Tom Jolliffe on why Cynthia Rothrock should be a part of Cobra Kai season 5…
Cobra Kai Season 4 is still fresh from the oven on Netflix. Like every season before it, it’s a perfect unison of slightly soapy coming of age angst, brawls, humour, nostalgia and just the right level of fan service. It’s the very definition of the show no one particularly asked for, but upon seeing, has become absolutely indispensable viewing for a broad array of ages.
In many ways, Cobra Kai shouldn’t have worked. New audiences have arguably more reverence to the Jackie Chan/Jaden Smith reboot as they do for the classic original. Older fans were probably quietly curious about the prospect of the series (which began as a YouTube premiere). It’s altogether hokey in places, but endearingly so, and it’s a prime example of something that maybe shouldn’t work quite as brilliantly as it does. Will you see better drama elsewhere? Will you see better acting? Better fight scenes? Sure, but this cocktail appeased fans of the original and new fans in equal measure (prompting the original to pick up swathes of new fans in the process).
After years in the wilderness, William Zabka and Ralph Macchio were dragged out of obscurity, limited largely to TV cameos (quite famously in How I Met Your Mother). Whatever else they were doing, not too many people were watching. Zabka has proved a thoroughly, and surprisingly engaging central figure, whilst the eternally baby-faced Macchio has been excellent too. Since then we’ve seen Martin Kove return, a host of cameos from the original trilogy (Tamlyn Tomita and Yuji Okumuto both impressing). Thomas Ian Griffith also made a return in season 4, with an interesting arc throughout (no spoilers here, so check it out).
In almost every case, the icons of the original trilogy, and those who flitted in and out of a single film, have come in, having been out of the mainstream eye for decades. Ian Griffith followed his auspicious breakout in The Karate Kid Part III by becoming one of the rising action stars of the early 90’s, once billed as the man to take Steven Seagal’s mantle. In fact, despite the legit Martial arts skill and plenty of charisma, he never quite kicked off. There will be many more stars of days gone by popping up I should think, including 1-2 who could still be plucked from the original trilogy, whilst the question marks over Hilary Swank’s (star of the fourth spinoff film) possible involvement at some point, are still prominent (though feel unlikely).
There’s also another untapped avenue that the show could delve into. Kove and Ian Griffith, as well as being Karate Kid alumni, were also regular fixtures in the video action scene. As the show possibly runs dry of cameos from other alumni, and with plenty of legs left for at least two more seasons, it’s high (kicking) time that we see a few more martial arts legends of the 80’s and 90’s. It’s a perfect show for the underappreciated and marginalised. Jean-Claude Van Damme wouldn’t work, beyond perhaps a small cameo. No, we need Don Wilson, Gary Daniels, Billy Blanks… but most of all we need the Queen of Action. We need the OG, the woman referenced in season 4 at one point; “Cynthia Rothrock is a beast!” “Hell yeah she is!” There’s a clear reverence to the entire decade of which the original films were made. The Cobra Kai soundtrack is rife with 80’s second tier rock. The references to classic martial art films like Bloodsport are certainly telling, but they going further, referencing more obscure titles, including Rothrock’s Lady Dragon. It shows a breadth of knowledge of the video action era, a clear affection and one that could hopefully lead to the moment where the showrunners ponder…”Can we get Cynthia Rothrock in this?”
After breaking out as a superstar in Hong Kong action from the mid 80’s, the 90’s saw Rothrock transition into American action movies and quickly make a name for herself on the video shelves. She was the best of the best, because she had very few rivals. There were countless action and fantasy films in the 80’s with female leads, but they were often exploitation pics with models (or ex bunnies’playmates) and plotlines requiring more skin than fighting skills. Be it Barbarian ladies, or innumerable prison set action films (with innumerable prison shower scenes), the action heroine was more about titillation than anything else. Where Rothrock really differed and stood out, was the fact she was a real deal, legit, badass. A world champion. Someone who competed in forms against men, and won. Someone who also came through the Hong Kong action scene with as much respect as any Westerner has probably had since (bar Richard Norton). Many try and can’t hack it (one and out), but Rothrock not only did it, she became a star there. No other female action star back then had the same pull, or looked quite as powerful on screen. Kicks that could take your head off. A Hollywood female action boom was triggered a decade later thanks to Trinity and Charlie’s Angels. Being from a fight background wasn’t a pre-requisite either, but for a time, the films were working and working on the big screen. Films like Atomic Blonde reinvigorated that female lead actioner once again. Raising the question…Was Rothrock a decade too early?
In the West, despite that auspicious start in Hong Kong cinema, Rothrock’s popularity was limited almost entirely to the video aisles. She was a little unlucky along the way. The Executioner, a project with William Friedkin and Sylvester Stallone no less, almost happened but fell at the last hurdle, and might have proved a significant springboard. Rothrock’s video legacy shouldn’t be undervalued though, because as mentioned, all her rivals were men, many of whom she outlasted and outsold. Still, when things switched from VHS to DVD, for many of the 90’s icons, the rental power dipped. Leading pictures became more irregular, and budgets inevitably lower. Still, in an era now where Nostalgia rules in film and TV, where Dolph Lundgren and Van Damme for example have had recent renaissances, there’s definitely room to see a comeback for Rothrock. Cobra Kai is the perfect place to do that, whilst she’s certainly overdue an Expendables appearance (if the IP goes beyond the upcoming fourth film).
So who could Rothrock play? The fact she’s been directly referenced in the series doesn’t negate her playing a ‘character’ either. The show does have a little wry side to it, and isn’t bound be intense logic by any means. Rothrock could certainly play a version of herself, but that lends itself to a one episode walk-on, and I think she deserves more, something more interesting. Another rival dojo teacher? Good? Bad? There’ll come a time when Kreese and Silver’s arcs run dry and a new villain/antagonist might be required. There’s also the fact that the show, which has been very conscious of diversity, could do with representation of a female sensei. Let’s face it…who better than Rothrock to teach the patented Rothrock sting to her students (the move has actually appeared on the show too). Zabka, Kove, Macchio, Ian Griffith, all in the mature bracket in varying degrees are still getting to throw down throughout the shows run too, and Rothrock who doesn’t seem to age, still looks like an ass-kicking supremo. Additionally the representation of women of a certain age bracket, shown to be kicking derriere could also be great for the show and again… who better?
So to Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg…make this happen! Why? Because you said it… Cynthia Rothrock is a beast! Let us know your thoughts on Cobra Kai. Have you enjoyed season 4? Would you like to see Cynthia Rothrock in Season 5? Reach out to us on our social channels @FlickeringMyth…
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out on DVD/VOD around the world and several releases due out in 2021/2022, including, Renegades (Lee Majors, Danny Trejo, Michael Pare, Tiny Lister, Nick Moran, Patsy Kensit, Ian Ogilvy and Billy Murray), Crackdown, When Darkness Falls and War of The Worlds: The Attack (Vincent Regan). Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see here.