Martin and Jesse Kove talk 40th anniversary of ‘The Karate Kid,’ ‘Cobra Kai’ and new Western ‘Far Haven’

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Far Haven,' remembers 'The Karate Kid'

He was the rival coach of Mr. Miyagi as the antagonist John Kreese urging Johnny Lawrence to “sweep the leg” against Ralph Macchio’s Daniel LaRusso in the iconic coming-of-age sports flick “The Karate Kid” (1984).

This image released by Netflix shows Ralph Maccio, left, and Martin Kove in a scene from "Cobra Kai." The program was nominated for an Emmy Award for outstanding comedy series. (Curtis Bonds/Netflix via AP)(AP/Curtis Bonds)

Now, Martin Kove teams with with his son Jesse Kove to star in the new movie “Far Haven,” a Western that makes its linear TV premiere on the network INSP on Sunday, April 14 at 9 p.m. Eastern.

“We shot in a place that I really like where they (shot]) a lot of ‘Tombstone’ in Mescal, (Arizona); there’s a lot of history there,” Martin told WTOP. “Some of the same buildings are still up there from when they did ‘Tombstone,’ which was such a good movie. Jesse and I would walk around saying the lines that we remembered from the movie, leaning against the same wall of a saloon that Kurt (Russell) or Val Kilmer did.”

The film follows the wrongfully accused Hunter Braddock (Bailey Chase), who is released after two years at Yuma Territorial Prison and attempts to start over with his two young kids in Far Haven, Arizona. However, trouble arrives when his father-in-law (Bruce Boxleitner) is brutally attacked by an unidentified raiding party, causing Braddock to battle the corrupt forces who are strangling his town to protect those that he loves the most.

“He was accused of being a deserter, but in fact, he was only trying to save a Native American family from being slaughtered,” Jesse Kove said. “He comes out of prison and everyone thinks he was this bad guy. He ends up revisiting his family where I work on the farm, then there’s a bunch of bad things that happen in town that may or may not have been pushed by my dad’s character. … We end up going to hunt down these bad guys. It’s just a fun, gritty Western, there’s great shootouts, everyone loves a good Western shootout. It was a really fun movie to make.”

Martin Kove may be best known for martial-arts films, but his favorite genre of all time remains the Western. The cultural exchange between East and West has a rich history as Japanese action masterpieces like Akira Kurosawa’s “The Seven Samurai” (1954) directly inspired American Westerns like John Sturges’ “The Magnificent Seven” (1960).

“Jesse does this stuff in the movie that’s a lot of fun that we all remember from ‘The Magnificent Seven’ or ‘Gunfight at the O.K. Corral,'” Martin Kove said. “That network, INSP, is a bunch of cowboy lovers, that’s what they make. They make a lot of those movies. It’s always fun to work with people who love the genre. It’s my favorite genre and thank God for its resurgence now. To do it with my son was a gas! He’s a good shooter and he loves the West.”

Martin’s Western knowledge paid off when filming Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” (2019).

“I had my feet up on a post at the very beginning of the movie and Tarantino said, ‘Put your feet on the post just like Henry Fonda did in (My Darling Clementine’),” Martin Kove said. “It’s a moment that movie buffs know. (Quentin) says, ‘You can’t do the dance.’ I said, ‘Why? Henry Fonda did it.’ He said, ‘Wow, you know ‘My Darling Clementine?” and I said, ‘What, do you think you’re the only guy who knows moments in Westerns?’ And he cracked up.”

In fact, John Wayne inspired his performance in Netflix’s “Karate Kid” spinoff “Cobra Kai,” Martin Kove’s fourth time as John Kreese after “The Karate Kid” (1984), “The Karate Kid Part II” (1986) and “The Karate Kid Part III” (1989).

“My character in ‘Cobra Kai,’ this year I’m adapting it from ‘The Searchers’ character, Ethan Edwards,” Martin Kove said. “My favorite was ‘Red River,’ it wasn’t ‘The Searchers,’ but after I read so many people talking about ‘The Searchers,’ how it’s John’s best Western ever, I got more interested in it, read more about it, and now it’s just as good as ‘Red River.’ I don’t know which one is better of John Wayne’s performances, but they’re both really rich.”

To this day, Martin Kove still has fond memories of filming the original “The Karate Kid,” which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. He praises the script by Robert Mark Kamen as directed by John G. Avildsen (“Rocky”).

“If it’s not on the page, if the written word is not on the page, (the movie doesn’t work),” Martin Kove said. “That piece was written so well by Robert Kamen — he’s doing ‘Karate Kid: The Musical’ that they’re gonna have on Broadway — but if he didn’t write that script and structure it the way that he did, we wouldn’t have all this today. It was really the writer and I give so much credit to writers these days, because if it’s not on the page, you can’t add it.”

Ironically, the climactic Crane Kick was not in the script, allowing Daniel to win on one leg.

“There’s no such thing as the Crane Kick,” Martin Kove said. “Only in the last 10 years has society realized that it was an illegal kick, it was a Hollywood-manufactured kick and it was created by a Hollywood stuntman and it worked. It just worked. Everybody bought it. … As we go to different autograph shows, I always said the real Karate Kid was Johnny Lawrence because the kick was an illegal kick! It’s kind of a joke we play with Ralph.”

Which famous lines do “Karate Kid” fans quote to him the most?

“There’s a couple of them,” Martin Kove said. “There’s, ‘Mercy is for the weak,’ then there’s, ‘No mercy,’ then the one I personally like the best is, ‘Cobra Kai never dies.’ I just love that line! When we do Cameos, we always throw that in there: ‘Cobra Kai never dies,’ it’s kind of like the last thing you leave someone with as you’re saying goodbye.”

Hear our full conversation on the podcast below:

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Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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