New generations of entertainment fans have become very familiar with the teachings of the titular karate dojo and its even more zen equivalent, Miyagi-do, thanks to the success of Cobra Kai. Fans will be able to return to the worlds of Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) and Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) as they manage their new lives as parents to teenagers and senseis with very different ideas about how to run their dojos in the YouTube-to-Netflix streaming series.
Though viewers may watch the show without having seen any of the Karate Kid films that came before it, some fans might be compelled to watch (or rewatch) the films in order to find out what happened to all of the characters that were brought back to life. Rewatching the films shows many small nuances that you may not have noticed the first time you saw them in the 1980s and 1990s — or, in the case of the kung fu-themed remake, in 2010. Here’s what you may have overlooked in the first five Karate Kid films.
An introduction to ‘The Karate Kid’ that is both entertaining and educational.
Fans of Cobra Kai can be surprised to learn how much we learn about Daniel LaRusso in the first few minutes of The Karate Kid. We discover right away that he is capable of cars — even though he can’t drive yet — because he has learned to assist his mother in getting her car started. Then, as soon as the two arrive in California, Daniel shows his growing interest in martial arts, leaving an indelible impression on his new neighbour when he kicks the gate open and smacks poor Freddy Fernandez (Israel Juarbe) in the head.
Then we hear about Daniel’s beloved Uncle Louie, whose son would play such an important (and often irritating) role in Cobra Kai. And, perhaps most significantly, we learn right away what a pleasant, but self-assured individual he is. Even though he resents his mother’s transfer to the west, he remains polite and obedient to her, and despite the fact that he obviously finds Mr. Miyagi’s (Pat Morita) fly-catching and bonsai-trimming hobbies odd, he remains respectful and open-minded about them. Miyagi may insist that there is no such thing as a bad student, but having someone as friendly as Daniel definitely helps.
A dreadful recurring theme
Another striking similarity among all of the Karate Kid films is the amount of tragedy that each of the main characters has experienced. Mr. Miyagi’s backstory is filled with unspeakable tragedy, as his wife and infant son died in childbirth complications decades before we met him in the movies. Worse, she died in a Japanese-American internment camp while he was serving in the American military with distinction during WWII.
In the reboot of The Karate Kid, there’s also a reluctant instructor who’s been through a lot. Long before meeting his new protégé Dre Parker, Mr. Han (Jackie Chan) had lost his wife and 10-year-old son (Jaden Smith). Their deaths occurred in his case as a result of a car crash while he was driving.
These martial artists aren’t the only ones who have suffered losses; their students have also lost parents and childhood homes. Since his father died some time ago, Daniel moves to California with his single mother. Julie Pierce (Hilary Swank) of The Next Karate Kid has lost both of her parents and has moved in with her grandmother in Boston. Dre also loses his father at a young age before his mother transfers them to China in The Karate Kid reboot. Dre also loses his father at a young age before his mother transfers them to China in The Karate Kid reboot.
A classic parting shot
All five Karate Kid films are connected by more than just the characters’ tragic pasts. Several plot points and scenes are also reused in the films. Daniel has to justify why he’s just been dumped by his love interest from the previous film in the first two Karate Kid sequels, which focus on Daniel’s continued training with Miyagi. Meanwhile, all of the films show their masters and students in quiet training montages near a beautiful beach, and the senseis often use seemingly insignificant tasks to teach the kids main techniques, such as the “wax on, wax off” cleaning step.
In addition, appreciation for nature is a constant theme in the stories. For Daniel, caring for the bonsai trees becomes an important aspect of the trilogy, while Julie from The Next Karate Kid nurses a hawk back to health and learns to love even the tiniest insects from the monks.
The way they still sneak in a smug smile from the teachers before the credits roll is perhaps the most unforgettable — or memeable — aspect of all of the movies. The reboot makes sure to get a solid Han smirk in the final moments as well, as Miyagi’s happy smile is an absolute hallmark of his four Karate Kid films.
A cheeky callback appears in the remake of ‘The Karate Kid.’
Mr. Han decides to step up and train Dre after joining him in a teen tournament to keep his bullies at bay in the reboot of The Karate Kid, which follows much of the formula from the original Karate Kid film. Han, like Miyagi, is a reluctant but successful instructor who teaches far more than just combat techniques. However, there is one significant difference between them that can be seen early in the film: Han has a flyswatter!
Yes, as Dre gets to know his maintenance man-turned-father-figure, he notices Han chasing a fly with chopsticks, just like Miyagi used to do, but instead of letting the bug go before his pincer abilities catch up, Han whips out a flyswatter and smacks the insect into the wall. Not only is the scene a hilarious homage to one of The Karate Kid’s most iconic moments, but it also demonstrates that Han is more pragmatic than his forefather.
Faces you’ve seen before
The Karate Kid movies also feature a few now-famous actors who were just starting out in their careers when they appeared on screen. BD Wong, who is now known for his roles in Mr. Robot and the Jurassic World films, made his feature film debut in The Karate Kid Part II in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment. Wong makes a brief appearance as a friend of Kumiko’s (Tamlyn Tomita), whom he invites to a party.
Meanwhile, future Walker, Texas Ranger star Clarence Gilyard Jr. appears in the same film as one of the soldiers attempting to crack ice blocks in an arcade as one of the soldiers. Walton Goggins played Charlie, one of the bullies who terrorise Julie and her boyfriend just for fun, in The Next Karate Kid, one of his earliest film roles. Goggins is now a well-known actor who has appeared in films such as The Shield and Justified, but he was still a rising star in Hollywood at the time.
There’s a touch of foreshadowing here.
If you look closely at a key scene in The Karate Kid Part II between Daniel and Miyagi, you’ll notice that it foreshadows a lot of what happens in The Karate Kid Part III.
In the scene in Okinawa where Daniel consoles Miyagi after his father’s death, the two are sitting outside admiring the sunset, with a small bonsai tree in the background. This is a true wild bonsai, and the significance of this form of tree is highlighted in the third film.
In Part III, Daniel plans to open a tree shop with Miyagi with the money he saved from college, and the two are shocked when their entire collection of bonsais is stolen. Daniel then attempts to uproot the wild bonsai tree Miyagi has planted on a cliff in order to sell it in order to save their store, but his new nemesis Mike Barnes (Sean Kanan) arrives to attack both him and the precious plant. Fortunately, Miyagi is able to nurse the tree back to health, and the two work together to return the plant to its natural habitat.
In ‘The Next Karate Kid,’ there’s a secret homage.
Miyagi’s harrowing history is brought to light in The Next Karate Kid as he travels to Boston to obtain an award for his military service, as well as an acknowledgement of what he lost when his late wife and son died during childbirth at the infamous Manzanar internment camp. At the start of the film, Miyagi and his entire unit, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, are honoured, and the film proceeds to honour that regiment in a small yet visible way throughout.
Julie’s future love interest Eric (Chris Conrad) is a straightforward, hardworking man who is proud of only two things: his bright future as an Air Force Academy student and the junkyard car he has restored, which happens to be an Oldsmobile 4-4-2. It can’t be an accident that his prized vehicle’s model name corresponds to Miyagi’s illustrious military unit, particularly because Miyagi is a vintage car enthusiast himself.
A military complex
The Karate Kid films (and, for that matter, Cobra Kai) make a number of subliminal remarks about what can happen to people who serve in the military, for better or worse. Despite the fact that Miyagi is a war hero who was awarded the Medal of Honor, it’s obvious that he has a difficult relationship with his own service background, given his contempt for violence and the treatment of his family during his war tour. And he’s not the only character whose military service is emphasised as a distinguishing characteristic.
Both John Kreese (Martin Kove) and Paul Dugan (Michael Ironside) from The Next Karate Kid served in the military, and Cobra Kai’s third season delves into how that experience inspired their “no mercy” approach to fighting. Dugan also uses his clout in Air Force Academy recruitment to compel his Alpha Elite recruits to obey his orders, no matter how harsh they are. Both characters constantly teach about enmity all around them and the need for their students to inflict pain to settle any score because they only care about winning, which is in stark contrast to Miyagi’s preference for peace.