(Contains Spoilers, Yikes!)
While initially, Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) was the foil for Daniel in the first season, soon after, the perennial Cobra Kai nemesis John Kreese (Martin Kove) was added. In season three, Chozen Toguchi (Yuji Okumoto), the deadly opponent from Karate Kid II (1986), came back, and in the fourth season, Karate Kid III’s (1989) villain Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith) returned. Now in season five, Mike Barnes (Sean Kanan) also from Karate Kid III, has made an appearance, as well as the addition of the first female sensei into the Cobra’s dojo, Kim Da-Eun (Alicia Hannah-Kim).
With the addition and anticipation of each new villain to the show, it made me wonder: are we more interested in the villains than the heroes?
Do We Love Villains?
In the summer of 1977, while I stood in the blazing sun amongst an endless throng of moviegoers waiting to get into the cool theater to see Star Wars, yet again, people in line talked more about Darth Vader than Luke Skywalker. There was a curiosity about the enigmatic Dark Lord of the Sith. I, for one, was definitely more interested in finding out what made Vader tick. When it comes to our favorite martial arts universe, I don’t think it is any different: villains are fascinating.
The Cobra’s Rogues’ Gallery
From the decade that brought us “New Coke,” and parachute pants, also came a slew of Karate Kid adversaries, all of them destined to find defeat in the calm wisdom of Mr. Miyagi and a possibly illegal technique from Daniel LaRusso. (Hmm, I guess it depends on who you ask. Right, Johnny?) Through Cobra Kai, we have revisited the brutal challengers to the All-Valley Champion and have been intrigued to see where they are now.
Johnny Lawrence, though the original nemesis, is now an earnest adult, being dragged forcefully into the 21st century. After a shakey alliance at first, Johnny has become one of Daniel’s most unlikely allies. Chozen Toguchi, from Karate Kid II (1986) has gone from being a deadly opponent to being among Daniel’s inner circle of trusted friends. His ability to dish out a beating is still firmly established in the many brilliantly choreographed fights in season five. The return of Terry Silver’s protégé from Karate Kid III (1989), Mike Barnes, was a great surprise in the fifth outing. Viewers learned that Barnes had moved on from being “Karate’s Bad Boy” to an all-around nice guy, but is still willing and able to use his fists when necessary.
The entertaining and dynamic bare-knuckle bromance that develops between the trio of former Daniel LaRusso antagonists in season five was enough to make me wonder: can there be a show just for them?
In a refreshing change, season five has finally brought a female sensei into the dojo in the form of Kim Da-Eun, played with aplomb by Alicia Hannah-Kim. Kim is brought in by Silver to train up the most promising Cobra Kai students. As the granddaughter of the creator of “the way of the fist,” she is the perfect one to teach the philosophy of no mercy. Sensei Kim is an unforgiving taskmaster that uses machiavellian tactics to exact what she wants from her students. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing more of the brutal dimension she brings to Cobra Kai in season six. (Assuming and hoping that there is a season six)
The Desolate Ones
Not all Cobra Kai villains are “former” though. With the fully-fleshed out backstory of John Kreese in season three, we understand him better, but he continues to make choices that are not in keeping with a positive martial arts philosophy. Kreese’s alignment with the tycoon/quasi-Bond-villain Terry Silver (Brilliantly portrayed by Thomas Ian Griffith) eventually brought more woe to himself, as well as poisoning the well of Cobra Kai.
The storylines of Silver and Kreese are revolving doors of misery to themselves and others, but that is why we love to hate them, right? They operate on a plain devoid of any true self-reflection and are caught in a cycle of venom-soaked retribution, that despite their best efforts, brings harm not just to others, but to themselves.
I love a good redemption story as much as I love a good revenge story and the latest season of Cobra Kai seems to have it all. I don’t know what will come next, but I think it is a fair bet that there will continue to be villains, both new and old, attempting to do their worst to our favorite Southern California martial arts community. And we will continue to love them for it.
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