There are two things you can be certain of when you're a Karate Kid - you'll learn badass self-defense from some Asian dude that Americans think of as 'funny', and you'll have to put up with the biggest Asshats in the World of Martial Arts.
I'm the Kung Fu movie guy among my friends - a fact I occasionally forget until I try to get somebody to watch 'The Brave Archer' or 'Master Swordsman Lu Xiao Feng' and get a resounding negative reaction. But, long before I knew who the Shaw Brothers were - or even Bruce Lee - the first martial arts master I knew of was actually just a comedian named Pat Morita. I imagine I'm not the only person my age that was introduced to karate, and all martial arts, through watching 'The Karate Kid'. The series definitely left an impression on me - because of it, I spent a lot of time as a child following around maintanance workers in order to get them to teach me their secret fighting arts, though I don't have much to show for it other than excessive lead poisoning.
Today, we're talking about a particularly stand-out part of the Karate Kid series - the bad guys. Karate Kid villains are the biggest jerks of martial arts - they're not necessarily as sinister or powerful as other Evil Masters, but they seem to make everything really personal, and they take a lot of pleasure in the little things of villainy. The biggest indicator of their villain-hood, of course, is that they're willing to break Miyagi's Karate Axiom - instead of using Karate only for self-defense, they'll beat up anyone they want and take their stuff.
Generally speaking, villains in the Karate Kid movies come in pairs, a Master and an Apprentice. (Yes, kinda like the Sith, and even though the trope is much older than either movie series, I'll gladly be assigning every villain an arbitrary Sith name.) First, there's the Apprentice - a big, threatening bully, who gets taken out by the Kid utilizing whatever the new Secret Technique was in the movie. Then, there's the Master - an asshole teacher who gave the Apprentice the big idea in the first place. His main defeat is a moral one, though Miyagi always seems to beat them up at some point in the movie. Plus, of course, there may be several practically-nameless goons, if needed. We'll be looking at the major villains from each movie, and rating them in two categories.
First, how much of a jerk they are. Regardless of how 'evil' any given Karate Kid villain is, it is guaranteed that they're some of the biggest dicks you've ever met. This is being measured in the amount of puppies (out of ten) they would probably kick before they felt satisfied.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, is how badass they are, measured by how long it takes to defeat them. Specifically, I started playing 'You're the Best Around' at the beginning of each fight, and noted down how far into the song the villain lasted.
Also, as a note, we're focusing on the villains here. Questions about the nature of the plots, or why Okinawan people would speak English when they're alone, or why everywhere in China seems like it's within a day's train ride of Beijing, or why a kid who's come home after winning a death match would be obessed with front leg sweeps, are best left for another time. (Except for questions about the Alpha League, but, I'm getting ahead of myself.)
So, let's start with the first villain, from the first movie. The first Karate Kid is a movie that seems to sit squarely in-between 'Say Anything' and 'One-Armed Boxer'. It's a version of southern California that seems to completely accept that, sometimes, you'll have to put up with roving gangs of martial arts hooligans. And so, for our first villain, we have somebody who is both a Brash Karate Student, and the most horrifying creature of 80s America - the Spoiled High School Bully.
Jerk Meter - Seven Puppies, especially if they were from the poor side of the pound.
Badass Meter - End of the Second Verse.
Almost immediately after we see Johhny for the first time, he sees his ex-girlfriend hanging out with a Poor Kid (our Hero, Daniel-san) - and gets a look on his face like he's about to start bawling. Seriously, it's the greatest pout look I've ever seen. But, he pulls together, and rather than crying, he rides into the party, beats up a walkman, and breaks Danny in two - no, not the other way around, I said it right. This is pretty much how he acts throughout the movie - unable to have every whim met, he just beats up anything that looks out of place to him. Finally, it all comes to a head at the most important sports event in California - the All-Valley Under-18 Martial Arts Tournament
Now, technically, the end fight between the two takes around three and a half minutes - long enough to reach the end of the song, and get to the first chorus on a new playthrough. However, because it's in a tournament, most of that time is spent on refs calling points, coaches giving advice, and everyone getting back into position, so it really takes only a little more than a minute. Even though Johnny and his school have used plenty of dirty tricks to try and take Daniel out, the Crane Kick prevails, in an ending scene that makes every Real American cry to this day. Immediately after the bout, Johhny changes his mind about Danny, and gives him respect. This could be akin to how certain predators will only prey on things that they think are shorter than they are, and will change their minds if the prey in question somehow changes size (by, say, standing on a rock) - or, it could be that the Crane Kick actually destroyed the tumor that was pressing on Johnny's brain and making him act like an asshole.
Regardless, though he may be the star student of the Cobra Kai, Johnny is not the worst member of it. That would be...
Jerk Meter - None. He would lock the puppies in the room for a week, and see which one survived.
Badass Meter - Pfft - it would've been over by the third line if Miyagi hadn't toyed with him.
Grizzled Vietnam veteran, Karate Champion of the army for years, and Master of the Cobra Kai school. He runs his school brutally, drilling his students to not feel pain, fear, mercy, or (presumably) love. He approves of the fact that his students are bullying a weaker kid and threatening an old man, and doesn't have much respect for Miyagi, as a Karate master or even just as a human being (the fact that he calls Miyagi a 'slope' makes me wonder exactly where he learned Karate - more on that later). At the tournament, rather than look for a clean fight to see who is 'superior', he encourages his students to cheat in order to break Daniel.
As the second movie begins, just where the first one ended, he's in the parking lot, abusing Johnny for losing. Miyagi comes over to stop it, and the fight is on. Of course, when it comes time for Kreese to man up, he gets his ass kicked. Miyagi just dodges around, letting him break his fists on some cars, before grabbing him, repeating one of Kreese's previous 'no mercy' speeches, faking him out, and finally delivering a humiliating comedian nose-tweak and leaving him lying in the parking lot. If Miyagi hadn't been messing around, it would only have taken about twenty seconds, but even with the toying and humiliation, it's still over in less than a minute.
What's great, of course, is that the movie makes it clear that it was entirely possible for Miyagi to just kill Kreese there, and in a way that makes it seem like he wouldn't have been in any legal trouble for it. Again, just as this version of California accepts Evil Karate Gangs, and puts a lot of stock in the Under-18 Karate Tournament, it's apparently also okay with Martial Arts Masters dueling to the death.
That finishes off the trials and tribulations of the first movie. But, Part Two takes us to Okinawa, which makes the cutthroat world of American Under-18 Martial Arts seem as tame as, well, ACTUAL American Under-18 Martial Arts!!!
Jerk Meter - Four Puppies, assuming the rest pay the rent.
Badass Meter - Unmeasurable. Only Nature can harm him.
Miyagi Karate is always passed down from Father to Son - Sato, Miyagi's best friend, is the only exception. Which, of course, made it inevitable that a quarrel over a girl would lead to a duel to the death over honor. Rather than fight and possibly kill his best friend, Miyagi chose to leave for America. (He didn't take the girl with him, but, as we learn later, he did randomly take a wild bonsai. Make of that what you will.)
Decades later, Miyagi's father is dying, so he returns home, Daniel tagging along. In the ensuing years, Sato's done well for himself. His family forced the rest of the village out of fishing, and he now owns the whole thing. He's opened a school, prostituting out the Miyagi 'self defense only' martial arts to anyone, even becoming official instructor for the US forces on Okinawa. And, thanks to his wounded honor, he's been nursing one hell of a grudge.
Nearly the instant Miyagi's off the plane, Sato confronts him about the duel to the death, which apparently was just on indefinite hiatus. Miyagi makes multiple attempts to reason with him, but mainly this just makes Sato call him a coward and break something that belonged to Miyagi's family. Finally, in a supremely dick move, he threatens to sell off the village and bulldoze it over if Miyagi won't fight, which makes him agree to a midnight duel. We never get to see this duel, however, because of Nature.
You see, Sato picks on Nature a lot. The poster for his school shows him breaking a log, and his goons rip up several gardens over the course of the film. Also, when Miyagi goes to see him, Sato is hitting, over and over, a piece of driftwood that he and Miyagi found years ago. So, that wood has been imprisoned and beaten daily for decades. My god. No wonder the Storm attacks.
A few hours before the duel, a huge storm hits the village, doing a lot of damage and completely leveling the temple Sato's praying in. When Miyagi rushes over to help, Sato actually thinks that he's coming to finish him off in a weakened state. It's only after Miyagi busts apart the log pinning him down that Sato suddenly seems to realize what a tremendous asshole he's turned into over the years. He helps Daniel save a kid in the storm, and the next day, apologizes to Miyagi and gives the land back to the villagers, making everything right again.
Or, at least, it would all be right again, if it weren't for Sato's Apprentice Villain...
Jerk Meter - Ten Puppies and THREE KITTENS. Yes. He's that bad.
Badass Meter - End of the song.
I'm not giving out prizes, but, I'm pretty sure Chozen wins. Some of the other bad guys might be considered bigger dicks than him, but none of them are actually competent. He's got some of Johnny's spoiled-rich-boy angle going, but most of it comes from pure thug-ness.
At first, he doesn't like Daniel because he's Miyagi's student, and an outsider. But, it becomes more personal once Daniel catches him using fake weights on a market scale to cheat the villagers out of their money. He then takes every chance he can get to break Miyagi's shit or beat up Daniel.
When the storm hits, though, he completely loses it, running and hiding in the shelter, abandoning his uncle. And even after Sato gets rescued, he refuses to leave to help Daniel rescue a kid, at which point Sato disowns the prick. Chozen runs off into the storm, and apparently learns Evil Wisdom from Shang Tsung or M Bison or something, because the next time we see him, he's sliding on a rope to the center of a ruined castle, to take The Girl hostage and challenge Daniel to a deathmatch.
And damn, it's on. They beat the crap out of each other for the full three minutes of the song. Heck, Chozen even hits The Girl when she tries to interfere. The only way Daniel can win is with the help of the Drum Technique, which is so powerful, it can't actually be shown. Seriously, the damn thing is filmed pretty much from the shoulders up, so I have no idea what the hell's going on - apparently, the move tricks Chozen into standing there and letting Daniel beat the crap out of him. But still, Danny prevails, and spares Chozen's life, ending the with the same nose-tweak Miyagi used on Kreese.
With Okinawa mastered, Our Heroes return home, for the third movie. This time, the Apprentice Character is...not Mike Barnes. (See later.) No, this time out, the Apprentice is actually Master Kreese! In the less-than-a-year since his humiliation at the all-important All-Valley Under-18 Tournament, he's lost all of his students, and pretty much become a hollow shell of a man. So, he goes to his Master (or, at least, his money-man), the True Mastermind behind the Cobra Kai...
*Ahem* That was Cobra Kai, not Cobra La....
Jerk Meter - I'm pretty sure Ten Puppies would kick him.
Badass Meter - Gets to 'I would never leave you' in the first verse. [NOTE: Terry, and the villains from 4, will not be measured against 'You're the Best', but 'Glory of Love' instead. Because I hate them.]
Terry Silver is a Filthy Rich Bastard. He lives in that Art Deco mansion that's in Every Damn Movie, plays random classical music for his plotting scenes, gives off a vaguely-mafioso vibe, and runs a toxic waste disposal corporation, named Dynatox. Seriously. With a company name like that, I'd expect Mark Hamill to be voicing him.
He's also a martial arts master, of course, and a good friend of Kreese's. Kreese and Silver fought together in Vietnam, and Silver gave Kreese the money to start his dojo, but after that, it's all a little hazy. Silver talks Kreese up as the master of Cobra Kai, so maybe Kreese is Silver's teacher, but then again, at another point, he mentions some Korean guy trained them both. It's hard to decipher, especially because of just how full of shit Silver is.
I hate this guy. And not in any 'love to hate' way, either - I just can't stand him. His way-too-weaselly laugh makes me wish I'd watched with earplugs, and everything he says seems about four levels over the top. Also, he's got one of those crappy early-90s porn-director ponytails, just in case you couldn't otherwise tell he's an asshat. Admittedly, he's the only Karate Kid villain who gets to gloat about his Master Plan, but you're too busy trying to figure out how the plan actually worked to really appreciate it.
When Kreese shows up, Silver sends him to recuperate in what I assume to be a Villain Hospice in Tahiti. Meanwhile, he devotes all of his time and energy to Revenge. No, really, that's what he says to his minions. His plan is as follows -
1) Present himself as a humble fellow student of Kreese's, who has come to try and redeem the name of Cobra Kai after the fall from grace and eventual death of Kreese. Yes, he says that Kreese is dead. It makes no sense in context, either.
2) Get minions (like the 'Bad Boy of Karate') to intimidate Daniel into entering the All-Valley Under-30-But-Pretending-To-Be-Under-18 Tournament to defend his title.
3) Pry Daniel away from Miyagi, and teach him a new style of martial arts that appears incredibly brutal, but is ultimately ineffective - kinda like Steven Seagal - so that he will lose.
4) Open a large chain of Cobra Kai dojos, teaching merciless, brutal, ineffective martial arts to all sorts of people and fostering a homicidal 'little league competition' mentality among the kids who get dropped off there, cheapening the entirety of American Martial Arts until they're pretty much a joke. (Okay, some of that is personal extrapolation, but those first few words are explicitly stated.)
5) Make Daniel's knuckles bleed somewhere in there.
Daniel eventually gets wise to the fact that he's learning Evil Martial Arts, of course, and Silver's happy to tell the whole plan to Daniel - and then, Miyagi shows up to trash the Bad Boy, Kreese (12 seconds in the rematch!), and Silver, who lasts for 30 seconds before getting thrown through a mirror. Then, at the tournament, Daniel beats their no-fair-play champion, resulting in the horrid P.R. backlash of free t-shirts getting thrown back at the Cobra Kai and presumedly indicating that they still have no respect whatsoever.
So, did Terry lose? Well, technically, we do live in the kind of world he wanted to create - a wasteland of spirit-less martial arts schools that are glorified daycare centers which foster ideas of brutal competition; a world where you can't walk down any given street without meeting some asshole who claims they learned how to fight from a ninja. But, on the other hand, I doubt Silver had any time to worry about martial arts - I'm sure at some point, Dynatox's toxic waste irradiated four cartoon teenagers and their ferret, transforming them into superheroes that spent a half hour every weekday after school trying to take him down, vastly reducing Silver's free time.
This ends the Saga of Daniel, of course. But, we're not done yet, since there's a Next Karate Kid. With boobies. And she gets to fight the dumbest villains yet. The tropes for this one seem to come from somewhere in-between 'Pretty in Pink' and, uh, '1984'. Allow me to explain...
(Ned would be the one on the left, if it really matters to you.)
Jerk Meter - Unknown. No puppy would willingly go to the Docks.
Badass Meter - 'I'll be the hero you're dreaming of', first chorus.
Ned, to my knowledge, is not related to Sato or Chozen, despite their common lack of a last name. He is one of the members of the 'Alpha League', the most notable feature of the school that Julie, our new Kid, goes to. It's mentioned that they're what the school is famous for, but they appear to simply be an elite force of...hall monitors??? They don't come across as an evil karate school or anything, more like a bizarre metaphor for Hitler Youth. Exactly what strange, dystopian nightmare Boston has become is never explained - but whatever these guys are, Ned is the star member.
Early on, he hits on Julie in a sleezy way, inviting her to the Docks. 'You know what happens at the Docks, don't you?' Between that line, and his mention of other girls inviting him there, you assume that it's a makeout point of some sort. Except, as the movie goes on, it becomes clear that the Docks is where you go to fight, unless your idea of First and Possibly Second Base involves getting your car torched. Ned also invites a former Alpha to the Docks - specifically for a fight - which might indicate that the boy needs to work out some personal issues, deep within himself. Or that the writers stopped caring after the check cleared, as I would have.
Ned's main goal is possession of Julie, and vague revenge on Eric, the former Alpha. Ned frames Julie for smoking after she rejects the Docks invite, and it gets worse from there, culminating in smashing Eric's car. He also gets Julie in trouble for trespassing on school property to feed her hawk (don't ask, it's not worth it), and then organizes an Alpha League bungee jump at the prom (which makes even less sense in context).
Finally, when we get to the Docks, Ned and the other Alphas beat up Eric together before Julie and Miyagi show up. Whatever bizarre urges Ned has, he at least gets to fulfill part of them by fighting Julie. But, he's a joke. The only hit he manages to land is throwing mud in her face. Really. That's the most damage he can do. It takes Julie about a minute and change to remember the Secret Technique and use it to finish him off, at which point he's pretty much broken in spirit. Not that he had much spirit. Or character. Or anything, really.
Ned's Master, of course, is the director (or coach, or something) of the Brownshirt Brigade...
(Poor Michael Ironsides. 'The movie sucked his brains out!')
Jerk Meter - Ten Puppies. All in cages. Crying.
Badass Meter - 'Say things I might regret', first verse.
'Some punk brings spraypaint and puts graffiti on our walls, we spraypaint his eyeballs so he sees red. Some kid drops a candy wrapper, you make him pick it up and eat it.'
Literally. Not exaggerating. Admittedly, if the dude was able to convince a school that they needed this level of security in the nineties, he can't be entirely insane.
I really don't know what to say here. Oh, he's evil, yeah, but that doesn't mean he makes any sense. It's one thing to teach martial arts without fear or pain or fair play. It's entirely another to run a fascist Hall Monitor brigade and condone their various idiotic and unnecessary activities - up to and including asking them to murder a student. This is probably the only Karate Kid in which I can see every one of the bad guys getting rounded up and hauled off to jail after everything's said and done.
After Julie's fight, the movie decides it would probably be fun for Miyagi and The Colonel to fight it out as well. It lasts about forty five seconds, and seems like a youtube parody of the Kreese fight from two. Really, by the end, you miss Terry, which says a lot. But, with him out of the way, the movie ends, and we can get on with our lives.
Which brings us to the Karate Kid. Well, the next Karate Kid. Well, not the Next, but the next next...
*cough* Which brings us to the 2010 Karate Kid, or 'Kung Fu Kid', as it's apparently called overseas. Yes, it's basically a remake of the original, with China instead of California (and 'fish out of water' filling in for the 'rich kid/poor kid' dynamic), Kung Fu instead of Karate, and Jackie Chan as Mr. Han instead of Pat Morita as Mr. Miyagi. Oh, and also, the kids are in their early teens, rather than late teens - I'm guessing 7th grade as opposed to 12th grade. Technically, I could probably just write 'See first movie' for the villains, but that wouldn't be fair to any of us.
(Note - I was unable to locate pictures of the Villains from the newest movie online, so we'll have to make do with reasonable facsimiles.)
So, next up is the star student of the Fighting Dragons School...
Jerk Meter - Eight puppies. And damn, does he kick them hard.
Badass Meter - Approximately the end of the second verse.
I rate Cheng as solidly in-between Johnny and Chozen. Cheng's basic function is similar to Johnny's - he has a basic attachment to the girl that Dre (our Karate Kid) is hitting on, and decides that he and his fellow Evil Kung Fu Students should make Dre's life a living hell. We don't get too much of a sense of him beyond that, and he certainly doesn't have Johnny's pouty bearing, but he makes up for it by being a little monster. Seriously, he's a lot more brutal than Johnny was. In the tournament, the refs have to pry him off of his opponents a couple times in order to save their lives. It could be his own berserk nature, it could be the way he's taught, it could be that Middle Schoolers are naturally more aggressive than High Schoolers (don't deny it), or, heck, it could just be all the video games.
Everything comes down to the tournament, of course - in this case, the Open Kung Fu Tournament, held in at least as much esteem as the All-Valley Tournament. And, despite general cheating and brutality, Dre uses the Secret Technique (Cobra Hypnosis, or something like that) to win the day. It ends with a kick to the head, followed by Cheng being nice, which lends credence to my 'curing their cancer' hypothesis. As a note, I saw this in the theater, without a stop-watch, so I had to time the fight by singing 'You're the Best' out loud, which didn't seem to bother the audience as much as you'd think it would - I was allowed to watch the rest of the movie, and given a thirty second headstart before the dogs were loosed.
And then, bringing up the rear, there's Cheng's teacher...
Jerk Meter - He'd have his students kick all ten. And then he'd lock the doors, etc, etc.
Badass Meter - Immeasurably Small. See below.
Not that much separates Li from Kreese. He gives the same 'no mercy' speeches to his students (albeit in Chinese), and encourages them to cheat in the same way - though, rather than tell Cheng to 'sweep the leg', he flat-out says to 'break the leg'. Thus, his students come off as more vicious, but other than that, there's only two big differences. First, the moral victory at the end - after Dre wins, all of Li's students at the tournament approach Mr. Han and give him a respectful salute, which obviously baffles Li. Second, Li has to deal with the fact that his rival teacher is Jackie Chan.
They try, they really do, to show that Li is talented, and might be able to give Mr. Han some trouble. However, no fight is ever shown between them, and I don't think anybody's in doubt of how that would go. This is Jackie Chan we're talking about here. If the universe of these stories allows Arnold from Happy Days to destroy guys outweighing him by at least fifty pounds, I really don't wanna know what Jackie Chan can do to a guy.
(General estimation of Jackie Chan's abilities in Karate Kid universe.)
Of course, there are other, supporting villains in the series that don't quite fit the mold. Here's a quick run-down of them.
Mike Barnes, the Bad Boy of Karate - Ugh. No, he isn't the Apprentice Villain of 3. To be a Villain requires some amount of actual character. Yes, Barnes hates Danny, but that is literally only because he is being paid to do so. Really, he's just a thug with a name you can remember. And given that the Secret Technique that finishes him off looks like Danny inventing the Macarena, he's not really all that impressive. I can't even see him as intimidating - he looks a lot like a guy I remember from high school who got shoved into lockers a lot. No, he wasn't a student, he was one of the janitors.
The Storm - This badass thing was the only thing that could possibly stop Sato, and it trashes the village along the way, nearly killing some poor child. Actually, there used to be a scene where Miyagi and Sato teamed up to fight the storm in a major Karate battle. They defeated it, but it ran off, swearing to get its revenge on New Orleans. However, after Hurricane Katrina, the scene was dubbed 'too sensitive', and was erased from the timestream.
The United States Government - Seriously, have you looked at Miyagi's background? At the outbreak of World War 2, we round up every Japanese-American we can find on the west coast, and put them into camps. Then, when they finally allow some of the men from the camps to fight in the war, we send them to Italy. So, apparently, we only trusted them to be able to fight freaking Mussolini. That's just cold. Of course, as I'm sure everyone remembers from school, they beat up Mussolini within three hours, then moved north to kill any nazis they found, earning a metric shitload of medals for their service. Despite that, civilians back home were still in the camps, where Miyagi's wife died in childbirth, with the kid. Damn.
Cars - Fair is fair, of course. If we list what ruined Miyagi's life, we should list what ruined Han's life - and a tragic automobile accident is what took away his wife and son. Granted, Han makes damn sure that the car in question never hurts anyone ever again, restoring it only to break it over and over. However, keeping it around just to torture it might not be the best idea - look at Sato and his piece of driftwood.
The Tournaments - Never trust the tournament, as a rule. Enter the Dragon, Mortal Kombat, Balls of Fury...all of these have proven that there must be something shady going on in the background. My pick? It's that announcer guy - he's using the thing to prop up his empire of illicit used-car dealerships throughout the valley. Hell, he's willing to accept a generous donation from DYNATOX! Not to be trusted. And that goes double for the Open Kung Fu Tournament - anywhere that keeps slow motion replays of kids beating the crap out of each other can't be all that righteous.
Venom - If you combine Karate Kid 3 with Spider-Man 3, and assume that Daniel just got some symbiote on him from climbing around all those bonsai trees, it almost makes sense.
Your Parents - Some people may wonder why I haven't mentioned the cartoon at any point. The reason for that is simple - there was no cartoon. If you remember one, that's only because your parents put hallucinogens in your Froot Loops. Ask them about it the next time you see them. Demand answers. And, if necessary, deploy the Crane Kick.