MARCH 23 — For kids who grew up in the 1980s, the Karate Kid mythology was a big part of their lives.
In the US, according to martial arts historians, a large number of dojos (martial arts training centres) sprung up because of the movie.
Rather similar to what happened when Bruce Lee passed on in 1973, dozens of wannabes popped up out of nowhere (Bruce Le, Bruce Li, Bronson Lee, Dragon Lee, to name a few!).
But the Karate Kid mythology did not last long, relatively speaking.
Unlike the Die Hard series which lasted five films all the way to this decade, Karate Kid lasted only till 1989 with three movies.
I am not counting The Next Karate Kid from 1994 simply because the main protagonist Daniel Larusso (played by Ralph Macchio) was not present although his sensei, Mr Miyagi (played by Noriyuki ‘Pat’ Morita), was.
As a side note, the protagonist of this film went on to become a two-time Academy Award Winner. That was Hilary Swank. She became the most successful actor from this franchise.
The latest addition to the Karate Kid series is a 10-part web series called Cobra Kai. It is one of the first productions of YouTube Red who seem eager to go the way of Netflix and Amazon Prime.
I am already a subscriber to both but if YouTube Red produces series like this, I shall be a most willing customer indeed!
The series picks up 33 years after the end of the first film. In that film, Daniel defeats the top fighter of the eponymous Cobra Kai dojo, Johnny Lawrence (played by William Zabka).
After his defeat, Johnny’s life falls apart and Cobra Kai is abandoned en masse. The attempt by Terry Silver, the boss of Sensei Kreese, Johnny’s teacher, to resurrect Cobra Kai in Karate Kid Part 3 (1989) fails as well.
Fast forward 33 years. From what I can gather of the trailers, the series is from the perspective of Johnny Lawrence.
He seems to have suffered a downward spiral. Ironically, in the first film, it was he who was from a well-to-do family while Daniel was decidedly lower middle class with a single mother to boot.
So far, nothing is mentioned of what became of Sensei Kreese or his own boss, Terry Silver. Of course, the legendary Mr Miyagi cannot be brought back as Pat Morita died in 2005.
Choosing another actor to replace the character would be a sure-fire way to lose the old fandom.
What was so attractive about the original Karate Kid? As many reviewers have said, it was certainly not the fighting!
While the fight scenes were competent, they were not enough to make the film legendary. Even the first Lethal Weapon series, with its iconic fight between Mel Gibson and Gary Busey, was better.
No, what made Karate Kid legendary was the story itself. Daniel Larusso was the new kid on the block. He had a comfortable life but was still from the wrong side of the tracks.
Then, he makes the mistake of liking a girl from the upper classes who turns out to be Johnny’s former girlfriend.
He is then bullied by the Cobra Kai until he meets Mr Miyagi. Through Miyagi’s training (not just “wax on, wax off”!) and wisdom, he is able to understand life itself and improves himself.
Ultimately, he defeats many Cobra Kai fighters and wins the title from Johnny. This was the story that viewers could relate to.
Now, the shoe is on the other foot. Johnny is now the underdog to the successful Daniel. I hope this new series focuses on the characters and their story rather than the fighting itself. It can then successfully wear the mantle of its predecessor.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.