Karate Kid Hero


Dominic Nocon

As we all know 2020 was a very dark year, but in the darkness, there is always a light and the light for many of us was the new Netflix series, Cobra Kai. This show takes place in the same universe as the hit 80’s film The Karate Kid and gives a new perspective of the infamous antagonist of the film, Johnny Lawrence. We’ve been given a lot of information and history of his character from the show’s first season to its recently released third season. I believe it’s safe to say that many viewers, even long-time fans, are starting to believe he was the true hero of The Karate Kid. People have been going as far as to say that Daniel Lawrusso (The protagonist of The Karate Kid) was the true bully. I’ll be analyzing important parts of the film and using a point system to determine whether Johnny or Daniel is the true hero.


After rewatching the film I’m going to cut to the chase and start with a controversial statement. I believe every confrontation between Daniel and Johnny, was caused by Daniel. Let me start with the opening beach fight. At this moment Johnny was trying to converse with his Ex-girlfriend Ali Mills (Daniel’s main love interest in the film) and try to sort out their relationship. It is clear Johnny is currently in the wrong and should let Ali have her wish of being left alone. Nonetheless, the couple should sort things out and have a private moment together. However, Daniel repeatedly inserted himself into the situation, giving Ali her radio. How would you feel if you were trying to sort things out with your Ex and some random person continuously interrupted you two just because of some radio? In a moment of anger and heartbreak Johnny merely pushed Daniel into the sand. Daniel gets up and tries to attack him. Purely out of defense, Johnny trips Daniel before he gets the chance to hit him. And what does Daniel do? He sucker-punches Johnny in the face. Using the karate lessons he learned, Johnny defends himself, fights back, and effectively deflates the situation. This is just one example of a confrontation that Daniel started. Don’t get me wrong, both guys made mistakes in this scene. But in the end, Daniel should have left the two alone and let them sort things out. I’ll give one point to Johnny.


With that being said I’ll just state the obvious here and say that it’s easier to root for Daniel. He’s the protagonist here and everything is from his perspective. In an interview with Lazaro Ticas (a Rio Norte student), he said “Daniel is simply the underdog in terms of size and wealth. You can’t help but support him.” Now you may be wondering how this affects the debate. An underdog is someone who is constantly at a disadvantage. Someone who has to put in an immense amount of work for what they want. And someone who always pushes to do the right thing. While Daniel started many of the confrontations between him and Johnny, he usually had good intentions. Giving Ali her radio back would generally be perceived as a courageous act. He may just have been trying to get Ali out of an uncomfortable situation. In other words, Daniel unintentionally starts most of the confrontations instigated by Johnny.  I’ll give one point to Daniel.

Now we come to the elephant in the room. Daniel caused a multi-car collision. That’s right, just before the School Dance fight in the original film, the “hero” of the film caused two cars to crash into each other and then ran on top of them for no reason. Now, I know what you are thinking. Daniel was running away from Johnny in this scene. But this encounter was once again caused by Daniel. It was said best by J. Mathew Turner, “Daniel, for absolutely no reason, drenches Johnny with water in the middle of a school function, effectively ruining his night.”I don’t think I need to say anymore. One more point goes to Johnny.


I’ll start the final section with a quote from Vicki Harrison,” Grief is like an ocean, it comes in waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.” For my final section, I’ll be covering how the two characters dealt with loss. As we all know Daniel was victorious over Johnny at the end of the well-known 1984 All Valley Karate Tournament. And what did Johnny do? He handed Daniel his trophy and congratulated him on his win. Despite all the things Daniel put him through, he overcame his emotions and did the right thing. The only thing Daniel lost in the film was his hometown of New Jersey as he moved to Los Angeles, and he didn’t handle it well. Throughout the movie, Daniel was quite honestly very disrespectful towards his mother. He constantly reminded her of how he hated it in L.A. He even broke his bike in a fit of rage. Instead of accepting that moving was what was best for their family, he made things pretty difficult for his mother and that is why I will be giving the final point to Johnny Lawrence, our winner and the misunderstood hero of The Karate Kid.

According to MovieWeb.com, “Johnny is a high school senior committed to atoning for his past mistakes, and moving his life forward in a positive direction.” This is displayed in his first scene of the film where he talks to his friends and says “8 a.m. I’m a senior. I’ve got one year to make it all work, and that’s what I’m going to do, make it work.” I like so many others grew up with The Karate Kid, absolutely idolizing Daniel. It’s incredible how one show can take the most infamous bully of the ’80s and shine him in a new light. By telling their story through both Daniel and Johnny’s perspective, it led many of us to the realization that Johnny was in the end, the flawed hero of the film. A film that so many generations have grown up with and that have viewed as one-sided was in the end, much more complex than what we originally perceived.