rich and vibrant. Getting the back story of everyone besides Daniel is the point of the show — and damn, do they do a good job.

Not only do we get a 360-degree view of Johnny, we’re introduced to a series of young characters who are as interesting as the adults. The Karate Kid made you care about a teenager, who are oftentimes written paper thin and unrelatable. Cobra Kai achieves the same goal. You’re invested in every teenager in the series — they’re fleshed out and owned by the actors who portray them.

I Finally Watched The Karate Kid

While writing this, I decided it was time I watch The Karate Kid and The Karate Kid Part II. I had been warned by several people to stop here, but last night, I subjected myself to The Karate Kid Part III and I have so many questions that I’ll get into below. But let’s focus on the pillar of this franchise — The Karate Kid. Low and behold, my decades-long assumptions about the film were wrong.

The movie focused on a theme that has always been near and dear to me: Cross-generational relationships — i.e., hanging with old people. I cried like a lil baby throughout the entire film, and I’m not even sure why? I mean, I know why — Daniel and Miyagi’s relationship is something beautiful — but I don’t know why it touched me so much. Maybe I’m getting soft as I age, and maybe I just miss being a kid and talking to WWII vets and others from the Silent Generation. I think we can all think back on mentors in our youth — whether it was in sports, or academics, or general life — who made an indelible impact, and goddamnit — Miyagi changed that boy’s life. And dammit — every slo-mo nod of approval from Miyagi makes me, the viewer, feel proud to be alive.

The chemistry between Daniel and Miyagi is palpable — it’s apparent that Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita developed a rapport while filming — and the viewer is privileged to watch that relationship unfold.

Ralph Macchio is absolutely delightful in the film, and I’m charmed by his Brando-esque (or maybe Pesci?) bravado. His performance borders on Method, and it becomes impossible to imagine any other young actor in the early 80s playing Daniel. I enjoy seeing these moments of New Jersey Italian hot-headedness with adult Daniel in Cobra Kai.

So, I also watched The Karate Kid Part II.

While enjoyable to watch, it did make everyone on the island of Okinawa seem bat-shit crazy, so I have to take away some stars for one-dimensional villains — just like The Karate Kid. Which brings us back to why Cobra Kai is so good — we get full fleshed out villains. And holy shit — they’re complicated and sometimes likable.

And I watched Part III.

This film definitely makes you question 1.) Why grown men seem to get off on harassing and hurting scrawny teenage boy and 2.) How Daniel keeps winning karate tournaments when he’s like 90 pounds and doesn’t have any moves.

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Now I’m in a Karate Kid-Themed Rock Band

So, now that I’m a fan of Cobra Kai and The Karate Kid films, after 10 years together, I’ve decided to join my boyfriend’s karate rock band, The Karate Kids. Every song by The Karate Kids is about the Karate Kid franchise (yes, that includes The Next Karate Kid and The Karate Kid 2010). The band’s biggest claim to fame is that Sissy Spacek watched a Karate Kids show in Austin, and Bill Murray ALMOST showed up. Musicians Nicole Atkins and Howe Gelb have played with the Karate Kids, and one iteration of the band was featured in our 2013 movie, Loves Her Gun, which premiered at SXSW.

You can hear a smattering of the band’s early work here, or follow us on Instagram or TikTok.

Happy Cobra Kai Season 3 Eve!

Freelance writer; film Loves Her Gun premiered @ SXSW ‘13; used to be a Hollywood assistant; rail enthusiast; check out my dumb blog, hipstercrite.com

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