Netflix / Cobra Kai
Daniel La Russo (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) see the pervasive invasion of Terry Silver’s (Thomas Ian Griffith) Cobra Kai as manipulating the minds and endangering the lives of the Valley’s kids. As Silver wins over the youth by enticing them with fancy advertising and lies about Miyagi-Do’s values and traditional martial art ways, it’s a subterfuge for a subversive plan that will be even more damaging to the karate kids of the Valley, America and possibly the world. Yet Miyagi-Do has a secret weapon, the Chozen One (Yuki Okumoto) as he introduces a few tricks of the unknown trade of Miyagi-do secrets.
By having Silver in Season 4 and 5, it felt like Cobra Kai was becoming an allegory on bullying, hazing and traditional martial arts. Perhaps something worthwhile to investigate later.
Each school portends that they have the confidence and belief to infectiously rise above the other as the Valley is currently caught between the minds of two schools that have opposing philosophies, virtues of grandeur and moral compasses. An ancient Chinese kung fu-like rivalry is repeating itself in Los Angeles, it’s Shaolin vs. Wu Tang (aka Wu Dung), one will rise to be a school of heroes, the other a school of vaporous apostates. Their competitions have become the archetype of a tightly coiled spring waiting to go BOING!!
Both sides become packed to the brim and speak of their incomparable and impervious histories. It’s a future without boundaries, Miyagi-Do and Cobra Kai, they’re back, and this time it’s more than personal, it a nasty habit no one wants to drop regardless of the consequences. Both are self-assured that the momentum of chaos will soon return one way or another.
Season 4 left us as Cobra Kai, albeit underhanded, became the formidable champions, indisputably the preeminent force, as they intensely gained momentum upon imposing themselves along a menacingly path of malicious intent. Yet today, as Johnny and Daniel become undiluted glue, working together to stick it to Silver’s Cobra Kai, their collective muscles now flexed, straining to be enduringly relevant again at the very top, their history of hysteria beckons possible global fame via an explosive world tournament invite to Japan. Get ready to be enthralled and compelled…light the fuse and stand well back.
So how does Season 5’s fights measure up to Seasons 1-4, numerically and time length wise? Like Seasons 1-4, the minutes of fight don’t include training sequences, flashback fights, or friendly dojo sparring. However, for Season 5, the time includes Cobra Kai’s dojo sparring because nothing in Cobra Kai is friendly, even when it’s student on student.
Season 1: 6 minutes of fights from five episodes
Season 2: 24 minutes from seven episodes, which includes a 77-second oner
Season 3: 26 minutes from six episodes, which includes a 112-second oner
Season 4: 22 minutes of fights (E9 and E10 used up 12 minutes) and no oner
Season 5: 24 minutes of fights from eight episodes (9 minutes in E10)
Johnny’s first fight in E1 uses tight angles with a delayed momentum, shifty movement that creates a flickering visual as the camera then goes into a collection of medium to close to tight tilting angles. It’s a bit dizzying, yet if you watch closely, it looks like the fighters are standing around doing minimal movement. Back in 1979 Taiwan, some films created this shifty visual effect by removing frames from the shots. I’m intrigued to see what could happen next.
I was not disappointed. Chozen’s E2 fight at Silver’s dojo against six stone-faced senseis hits the bull’s eye by commanding violence and accuracy with total mint-stunning gold. What’s wacky is that although the fight is slow and methodical, it’s exciting to watch. There’s a new dynamic in the way it’s shot and in the rhythmic timing of technique delivery. Yuki’s skills are highlights within themselves as his facial contortions and mood power emphasizes each strike. Add in snap editing with slow motion at the right time creates a different edge to the fights. My sense is that Yuki would steal the show’s fights…and he does, especially in E10.
Another cracking piece of combat is the long-awaited rematch between Robbie (Tanner Buchanan) and Miguel (Xolo Maridueña) that features unrelenting kicks by Robbie and electrifying evasions by Miguel. Their movements have become as easy as toasting a pop tart that also appear to be like velvet cushions that turn into a concrete melee. Miquel’s facial snarls sell his emotional commitment, as the anger and rage has been building up for several seasons where each fighter reeks of payback intention
You may notice that when it comes to the one-on-one fights between the elder statesmen of each dojo, the fights boil down to mostly combat exposition and climactic tête-à-tête where at the end of the day there is a war of words that has essentially become an important part of the factual fight as they provide markers for each fight’s impassionate furor. One fight is ~120 seconds long, half is dialogue, and the other half is physical conflict that’s mostly shot in slow motion.
By doing this, it breaks down the fights into short sequences to where it’s not so much about the non-intricate fight choreography or cool moves that would obviously have needed stunt doubles, but about the mental games they’re playing at, as each one messes with each other’s minds.
The gravity and brevity of these key fights also importantly rely on the expansive orchestral music vitality that dictates the voracity of the clash. Thus, between the actual combat and their threats, guffaws and prideful colloquies, the battle intensifies.
E10, is a regular hoot, its bedlam meets pandemonium as the high kinetics of each singular and group fray are ferocious, quick, single shots that make up an effective collective of tidbit skills and decent camera work that brings out a different sensibility at each turn of the fight.
I had hoped they’d brave the depths of a oner. Though they didn’t, it didn’t matter because I thoroughly enjoyed what they were trying to do. In Chinese film it’s called a Mass Movement fight, where everyone appears to be fighting everyone else. It’s easy on the eyes, yet still has tangible results. Each fighter soldiers on as they have the impetus behind, in front and on each side to continue the barrage. Amid the incisive runs of sweet feet kicks that caress then use explosive power, the decisive bouts of misdirection with paper weight quality that include many moments of invention, we see the wizardry of their skills.
Though they consistently and continually took all the punches, kicks, and threats as well as all the ups and downs, and the twists and turns of a snake with an itch, they each prevailed. Yet there will be a different kettle of sharks in the next tournament that awaits them in Japan.
End result, the senseis and kids are trying to manufacture angles of attack and defense that turn out to be part keg and part egg, respectively. To understand this, watch the show.
I was most impressed by the improvement of Mary Mouser as Sam. In what you might think is a rematch vs Tory that turns into a great sleight of hand clash, Sam pulls off her best combative performance to date where she is sharper than a witch’s tooth. Her poses, postures, and hand en garde positions are authoritative and intimidating, her blocks and strike delivery combos don’t require special camera angles to hide anything…they’re all solid. Bravo, young lass, bravo.
She also has the best line in the show. Fixing to begin a fight, she tells a mate, “The reality is, there’s always lots of assholes and bullies in the world, sometimes it’s nice to know how to fight back against them.”
Right on young lass, right on.