The original story broke about two months ago, and I still haven’t stopped thinking about it. Ralph Macchio, the original Karate Kid, Daniel-San. Jackie Chan, an iconic martial artist and actor, who played Mr. Han in a Karate Kid remake, sure, but I remember how his likeness was used in one of the best Saturday morning cartoons ever in Jackie Chan Adventures. When you think of martial arts in the 80s and 90s media, those two are easily in the top five alongside the late great, Pat Morita. And Sony Pictures has decided that since they own the Karate Kid IP, not to do a simple remake. No, this is going to be a sequel that unifies the original trilogy and the 2010 movie.
And I’m still going “what” aggressively at my computer screen because I have so many questions and absolutely no information to work with.
If somehow you’ve managed to avoid the last five or six-ish years of extended Karate Kid content, the story behind the original trilogy has in fact been going strong. Thanks to Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz, and Hayden Schlossberg we have actually a very detailed understanding of what an older Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence look like. We have five (soon to be six) seasons of Cobra Kai that delve into the long legacies of both Miyagi-Do and Cobra Kai, the psychological scars that bad mentors can create, a look at the evolution of bullying in the modern era, and what happens when rivalries are constructive and healthy. I could go on and on about this series. I have in fact gone on and on about this series.
Cobra Kai is one of the few shows that I’ve constantly advocated for with a consistency that alarms me. I tried to get people to get YouTubeRed because I was utterly enthralled by the unexpected sequel. When it dropped on Netflix, I petitioned even harder. Cobra Kai did the impossible and manage to create a sequel series several decades later that was just nostalgia bait, but a well-thought, well-directed, and well-choreographed sequel that used the original trilogy as a solid foundation to tell a new story.
When the season 1 finale, “Mercy,” dropped I watched that episode on repeat for days. Seeing a new All Valley Tournament had me unreasonably hyped and ever since, when I get the date for the next season, I watched everything from the beginning and then binge the new stuff the moment I get access.
Heald, Hurwitz, and Schlossberg had announced many months ago that the sixth season of Cobra Kai would be its last. While I’m sadden, it makes perfect sense given the trajectory which I will not spoil because if you haven’t watched, I hoped I’ve sidetracked enough that you’ve been convinced to watch. While yes, this particular chapter ending is timely and reasonable, all that means is that… I. Still. Have. So. Many. Questions.
This new Karate Kid project starring Macchio and Chan is supposedly not directly connected to the Cobra Kai. But this does not mean, it’s not not connected. Ralph Macchio’s been playing an older Daniel LaRusso for almost six years. As much as I love the franchise, part of that love is also predicate on seeing this older LaRusso make amends with long-term rival Johnny Lawrence. Will there be references to this character development? Will his family be featured? Will any of the Cobra Kai cast make an appearance? The Cobra Kai’s creators, again, not involved, but they have been consulted. And again, we haven’t even gotten to the fact that the 2010 Karate Kid movie is in the mix, so let’s talk about that for a second.
The 2010 Karate Kid was a remake of the series that remixed the original premise and kept the title because of recognition, but also very much probably should have been called the Kung Fu Kid, but that’s neither here nor there at this point. Jackie Chan played Mr. Han as the spiritual successor to Mr. Miyaga well and there is nothing that precludes the events of Karate Kid (2010) from existing within the greater Karate Kid universe.
But also, Mr. Miyagi was a *Japanese* martial artist (whose family in lore developed this particular branch of karate to defend against invaders, fun fact established by one of my favorite scenes of the series), and Daniel LaRusso has been shown to have a great reverence for Japanese culture having essentially been raised by Mr. Miyagi.
So, I guess the first and foremost question that I probably should have asked several hundred words ago, is how do these two cross paths? This is of course partially answered by the fact that there was a worldline casting call for the next Karate Kid, and as such as we have a vague synopsis that this new “Karate Kid” would be named Li Fong who is “smart, scrappy, and a skilled martial artist” off jump. Which at least explains how Mr. Han is tangentially involved in all of this, but I’m still entirely unsure where Daniel LaRusso fits into the picture.
I’m also generically curious how Hilary Swank feels being the one Karate Kid universe alum who doesn’t seem to be involved in any of these future projects, but that’s like the tenth question I don’t have a set answer for.
The framework of the Karate Kid is as textbook as sports and martial arts drama come. The coming-of-age story of learning what it takes to fight and what it means to fight. The reason the story keeps getting retold and reinvented is because it is in fact a worthwhile story. However, Sony Pictures attempt to unify the two universes while also not directly acknowledging that they had a very successful television series is confusing to say the least.
That said, I will give props to Sony for having a Chinese/Chinese-American as the main character. I adore Xolo Mariduena, Tanner Buchanan, Jacob Pertrand, Petyon List, and Mouser, but out of those five names of principle characters, there’s only one person of color there.
I love these characters (well, at least the ones firmly in the pre-retconned unification. The 2010 movie was fine. I remember enjoying it. I remember not feeling like I ever needed to rewatch this movie) and more than anything else, I’m so very curious to see how this weird fever dream of a pitch is going to come together. And I mostly hope that whatever happens doesn’t somehow invalidate the canon of what is one of my favorite television series of the last two decades.