It’s always a big risk doing a follow-up to a beloved story from the past, but the YouTube original series Cobra Kai — from creators Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz, and Hayden Schlossberg — has been lauded as one of the best examples of this type of continuation.
The sequel series to the Karate Kid films has received strong reviews and a loyal fanbase thanks to its mixture of heart, humor, and pathos, as it picks up the story of Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) more than three decades after the original film.
At San Diego Comic-Con, Macchio, Zabka, and their Cobra Kai castmates Xolo Maridueña (“Miguel Diaz”), Mary Mouser (“Samantha LaRusso”), Tanner Buchanan (“Robby Keene”) and Martin Kove (“John Kreese”)stopped by to discuss the big way Season 2 ended and the success the series has had furthering the story of The Karate Kid.
THE SCHOOL BRAWL
Season 2 ended with a massive group karate fight through the halls of West Valley High School, ending in a brutal manner when Robby threw Miguel from a balcony, severely injuring him.
Said Ralph Macchio, of that turn of events, and the anguish that followed, “We knew they were going to go in a direction that left things hanging and take a left-hand turn that nobody expected. It was deeper and darker than I expected, even knowing it was coming, when we read it all. So it was pretty spectacular what they were able to pull off on our limited time and budget, and the amount of work and fight scenes that these guys did was incredible.”
Added William Zabka, with a laugh, “One thing we did like though, I think, is that when we were turning the pages of that ten-page fight, we weren’t in it!”
For the cast members who did participate in the fight sequence, “It was so rewarding seeing the final product, because there’s a lot that went into it,” said Xolo Maridueña, who stressed, “And you know, not just us. It’s the cameramen, the stunt coordinators, everyone has to work perfectly, like a big, nice, well-oiled machine. And I think the thing that always comes up is this 83-second shot, and I think it just goes to show how much love everyone puts into the show and I think it turned out well.”
Mary Mouser noted she had never done a fight sequence of that type before, saying when she saw it finished, “It was like, ‘Holy crap, that’s what we were shooting the whole time!?’ We shot all these little individual pieces and I was literally just in go-mode the whole time. I wasn’t thinking about what I had for the rest of the day, I was thinking about what I had right now and nothing else mattered. And so then they’d be like, ‘Okay, we’re moving onto the next piece’ and I’m like. ‘Next piece, what next piece?’ ‘The thing up the stairs,’ and I’m like, ‘Okay, teach it to me again. Let’s go up the stairs.’ And so seeing it all come together at the end, I just thought, ‘Oh that’s why they did that. That makes sense!’
As for what Robby did to Miguel, Tanner Buchanan stressed, “It was an accident! I went to the writers right away, because I was like, ‘Robby’s still a good guy. This has to be an accident.” Because Robby’s done so much growing. I just didn’t want it to be thrown on him that he’s just this bad guy. Because he’s really not, he’s such a good guy. He would never intentionally kick anybody off of a balcony – at least he wouldn’t admit it. It was very, very surprising, I think it left great cliffhangers to keep people interested for Season 3. But there’s a lot of cleaning up to do. So it was very surprising when I came out and I read it. I was like, wow, we’ve got a long ways to go in Season 3. A very long way.”
DANIEL AND JOHNNY… AND KREESE
At the core of Cobra Kai is the ever-intense dynamic between Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence. Interestingly, fans are just as quick to say they’d like the two to work things out and become true friends as they are to see them fight again, and Macchio remarked, “It’s been set up in the writing and that’s what makes this show so complex – those grey areas, and the different-but-same elements. How similar Johnny and Daniel could be. They both grew up without dads for the most part, they had senseis, they got into martial arts. One was dark, one was light. The enjoyment of watching these characters in each other’s faces is equaled only by when they do get along. But they’re such a distinct odd couple. They both had good intentions in Season 2. And then the floor fell out from both of them. So I look forward to those stakes and what we have moving forward, and where that could land.”
Said Zabka, “There’s always something bubbling under the surface between them. That’s why that fight happens so easily when [Daniel] kicks the door in. They can try but there’s so much they’re both dealing with in their lives – It’s just a matter of time before something’s going to set off. I always say it’s like if they became friends and walked down the beach, it’s littered with mines from the past. It’s just a matter of if something triggers that. I think that they could be friends, but they’re also frenemies. It’s fun. It’s a complicated thing.”
As for the man who trained Johnny Lawrence, John Kreese, Season 2 ended with him back in charge of Cobra Kai, complete with his very intense (and infamously merciless) form of tutelage. So should we be worried about where he’ll take Cobra Kai?
Said Martin Kove, with a grin, “Well, there’s never anything to worry about. You know, I mean basically, he’s got a lot of integrity, it’s just a little misunderstood at times!” He added, “I think there’s room for redemption. I think the interesting dramatic piece would be what kind of redemption? What it means to Johnny, what it means to Daniel, you know, to Miyagi-Do, his repulsion for Mr. Miyagi and his repulsion for what Mr. Miyagi taught versus what he learned back in Vietnam and why Cobra Kai became what it became. So there’s enormous room for growth there.”
35 YEARS LATER
2019 marks the 35th anniversary of The Karate Kid and the stars of the original film said it’s been a wonderful experience having the anniversary coincide with Cobra Kailaunching last year and how well received the series has been – especially given the trepidation some fans initially felt about revisiting something so revered.
As Macchio put it, “It’s beyond our expectations, the embrace. I think we all felt the fanbase was out there, you know. Actually, the low expectations before Season 1 worked very well for us. Because all of a sudden it’s now, okay, this is how you do it! What [Executive Producers] Jon, Josh, and Hayden have done is created the way, the how-to book in taking a story franchise and then finding the grey areas within the black and white of what that original was, and then diving deep into the depths of all these characters, so they’re fully realized and it really feels like life – and then still have the heightened reality for the sake of entertainment as well.”
Said Zabka, “I’ve lived with 35 years of ‘I hate you’ or ‘I love to hate you’ or ‘You’re such an A-hole.’ There’s a moment of redemption at the end of the movie. It’s nice that people can empathize with the character. I think he’s safe to empathize with because he’s in the bottle. He eats bologna and drinks beer. It’s cool coming back into the skin of him. He’s still at the core the same guy, but with 35 years of life. It’s kind of like real life. The movie was then and this is now, and this is me now and this is Johnny now. And so it’s this harmonious, incredible thing that’s happened with the show. And yeah, to have a movie that was 35 years ago being celebrated 35 years later, and have a show that’s current and relevant, it’s a rarity and I’m very thankful for it.”
Check out our full video interview with the cast of Cobra Kai at the top of the page!