S2E1. New Karate Kids on the Block


A new year is upon us. We are back and so is Karate Kid. Aram and Seungwoo talk about how they ushered in their new years, and why Cobra Kai was a part of the good beginning.

Content Warning: mild swearing

This episode uses or mentions the following multimedia samples and sources:

  • “Say Good night”, Joakim Karud
  • “Morpho Diana”, Rachel Collier
  • “Oasis”
  • Excerpt from “Mercy” (Cobra Kai, S1E10)


Please note below transcription was made using speech recognition software, and as such may contain inaccuracies, misspellings, or errors.

Aram Collier 0:11
All right. Welcome to backstory from the Toronto real Asian International Film Festival. My name is Aaron. And I’m Kelly. So it’s 2021. This is our first episode of season two. And we’re kind of actually calling back to season one. today. We’re going to talk about

Excerpt from COBRA KAI 0:29
Returning to the tournament, we have–

Cobra Kai. Cobra Kai. Cobra Kai. Cobra Kai. Cobra Kai. Cobra Kai. Cobra Kai. Cobra Kai. Cobra Kai. Cobra Kai. Cobra Kai.

Now that’s what I call an entrance. and a bad ass name for a dojo. Let’s hear it for Cobra Kai!

Kelly Lui 0:58
Today’s episode includes spoilers to the TV series Cobra Kai, if you haven’t had a chance to watch their latest season, and you care not to be spoiled on some plot details, please come back to this episode after you’ve had a chance to watch them.

Which is a show I have not watched at all, let alone the trailer. And we’ll probably do that at some point. So I’m going to call upon our Almighty producer, Seung Woo, who’s been following the show over the holidays.

Aram Collier 1:34
Welcome Seungwoo.

Seungwoo Baek 1:35

Aram Collier 1:36
I think we’ve heard your voice before in some previous episodes, but I always think it’s cool. And podcasts when you hear the producers voice come in. And you know, if you’re a fan of the show, you’ll be like or have any show when you hit a producer like wait, who’s that? So um, but I think this will be fun. This is a show that for me, I don’t know, I wasn’t that interested in it. To be honest. It was the show that kind of spurred on my first kind of look back at Karate Kid a couple years ago.

But up until now, I hadn’t been that interested in it until I saw the trailer for season three. Because if y’all remember, Karate Kid Part Two was my irrational,

my guilty pleasure movie, and I saw that season three had the return of tamlyn Tomita and Yuji Okamoto, who played kumiko and chosen respectively in The Karate Kid Part Two movie so so I spent this holidays catching up on the on the show. What about us? What drew your interest to this show?

Seungwoo Baek 2:40
Honestly, I think it was your enthusiasm for Karate Kid two that really got me hooked because I before that episode

prompting me to watch that movie to be prepared for the to produce it. I hadn’t really watched Karate Kid series at all I only known about Karate Kid one through mimetic was Moses of seeing like all these gifts and little you know scenes like the highlights. So before that I was like, oh, Karate Kid. Okay. But yeah, I mean, after watching the the second movie, I decided to kind of go back and watch the first movie again. And then I started following Cobra Kai when it popped up. I it’s fascinating to me that you were sucked in to this Karate Kid vortex and what were some things that that were that were drawing you to it.

The watching the show, and the movies, maybe like in kind of mixed order made it all the more interesting because there’s clear juxtaposition of what inqua zoomy from our earlier episode referred to as like techno orientalist anxiety of Asia. And then a lot of imagery is kind of related to that. And there’s clearly a lot of that in karate kid movies, the the original trilogy’s but then there’s like a lot of interesting transmutation happening through the corporate cash show, I think, yeah, there’s a lot of this, like, call back to the era of the 80s. And, you know, late, early 90s, where there is an attempt to modernize it and make it contemporary quote, unquote, but also, there’s clear desire to retain a lot of the original sentiments are a lot of the original cues that made the series popular or kind of come into the mainstream consciousness. So those type of blending however, well, it does or fails to do. I think those are the things that really stuck out to me.

Aram Collier 4:29
Yeah, I mean, I think I i’ve, it’s been interesting to watch it. Because it you know, it’s definitely fan service. That is, I mean, that’s what drew me back. It’s like, Oh, look, my favorite characters from my favorite movie. But I think, you know, because of its balancing this fan service with his contemporary look that you mentioned, and I just am wondering, I’m kind of left wondering, what is it saying? What is it trying to say? You know, what, what are its intense? And then what is it? mean? Right? Like maybe unintentionally, right, right.

Seungwoo Baek 5:08
Do you think question was a bit more clearly responded to maybe not necessarily answer for responded to in the original movies?

Aram Collier 5:16
I think it’s actually more spelled out now. You know, I think the, the original movies, it’s kind of like, your 80s Underdog Story, right, very easy to tap into. And I think the prompt for this is, you know, centering around Johnny Lawrence and saying, like, hey, let’s look at this in a different way. Or maybe Gianni wasn’t so bad. Maybe Daniel was the asshole, which, you know, initially in the, I think, in season one that played out quite well, but kind of as it’s gone on, I mean, honestly, for me, it’s just turned into a soap opera, where it’s just like, oh, miscommunications and bad timing, and lots of trespassing on other people’s property. Um, to the point where it’s super ridiculous. And I can’t sit down and watch it, I’m, I have to be doing something to actually feel okay about watching it. And, you know, that’s what it is. There’s many types of shows. And I think there was an article that talked about ambient viewing, you know, what I mean, it’s this shows that you just have on, right, right. And it’s and it’s starting to get that way. For me.

Seungwoo Baek 6:20
It is, it is interesting. I mean, even if you just take it kind of at face value, you or at least for me, my mind wanders and think, how is it that these like, essentially, at the end of the season three, it’s three dojos, quote unquote, three dojos? How are they able to sustain themselves financially and offer these kids who are willing to be embroiled in this three way drama between, you know, their karate masters? And and give them monthly fee of however, like, it’s not cheap, you know, like nowadays? Oh,

Aram Collier 6:48
no, you’re just your that is just a show. It’s just a show just to show.

Seungwoo Baek 6:53
But those things I think, creep up because as you say, it has that soap, like soap opera as quality, that when contained in a movie, it’s like, it’s interesting, and it’s funny, and it’s Goofy, like, for example, The Karate Kid to chosen showing up and essentially attempting to murder his opponent. For question mark, I guess, like slight on him somehow, or is just sort of right, this wrong? I did the dishonor. Of course. Those are

Aram Collier 7:23
total motives, like totally valid motives, right.

Seungwoo Baek 7:27
But like that, I guess, suspension of disbelief, you can maintain that for the last 15 minutes of a movie, right? It’s perfectly fine. I think that’s doable. But to be able to do that, for a show of this length, season after season, I think is tricky. And I guess difficult. This level of disbelief, let’s say also highlights some of the weird trope as well as cultural appropriation that a number of I think commentators have already written about and talked about.

Aram Collier 7:57
Yeah, I think that’s interesting. Why don’t we kind of unpack that a little bit? Like, what do you mean by that? But also, how do you see that playing out in this in this show?

Seungwoo Baek 8:06
The first most obvious and most perhaps, egregious, let’s say, aspect of it, from an industry perspective, is that there’s no significant or meaningful Asian lead, especially in light of the passing of Pat Morita. And thus absence of Mr. Miyagi. And there’s that one bully character who’s Asian who I think is supposed to play like a Japanese students, these kind of generic Asian, but yeah,

Aram Collier 8:33
he’s good at his role. He’s a good as a heel.

Seungwoo Baek 8:35
Definitely good as a heel, but unfortunately doesn’t get any kind of interiority. And Miguel also is the only person of color Latinx character who gets that interiority as the main protagonist, Nicole Brown, who was on the show got booted off after I think halfway through season two, which was I think, also a big loss and essentially those I think type of character decisions or nerd decision ultimately revolve around all white characters fighting for honor. their, their their brand of Cobra kindness, their dojo ness, Cardenas anyway, sorry, no, no, go ahead.

Aram Collier 9:13
No, I mean, I think the, your intonation of honor, like you’re like, I’m left at this point. Like, what is this show about? I’m both, you know, like I was saying about, it’s intense. And then it’s also, I guess, what its results are, right. What it what it means. And and I’m, I think there’s a lot of things that i or i think i’m not sure is it that anybody can be redeemed, you know, like the redemption of Johnny Lawrence. I think that’s the starting point. You know, is it as somewhat of a repudiation of like, the boomer generation, or Boomer ways, like you can’t do things like like that, but then At the same time, the old ways, like Johnny’s ways are still kind of charming, right is anachronisms and well, and

Seungwoo Baek 10:07
apparently, in some sense that works, because in season three, he tries to treat Miguel’s paraplegia. Is that is that the

Aram Collier 10:14
right term? Well, Miguel has been paralyzed in a school fight in a rumble at the school, and he and he cares, by taking him to a rock concert.

Seungwoo Baek 10:25
Right, exactly. And doing all these kind of Rocky esque training montage where he like, forces him to, you know, stand up, he calls him names, the, you know, tries to do this, like very antiquated, you know, challenging his masculinity and all this stuff. But at the end of it, the ultimate result is somehow it works. So it’s hard to take it as a repudiation of the old ways, because there’s a lot of like, That’s true. That’s true. The the outdated, outmoded way of thinking exhibited by Johnny Lawrence, the character, he, by the virtue of him being protagonists, he’s able to actually get kind of the way that he wants. And even though there are resistances in his way, I don’t know if he’s truly impeded in a, you know, in a way that challenges the mode of thinking.

Aram Collier 11:14
Rather than just give him the character development opportunities, well, they use his his character development in a new way of thinking how he’s affected by these young people and this new generation, it happens concurrently to these anachronisms that are mostly played for laughs. Right. Like the the, the kind of the old ways are. are, are the jokes, right? For the most part, I guess, although I guess, you know, is healing healing Miguel is through through rock music is not a it’s not I yeah, I mean,

Seungwoo Baek 11:51
it definitely does a lot of plain kind of contemporary, quote unquote, like softness, for for laughs as well. And so there’s this kind of generational tug or push and pull, I think, and for me, that that softness that you mentioned is So interestingly, pragmatically, I think, expressed and embodied in the opposing characters of Mr. Miyagi and john crease, who respectively have their own brand of karate, but they also have their own connections to different historical errors of war. Hmm, Mr. Miyagi is supposed to be shaped by and, and is supposed to represent or embodied some aspect of the Pacific War. JOHN crease clearly is inflicted with a lot of the American military history of Vietnam War.

and the way they express their own brand of karate, as an aftermath of that violence are supposed to be expressed differently. Mr. Miyagi decides that violence must be only for defense only, quote, unquote, and then john crease decides that violence is you know, truly the the way you must survive at all costs at any cost.

Aram Collier 13:03
Mm hmm. Well, I think it’s interesting you bring up both of those wars, I mean, definitely in the popular American imagination, like those two perspectives, or the way that these characters play out. You know, World War Two Pacific War is a noble, noble war, right? The war in Vietnam is a disgrace. Right. And and, and these characters exemplify that, right. I mean, the crease character to is also really interesting. I think that the show is trying to show that there that redemption is possible for anybody. Except for crease, except that let’s have these flashbacks that at least explain why he’s bad. Um, so I don’t Yeah, I don’t know where to go with that. And then with Miyagi, it’s also further complicated to like, okay, now his position relative to Japan, and its history there. And it’s something that is kind of like a throwaway line in the episode where chosen shows up in season three, where he says, you know, karate is not always just for defense. It’s also like, fighting off Japanese invaders, you know, so it’s a there is a lot of, there’s a lot of war in this and, and I don’t know, I just find it, it’s getting tedious. It’s like, just stop fighting. I think I think I’m gonna be done. I think I’d be done with it.

Seungwoo Baek 14:32
Yeah, it’s, it’s interesting to think of it as this as a redemption story. And really, it is a show so preoccupied by Redemption of a number of different characters like even lorusso, there’s a bit of a redemption happening where he has an opportunity to kind of look back on his character and by God as a side note, he’s an annoying character. Even I think in the movie, even when he plays a good guy, he’s like, super annoying, but beat going And kind of beyond that, yeah, this isn’t redemption story to have those type of relationships to the military history of America but not necessarily express it or explore it in a meaningful way is tricky and even dangerous, because it makes me think, if we’re unable to repeat it repudiate fully the pathways through a character like Johnny Lawrence, but then have his counterpart as being john crease, who is even worse, quote, unquote. What does that? What does that mean, and I’m not quite sure, because it also clearly, the race plays a very important dimension, in this storytelling, about the past, violence and ongoing violence. You know, Okinawa, clearly being a military base plays a number, like it’s played a number of times on screen. And as mentioned, I think in through Mr. Miyagi, character, backstory, as well as its kind of visual imageries. I noticed in the episode where Daniel goes back to Okinawa, for the first time, there are American soldiers in fatigues in the background. So those pieces, it being an ever present preoccupation of the show, while at the same time not necessarily being engaged with in any meaningful way to unpack what that means. And I think it’s, I think that is, for me really kind of leaves it wanting, and it makes me think that there is less of a not to say that, you know, this, let’s say dishwashing show, or a show that you kind of have on while you’re cooking or one night I basically I have to be washing dishes. Not that this is a show to perhaps expect the kind of the odd unpacking of the historical sin of America, but to have that frame of, you know, oh, the younger generations are weak, and there they must be shown the way to, you know, develop themselves and but, you know, there must be a better way there, there could be a wrong way of developing themselves, which is, like, represented by john Cleese. But there’s a better way, while still remaining a bit kooky, and you know, is referencing the old, you know, the good old days by Johnny Lawrence. I think that’s problematic, because I think that perhaps poses a false dichotomy or false options presented to the contemporary audience, nor is that option, necessarily, really engaging with the historical and precedents of what it means to deal with the concept of violence and actions of violence as an American or within the North American context.

Aram Collier 17:35
I guess that’s why I’m feeling a little fatigued with it. And part of it was, was trying to watch everything before we would talk. So I literally finished watching it like, you know, half an hour ago, but you know, and I guess that’s why I’m left wanting in terms of like, what is this show, trying to say, you know, about violence and about this history? And I don’t know, and maybe those things will become more clear in season four. I know, it’s been renewed again for another season. I think this is also kind of what happens to shows as they go on they, you know, things are getting thin. Right? And maybe they’re just grasping at straws a little bit too. But But yeah, I mean, I think your your kind of reading of it within this kind of orientalist frame is, is really true, you know, like those things are carried through from the original trilogy for sure.

Kelly Lui 18:49
backstory podcast is presented by Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival. It’s written and hosted by Aaron Collier, and Kelly Lui, and it’s edited and produced by Seungwoo. Baek. For more information about the show our festival or upcoming events, check out our show notes. If you have questions or comments, please write to us at backstory@reelasian.com.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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