July 25, 2015


(NBC, September 9-December 16, 1989)

Saban Entertainment, Columbia Pictures Television, DiC Entertainment

Joey Dedio – Daniel LaRusso
Robert Ito – Keisuke Miyagi
Janice Kawaye - Taki

            When Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) moved from Newark, New Jersey to Reseda in Los Angeles, California, things weren’t all that great. Befriending cheerleader Ali Mills (Elisabeth Shue) drew the wrath of her boyfriend, Johnny Lawrene (William Zabka). Johnny and his cronies, all students of the unethical and vicious form of karate known as Cobra Kai, attacked Daniel until he was saved by Kesuke Miyagi (Pat Morita). Daniel enlists Miyagi’s aid in learning karate, and before long he has a rematch with Johnny in a tournament.

            That was the plot of The Karate Kid, a 1984 movie from Columbia Pictures directed by John G. Avildsen and written by Robert Mark Kamen. The film opened on June 22nd and became a critical and commercial success, earning over $90 million and getting Morita nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. 1986 saw the release of the first sequel, The Karate Kid, Part II, which followed Daniel joining Miyagi on a visit back to his home village in Okinawa. Despite mixed reviews, the film grossed even more than the original and led to the production of The Karate Kid, Part III. The second sequel focused on the teacher of the Cobra Kais, John Kreese (Martin Kove), seeking revenge on Miyagi and Daniel. It was poorly received by fans and critics, and only grossed $39 million.

Taki, Miyagi and Daniel.

            Before the third movie’s release, Columbia partnered with DiC Entertainment and Saban Entertainment to build on the franchise’s popularity with a Saturday morning cartoon developed by Dan Distefano. Forgoing the tournament aspect central to the plots of the films, the show was done as a quest show as Daniel (Joey Dedio) and Miyagi (Robert Ito) pursued a miniature shrine with mystical powers after it was stolen from a temple in Okinawa. The shrine traveled around the world and bestowed powers upon those who ended up with it, and usually found a way to elude the heroes just before they could retrieve it. Along the way, they usually ended up having to help those they encountered with problems besides the ones tied to the shrine. Joining them on their hunt was an Okinawan girl named Taki (Janice Kawaye), who bore a resemblance to Daniel’s girlfriend from the second movie, Kumiko (Tamlyn Tomita). Haim Saban and Shuki Levy provided the series’ music.

The shrine in sinister hands.

            The Karate Kid debuted on NBC on September 9th, 1989; nearly three months after the release of the third movie. It was written by David Ehrman, Michael Maurer, Richard Merwin, Dorothy Middleton, Sean Roche, Matt Uitz, Chris Weber and Karen Willson. With the movie franchise already on the way out with its audience, it came as no surprise when the repetitive nature of the show failed to win them back and was cancelled after a single season. The series never saw release on home media, but in 2009 Sony Pictures, Columbia’s new parent company, released the series to digital streaming platforms such as iTunes, Neftlix and Hulu. Dedio and Kawaye would go on to star together again as Wheeler and Gi, respectively, in Captain Planet and the Planeteers, on which Ito would guest star.

            In 1994, the original Karate Kid franchise gained its final chapter in The Next Karate Kid. The movie was the first to not feature Daniel, be written by Kamen or directed by Avildsen. Instead, it was written by Mark Lee and directed by Christopher Cain. It focused on Miyagi visiting Boston and training the granddaughter of his former commanding officer during WWII, Julie (Hilary Swank). The film, while a breakout role for Swank, was even more poorly received than the third movie. 

In 2010, Columbia attempted to revive the franchise with a reboot movie starring Jaden Smith and produced by his parents, Will and Jada. The movie, written by Christopher Murphey and directed by Harald Zwart, focused on Jaden’s character, Dre Parker, moving to Beijing and being rescued from bullies by janitor Mr. Han (Jackie Chan). Han trains Dre in the ways of Kung Fu and Dre enters a tournament where he competed against Master Li (Rongguang Yu) and his merciless students; in particular Cheng (Zhenwei Wang). Despite mixed reviews, the film was a box office success and a sequel has been announced. Beating that sequel was the unexpected continuation of the original franchise, Cobra Kai. The series followed Johnny and Daniel 34 years after the events of the first movie.

“My Brother’s Keeper” (9/9/89) – Miyagi and Daniel help a South American boy learn what he needs to past his tests of manhood besides relying on a mystical shrine.

“The Greatest Victory” (9/16/89) – Miyagi helps a Chinese neighborhood form an organized effort to oppose the gang terrorizing them as their leader uses the shrine gain new members.

“The Homecoming” (9/23/89) – Daniel returns to New Jersey to find a shrine where he used to live.

“The Tomorrow Man” (9/30/89) – In France, a clairvoyant predicts Miyagi’s death as they try to beat a smuggler to the shrine.

“All the World His Stage” (10/14/89) – In London, a prop sword ends up infused with the power of the shrine and the actor who wields it can no longer distinguish reality from fantasy.

“The Paper Hero” (10/21/89) – The trio join forces with Daniel’s FBI uncle in Mexico to stop banditos who have gained the power of the shrine.

“Over the Rainbow” (10/28/89) – A Himalayan village becomes young again due to the shrine’s powers, and abandoning their responsibilities leave it their home vulnerable to a blizzard.

“The Return of the Shrine” (11/4/89) – The trio finally get the shrine to Okinawa, but a family feud can result in its being lost again.

“Walkabout” (11/11/89) – In Australia, an Aborigine man sees the shrine but is being blackmailed by members of his tribe.

“East Meets West” (11/18/89) – A scientist steals the shrine from a Russian lab in order to empower his son playing hockey in the Friendship Games.

“The Hunt” (12/2/89) – When a whale swallows the shrine the trio get jobs aboard a whaling vessel in Norway to pursue it.

“The Gray Ghosts” (12/9/89) – The trio enlist the help of senior citizen group The Gray Ghosts in San Francisco to get the shrine from a wealthy recluse.

“A Little World of his Own” (12/16/89) – A young boy uses the shrine to shrink objects to add to his collection and get revenge on bullies, and accidentally shrinks the trio.

Originally posted in 2015. Updated in 2020.

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