This Cobra Kai article contains spoilers for season 5.
Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio), Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), and Sensei Kreese (Martin Kove) aren’t the only carry overs from the original three Karate Kid films. Far from it, Cobra Kai has been masterfully tapping its source by bringing back cast members from the movies, regularly serving the fans up with colorful Easter eggs.
Some of the original characters, like Lucille LaRusso (Randee Heller), Daniel’s mom, have appeared throughout Cobra Kai. She has been seen in seasons 1, 2, and 4, which is more than she was seen in the latter two Karate Kid films. The original Cobra Kai gang from The Karate Kid Part I, Bobby (Ron Thomas), Jimmy (Tony O’Dell), and Tommy (Rob Garrison) were reunited with Johnny in season 2 in one of the most poignant episodes of the entire show – the death of Tommy. It’s an emotional irony when the Cobra Kai Karateka who yelled “Get him a body bag!” at LaRusso gets taken away in a body bag. Even more heartbreaking is that Garrison died five months after that episode was telecast. The first episode of season 3 was dedicated to him.
However, the most celebrated returning character from The Karate Kid Part I was Ali Mills (Elisabeth Shue), who after being teased in previous seasons, finally appears in season 3. It was a heartwarming episode, although it did have one of the only character swaps in the series. Ali’s mom was played by Shannon Wilcox in the movie. She was replaced by Deborah May in the series. Wilcox is still acting in TV, and the character of Mrs. Mills is minor in both the film and the series. Nevertheless, the hardcore fans noticed, especially because Cobra Kai has done such a great job at reassembling the original cast.
Season 3 was also an homage to The Karate Kid Part II with Daniel returning to Okinawa. There he found Kumiko (Tamlyn Tomita), Chozen (Yuji Okumoto) and, in one of the greatest Easter eggs ever, Yuna (Traci Toguchi). Yuna was credited as the Girl Bell Ringer in the second film. She was the little girl Daniel saved from the bell tower during the storm. The actress reprised her role for Cobra Kai season 3. And in a poetically karmic twist, she’s grown up to be the CEO of the auto company who saves LaRusso Auto. Chozen returns as a major character in season 5.
Season 4 brought back Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith) from The Karate Kid Part III, and he rises to lead villain in season 5. Consequently, two more key characters from Part III returned this season: Mike Barnes (Sean Kanan) and Jessica Andrews (Robyn Lively). Barnes, like Chozen, is reformed of his villainous ways, and ends up fighting alongside the good guys. And in one of the cleverer reveals, Andrews is now related to Daniel. She’s the cousin of Amanda LaRusso (Courtney Henggeler), Daniel’s wife, which makes her his cousin-in-law. In a nice bit of closure, it’s revealed that she was the one who first introduced the LaRussos.
Who’s Left from the Miyagi-Daniel-san Trilogy
Now that Cobra Kai is looking towards season 6, will it exhaust the characters from the original films? Josh Heald, one of the creators of Cobra Kai, says that there is an endgame for the show and it would take at least 6 seasons to get there. However, the show is on a roll, so it would be strategic for Netflix to milk it for additional seasons.
A few of the actors from the original films are no longer with us. The most obvious is Pat Morita (Mr. Miyagi) who died in 2005. “I think he’s watching it,” says William Zabka, “and I think he’s just trying to figure a way to get on it.” Danny Kamekona, who played Sato in The Karate Kid Part II, is also gone. He passed away in 1996.
Nevertheless, there are still several characters from the movies that might be deployed. The most obvious is Dutch (Chad McQueen). Dutch was notably absent in season two episode 6 “Take A Right” – that pivotal episode when the original Cobra Kai gang reunited. His absence was explained away as him serving time in Lompoc Federal Prison. McQueen, the son of Steve McQueen, is still alive but he gave up acting in films in 2001.
When Kreese went to prison, many fans expected him to meet Dutch in the joint. Now that Silver will be behind bars, perhaps he will meet Dutch there, although it’s not clear that those two ever crossed paths. It’s implied that the original Cobra Kai gang all left the dojo after Kreese tried to choke out Lawrence in the beginning of The Karate Kid Part II. Silver enters the original trilogy in the threequel, and Dutch does not appear in the third film at all.
The Referee of the original three films was Pat E. Johnson. He also helped choreograph the fights. While he’s not a major character, he’s a notable figure in the martial arts world as one of the leading proponents of the Korean style of Hapkido. After The Karate Kid Part I, Zabka continued to train under him. Johnson is now in his early eighties, many wonder about his health, but even a small cameo, akin to what Shue, Tomita, and Lively did, would surely warm the hearts of loyal fans.
Similarly, Darryl Vidal is a minor character, but a reputed martial artist. He was credited as ‘Karate Semi-Finalist’ in the first film, but it is generally accepted that his character’s name was Vidal and most just give him his real name. He also doubled for Morita for the iconic crane kick on the post at the beach. Vidal still teaches at his dojo, Vidal Kenpo in Murrieta, California, and is now a 10th degree black belt at Kenpo Karate. Although his character is minor, less than the Referee, a cameo would be a wonderful nod to his contribution to the series.
Then there were the henchmen. From The Karate Kid Part II, Chozen had two accomplices: Toshio (Joey Miyashima) and Taro (Marc Hayashi) but they were very minor characters too. Miyashima is still acting and appeared in small roles as recently as 2019. Hayashi stopped acting in films in the late eighties. Like Chozen, Barnes also had some henchmen: Snake (Jonathan Avildsen) and Dennis (William Christopher Ford). Avildsen is the son of the director of the first three Karate Kid films, Jonathan G. Avildsen, but he has not acted in film since 2002. William Christopher Ford is still acting and producing as well, including several projects that are martial arts oriented through his company Kaizen Dojo Films. Ford is a black belt in Okinawan Shorin Ryu Karate.
The Next Karate Cameo
There was a fourth film that featured Mr. Miyagi without Daniel – The Next Karate Kid. Taking over as the new pupil was Julie Pierce, played by a young ingénue, Hilary Swank, in her breakout lead role. “The Next Karate Kid is very much in the canon of our universe,” says Heald. “It’s a movie that encompasses a continuation of the events of Mr. Miyagi’s life.”
The Next Karate Kid was the worst film of the Miyagi tetralogy, even worse than Part III. It was critically panned and had the lowest box office results of the franchise. Nevertheless, getting Swank to reprise Pierce would be astounding. Her performance is remarkable. Despite a tepid script, her budding talent is one of the only reasons to watch this film. The other reasons are it’s Mr. Miyagi (and Morita nails his role once again) and a cameo from the late Senator
Daniel Inouye. Inouye is credited as ‘Senator’ and he was a genuine veteran of the 442nd, the all-Japanese regiment in WWII that Miyagi was imagined to have been in.
If The Next Karate Kid comes into play, it opens a large cast of characters although they have no relation to anyone in Cobra Kai as far as we know. The only character that crosses over from the Miyagi-Daniel-san trilogy is Mr. Miyagi. Nevertheless, given the show’s penchant for surprising connections like Andrew’s being Daniel’s cousin-in-law, for all we know, Pierce might be Tory’s (Peyton List) mom.
The film had some over-the-top villains: a fascist school security leader Colonel Paul Dugan (Michael Ironside), his Nazi-like follower Ned Randall (Michael Cavalieri), and well as Pierce’s love interest Eric McGowen (Chris Conrad) and her grandmother Louisa Pierce (Constance Towers). There’s also the Abbot Monk (Arsenio ‘Sonny’ Trinidad). Everyone is still very active as actors except for Trinidad. His last role was in 2000.
Who else might Cobra Kai enlist for season 6? At this writing, season 6 has not been greenlit, but given its overwhelmingly successful opening week, it seems inevitable. Cobra Kai never dies. And we can’t wait to see more.
Cobra Kai season 5 is available to stream on Netflix.