Cobra Kai season 2 trailer

Cobra Kai has given the Karate Kid franchise a new lease on narrative life. After the massively successful first season, fans can’t wait to see season two, and many are rediscovering the original films or discovering them for the first time.

Karate Kid stars Martin Kove and William Zabka, who reprise their roles as John Kreese and Johnny Lawrence on Cobra Kai, were at WonderCon to discuss the series. During their interviews, each revealed some new details about the original classic film. We’ll have complete interviews with Kove, Zabka and the rest of the cast and creators of Cobra Kai later this month, but here’s what Kove and Zabka said about the original film.

John Kreese is Literally Death

Karate Kid director John G. Avildsen passed away in 2017, but since he directed the first three Karate Kid films, his legacy lives on in Cobra Kai. It certainly lives on in John Kreese. The show brought him back as a surprise in the season one finale, but Kove is still playing him the way Avildsen directed him.

“For me, you do a character who’s venomous and you give ‘em a sense of humor,” Kove said. “John Kreese didn’t have that in the movies. John Avildsen would come to me and say, ‘I don’t want a Marty Kove twinkle. I don’t want a smile. I want death.’ He really said that so everything was quite stoic. Everything was rigid.”

That director is certainly what made Kreese one of the most memorable villains in cinema history. Of course, funny villains like Hans Gruber or powerful ones like Darth Vader are also great, but that direction made John Kreese stand out and Kove still nails it.

Johnny and Daniel Could Have Had Sliding Doors Lives

Daniel Larusso (Ralph Macchio) became The Karate Kid when Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) became his sensei. Miyagi taught compassion and work ethic along with self-defense. Maybe that’s all Johnny would have needed, and maybe without that, Daniel could have been just as dangerous.

“Oh yeah, I always say that,” Zabka said. “Ralph and I joke about that all the time. If Johnny would have stumbled into the South Seas Apartments and made a bonsai tree, he would’ve turned into Daniel Larusso. And if Johnny wasn’t at Cobra Kai the day he peeked his little head in there, Daniel was this close to getting into the clutches of Kreese. So it could’ve gone either way and we could have a whole different story but that’s like life. You’re affected by who you run into, who takes over your life, who you give power to.”

It might be fun to write some fan fiction about what if Daniel joined Cobra Kai and Johnny trained privately with Mr. Miyagi. It’s too late to film that since Morita is gone and Zabka is now identified as Sensei Lawrence.

Kreese and Miyagi Never Had a Rematch

John Kreese is 0-2 against Mr. Miyagi. Miyagi spared Kreese in the parking lot of the All Valley Karate Tournament at the beginning of Karate Kid Part II and faced Kreese again with Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith) in Karate Kid Part III. Kove said Kreese never saw Miyagi again.

“This season you’ll learn that he didn’t,” Kove said. “He would’ve liked to but as he tells Ralph, ‘My condolences.’ He doesn’t have any lost love for Miyagi, but it’s really Miyagi Do that needs to be snuffed out. There’s only one game in town.”

That’s probably the right way to play it. Cobra Kai has rewritten some Miyagi backstory between The Next Karate Kid and his fictional passing (apparently later in life than Morita in 2005). There’s really only two ways things could have played out with Kreese. Either Miyagi continues his winning streak, or Kreese waits until Miyagi is too sick to fight back, which does seem like something Kreese would do but isn’t something we’d want to think about.

The Two Keys to Johnny Lawrence

Told from Daniel’s point of view, Johnny Lawrence is the villain of The Karate Kid. He bullies the new kid and Johnny defeats him in the All Valley Karate Tournament. As ‘80s teen sports movies go, that’s the role Zabka had to fill. Cobra Kai shows there’s more to Johnny Lawrence, but the seeds were already there.

“The two parts in the script that I held onto, which was the first one when he says, ‘I’m an ex-degenerate’ and the second one when he hands Daniel the trophy after Kreese says sweep the leg,” Zabka said. “When I read those two parts in the script, I’m like oh, so he’s not just all bad. At the end of the movie if Daniel would’ve kicked him in the face and Johnny would’ve come at him with a baseball bat, then he’s unredeemable. I saw, oh, okay, he’s got a conscience. Because of that, I was able to play all the other colors.”

Decades later, there are fan theories that Johnny was the one being bullied by the new kid, and of course Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris) on How I Met Your Mother supported that theory when Zabka cameoed.

“Any interview I ever did since then until now, I never ever saw him as the bad guy,” Zabka said. “He was the antagonist in the film and he was the villain in a sense but I always saw him through his own story. He was justified almost in everything he did because he was trained a certain way to respond a certain way. Here’s, from his point of view, a stranger coming in from out of town, gets in his business, takes his girlfriend and then takes his title. I mean, he wipes out his identity so to me, that was that story but it was the story, for me, as the actor and you have to always have your story. In the big picture, for me the story was a story of a kid waking up a little bit and that crane kick actually liberated Johnny Lawrence and set him free. But then all his foundation for 18 years, all his training and everything goes out the window and now what do you have? You can’t reach back to that so he’s been a lost kind of soul for this many years and now he’s finally getting to the point where he’s going to try and make some changes and grow up. I think there’s something about that that people relate to.”

I’ll admit, I didn’t see the complexity of Johnny Lawrence the first time. In my defense, I was seven, but I took it for granted that the popular kid with his gang of skeletons beating up Daniel was the bad guy. Actually, there was a back and forth before it escalated into the vicious beating so really they were both teenage boys acting out. I definitely see it now and I’m glad Cobra Kai gives Johnny the chance for redemption, and shows that Daniel can be a douche sometimes, too.

Cobra Kai returns April 24 on YouTube Premium.

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