If you were a child of the 80s you were introduced to the satisfying trilogy that is the Karate Kid saga which saw the trials of a skinny kid from Jersey use Karate, taught by Sage and Maintenance Man Mr. Miyagi, to find balance in his life.
The original series spanned five years and three movies and introduced us to real life themes such as relationships, courage, fear, and love, not necessarily in that order. It also presented us how one can use an outlet such as music, art…or in this case Karate, to both interact with and gain wisdom from, these same life lessons as we must do to truly live our best lives.
If you are a child of the new century take heart because in 2018 the Karate Kid saga pulled its proverbial head out of the sand and began a sequel to the predecessors of almost 30 years in the form of Cobra Kai. Who could have ever predicted that the Youtube Red streamed show would be picked up by Netflix and rival Bridgerton as the most watched streaming show on TV only a few years later? That’s a rhetorical question because the answer is nobody.
From the perspective of popcorn eating action fanatics, Cobra Kai has given us the best of felony producing teenage (and adult) fights – that bear some credulity to be sure – and boasts a stunt double list that is more plentiful than Lt. Commander Data has positronic connections. But make no mistake, Cobra Kai is primarily focused on relationship and stories of redemption that warm our hearts from antagonists we used to hate and the forgiveness that comes from that. This theme is also present in the many complex teenage characters that litter the series as they weave themselves through a difficult world, made more complex with their immersion into the pseudo-Karate cult acted out in conflicting ideologies and actions by their teachers. As if teenagers didn’t have it difficulty enough these days.
Up to this point, the series has moved us through the early tome of The Karate Kid and the many characters, girlfriends and villains that marked these movies from Daniel and Johnny to the stabilizing and grounding forces of Kumiko and Alli portrayed so perfectly by Tamlyn Tomita and Elizabeth Shue. Then we have the ultimate anti-Karate philosophy baddy, John Kreese depicted by the almost ageless Martin Kove and we can only speculate what Cobra Kai season 4 will bring.
Up to this point, showrunners Josh Heald, Jon Kurwitz, and Hayden Schlossberger have artfully woven together classic characters from the first two Karate Kid installments as well as introducing us to a universe of amazing new young talent with the likes of Xolo Mariduena as Miguel, Courtney Henggeler as Samantha, and Jacob Bertrand as Hawk.
With Cobra Kai season 3 offering us a more thorough backstory to John Kreese and his relationship to Terry Silver, we know the sociopathic President of Dynatox Industries and main antagonist in Karate Kid III, can’t be long for a return which then brings us to the other big bad of the Karate Kid tale, Mike Barnes.
Another great casting choice many years ago was the introduction of Sean Kanan who played ‘Karate’s Bad Boy’ Mike Barnes. In Karate Kid lore, Mike Barnes is considered the best fighter of Daniels’ many antagonists and was a national tournament champion, an accomplishment that goes beyond the Under 18 All Valley Tournament that Daniel and Johnny frequented. That creepy wide-eyed look he always seemed to have made his “your Karate’s a joke LaRusso” even the more intimidating and we loved to hate him. We also believed him too because he proved it on several encounters with Daniel leading up to the big showdown. How perfect would it be to see the conversation Daniel had with daughter Samantha about the paralyzing fear she was experiencing with Tori, to his own terror of Mike Barnes, become tangible in Mike Barnes’ return.
In a recent article in Page Six, it was reported that during an interview with FanRoom Live, when asked, ‘What’s the future hold for Mike Barnes?’ Kanan responded, “If I were to guess [I’d say] you haven’t seen the last of Mike Barnes.” Additionally, in a recent interview with the Desert Sun in January of this year, Sean said the following, “I think [the creators] would like to work everybody in…I think there’s a definite possibility, but I can neither confirm nor deny.” That’s Hollywood double speak for, ‘of course I’m in but I just can’t say it.’ Even without these subtle admissions and his training videos that now populate his twitter account, the progression of the show simply calls for it. What will be interesting is how they will use Mike Barnes. Could we see a redemption story here again or will we finally get to see what all Karate Kid fans have always wondered, IS Mike Barnes better than Johnny Lawrence? I think the writing is on the wall folks that Mike ‘there’s nothing you have that I can’t counter’ Barnes will be back!
But our character list is not complete and there is another Miyagi prodigy out there in addition to Daniel. Enter Julie Pierce, played by future Oscar award winner Hillary Swank, lead character of the forgettable, but no less important, The Last Karate Kid that concluded Karate Kid canon when Mr. Miyagi became Karate sensei to one final bullied and wayward teen. This final outing of the Karate Kid franchise scored a 4.5 user rating on Rotten Tomatoes and is considered the worse of the films. However, to be fair, how could the magic of the original really be duplicated in a thrown together project like this, even if Michael Ironside was in it. Nonetheless, despite its lack of success at the box office and only a cult following in fandom, there are several reasons we need to see Julie Pierce in Cobra Kai. First, it’s Hillary Swank. To get the ‘Best Actress’ Academy Award winner to film scenes in Cobra Kai provides greater credibility and respect than the Netflix show already has. Second, Julie Pierce is a part of Miyagi’s legacy and part of the accepted history of Miyagi-Do Karate. No conclusion seems complete without the entirety of his influence being brought to bear and passed on to newer generations. Third, if you understand martial arts, you will recognize that from the perspective of aesthetics, Hillary Swank’s athletic ability and technical proficiency in The Last Karate Kid was impeccable. Visually speaking, her martial-arts form is clearly equal to, or better than the most skilled martial artists in Karate Kid lore which to be frank, is a short list.
It takes little introspection or theorizing to understand that Miyagi saw both Daniel and Julie as the children he never had.
In S3E5 we saw Kumiko reading letters from Miyagi to Daniel to help him reconnect with his late teacher. The content of those letters revealed that Miyagi considered Daniel to be the son he never had. Further, in one of the few heartfelt scenes in The Last Karate Kid, we saw Julie tell Mr. Miyagi, “it’s too bad you never had a daughter, you would’ve been a great parent.” Miyagi’s expression was priceless. It takes little introspection or theorizing to understand that Miyagi saw both Daniel and Julie as the children he never had. This is a powerful and important connection that both Daniel and Julie share, and it is worth exploring.
Finally, leaving out Julie Pierce would leave a noticeable gap in the saga of the Karate Kid and it’s bookend franchise that is Cobra Kai. The ultimate ending will wrap up the narrative of Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence as well as the myriad of additional characters who have participated in this cultural phenomenon but there is still more story to tell.
It will be a long wait, but all fans expect it will be well worth it. You can catch Cobra Kai season 4 streaming on Netflix, likely in late 2021 or early 2022.
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