It looks the same 34 years later, just... not so '80s.
The fabled Cobra Kai dojo from the 1984 fan favorite The Karate Kid has been re-created on a soundstage in Atlanta, Georgia for the new YouTube Red TV series Cobra Kai. And all the important elements are here. There is the imposing Cobra Kai logo decorating the white walls of the dojo. It's here that Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) has decided to train a new generation of Cobra Kai karate warriors, in a bid to redeem himself from his bullying ways back in the 1980s.
Then there's Daniel LaRusso's (Karate Kid's protagonist) makeshift dojo, a room in his house. Here you really feel like you're in the world of Karate Kid, looking back on the early days. Photos and newspaper clippings can be seen chronicling the events of the first film when Daniel defeated Johnny, subsequently leading to Cobra Kai's disqualification from the All-Valley Karate Tournament.
Johnny won’t get too far in his quest for redemption if it's up to Daniel. As part of SYFY WIRE's set visit late last year, we witnessed a scene where Johnny attempts to enter the All-Valley Tournament in 2018. As a member of the board of the tournament, Daniel takes it upon himself to try to block Cobra Kai from entering. When Johnny approaches the board requesting entrance into the tournament, Daniel shows up, vehemently arguing against Johnny, calling him a menace who should be permanently banned.
The new TV series turns the original movie on its head in a way. Is Johnny now the hero of the story and Daniel the villain? That's certainly food for thought with the nuanced way the series portrays the former rivals as they strive for redemption.
SYFY WIRE sat down with Macchio and Zabka on the set to talk about revisiting their characters all these years later.
What's it like playing this character again? I'm sure you never really expected you would be doing this.
Ralph Macchio: I never expected it but I have been asked a lot. I kept saying no, because there wasn't an idea this smart, or a timing this right. When these guys [executive producers] Josh [Heald] and Hayden [Schlossberg] came and had this angle — it was smart, it was funny, it had the heart and respected the franchise, yet infused a whole younger generation — and I thought timing was important. I don't believe in three years it would be the right time... now it just is.
Obviously, a lot of buyers were interested, and YouTube Red just would not let it go away. We're constantly working each day to keep the elements in place, and make it highly entertaining to those who love this franchise, but also someone who doesn't know it and is tuning in for the first time.
We have great kids — great young actors playing younger versions of Daniel, Johnny and Ali, and all these others of yesteryear. It's been amazing, We'll see how it all comes together, it's been very exciting for all of us.
What's been exciting to you about seeing where this character is now?
Macchio: The interesting thing about it is these guys have six seasons painted in their head, so we're hoping this is season one of many. It's their version of where Daniel is and their version of where Johnny Lawrence is and how that would be entertaining. It's not necessarily how I would have written it, but I signed on because they're making the show the fans want to see. They actually know the films way better than I do! I'm trusting that, and they've earned it with the strong scripts, great writing and creating scenarios that don't let go of the heart and soul that made the original films work on a human level.
This is not the movie, it doesn’t try to be the movie, and it shouldn't. It's a different time. By virtue of being called Cobra Kai, it is not Karate Kid 5 or whatever, so It does have a different angle into the world. You get to learn a lot about Johnny Lawrence and where he's been in 30 years, and the spiral of which his life has taken downward. On the flip side, you get to see Daniel LaRusso and the successes he's had as a husband, a father and as a successful auto king of the San Fernando Valley. Johnny can't escape that every day, and that adds some real entertainment value.
I noticed that there's a lot of humor in this show and what's it like finding that balance?
Macchio: It's very important as balance is a big part of the Karate Kid franchise, and Daniel's trying to find balance in his life. The humor is very important just based on the fact that this is a rivalry series, and these two men have not moved on, and just like in the scene you're witnessing, they're acting like a high school kid would act trying for a spot on the soccer team or something.
In other elements of his life, Daniel is not like that at all. But this guy gets under his skin and I get under his skin. I think the fans enjoy that, and this show is all about the will-they-won't-they, and it's not about squaring off. What's nice about this is we have so many other characters that all have storylines that intertwine. It's like karate soap opera, And cool action scenes too.
How much of the late Pat Morita's impact on the films is represented here?
Macchio: There's really a nice presence of Miyagi-isms and Miyagi in the show. It's been of utmost importance to me that that be woven into the story, so if you have someone of that importance in your life, that doesn't go away. I think lovers of this franchise would feel that void if it was just tossed aside. That presence in Daniel LaRusso's life will be there.
William, I understand this is a project you've been working on putting out for a while. What was that process like getting it made?
William Zabka: This concept came from the producers. I did a music video in 2008 called "Sweep the Leg" and it's a bit of a touch of this, playing a version of me that's down and out. I've had Cobra Kai in my mind since then. I've known the guys a long time going back to Hot Tub Time Machine [co-written by Heald]. They called me up asked me out to lunch. They pitched it to me there in September 2016.
What's it been like catching up with Ralph?
Zabka: Ralph and I have been friends for many years, but revisiting the character has been interesting. He's got 30 years of baggage and backstory. He's evolved but in a degenerative way.
You have a whole class of students now, and you're the teacher.
Zabka: It starts out with one student and it grows because of the success of that kid as he sticks up for himself. It's been fun being on the other side of "Yes, sensei."
And you have an updated Cobra Kai dojo.
Zabka: Yeah we have a new version of the dojo, Cobra Kai 2.0. A lot of space to attract the ambitious.
What's it like for your character to interact with the new generation?
Zabka: Johnny's stuck in his old way of thinking, which is completely politically incorrect, and he's not evolved with the times, which is kind of refreshing. He's very raw and he says what he thinks, but there's a lot of room for him to grow.
You learn a little about what got him into Cobra Kai in the first place. He has that opening line in the movie, "I have one year to make it work." Well, that year's gone on for 30 years. He's still trying.
Talking to the new generation and dealing with bullying in a realistic yet comedic way. It's going to inform the culture hopefully.