“Sweep the leg!” That was the main advice Johnny Lawrence got from his Cobra Kai sensei during the All-Valley Under-18 Karate Championship of 1984. It didn’t work out so well for him. Even with an injury, Danny Larusso, the only pupil of Mr. Miyagi, struck a one-legged crane pose and ended the match with a single kick. That moment still haunts Johnny when we pick back up with the character in YouTube Red’s Cobra Kai.
Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg, and Josh Heald — the three writers-directors-executive producers — even recreated that scene from John Avildsen’s Karate Kid for the opening flashback that kicks off the new sequel series.
“It was a combination of John Avildsen’s original footage, what was in the movie, and some new shots that we shot in 2018 and put them all together to retell that moment from Johnny’s perspective,” Heald mentioned during a panel discussion following the worldwide premiere of Cobra Kai at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. (Editor’s Note: The Cobra Kai panel was moderated by Entertainment Weekly’s Breanne Heldman.)
The filmmaking trio, who’ve known each other since they moved to Los Angeles in their 20s, gained access to the dailies from Karate Kid that included never-before-seen shots from six cameras of that match between Danny and Johnny. “That sequence that you see at the beginning [of Cobra Kai] with the fight, there’s like 17 or 18 new shots that were not in the original movie,” Hurwitz said.
This callback helps reorient the show around Johnny. While the film version was all about Danny’s journey, Cobra Kai is about Johnny and what happened to him after that fateful day in 1984. William Zabka returns alongside Ralph Macchio to play the former high school bully, who grew up to become a man trying to break free from the past by earning back the glory of his old karate dojo.
“The crane kick is famous,” Schlossberg added. “It’s in a wide shot, it’s a big triumphant moment, and by cutting in really close and getting that close, low shot of Johnny getting kicked in the face, it suddenly changes from this tone of triumph to you’re now feeling the pain of that kick, and then we added our own shot afterwards of the pan down. So, we have a lot of fun, awesome opportunities on this show to go to those dailies and see shots from 1984 that hardcore Karate Kid fans like us will be like, ‘What?! What is this?!'”
It didn’t take much to convince Zabka of their story concept, which they based off of old DVD commentary from Zabka on the character. Macchio was another story.
The actor had been saying no to a Karate Kid reprisal for 30 years, but these guys, he said, “were so convincing, passionate, completely well versed in the narrative of where they wanted to go, [and] respectful of the nostalgia, the legacy of what the film is.”
“It is Star Wars to them,” Macchio added.
The themes of the original film still seemed relevant to the creators, especially bullying and how it has “evolved and changed” in the age of social media. For Johnny, it becomes about revisiting that tournament scene and asking, “What did he hold onto?”
“What would Johnny think of today’s bullies?” Schlossberg asked himself. “Our thought was, he would think they are such losers. I think in his day there was a little chivalry to bullying.”
All 10 episodes of Cobra Kai premiere May 2 on YouTube Red.