While Silver and Da-Eun share the “No Mercy” philosophy of Cobra Kai, they differ in terms of their motivations. Whereas Terry wants to take over the Valley and settle old scores with Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) and Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio), Da-Eun is hellbent on restoring her family’s honor on a much larger scale, which puts the two business partners at odds with each other.
A naturally “dark and twisted” character who is made to feel like an outcast when she arrives in the West, Da-Eun “sees something similar and malleable in Tory that she can use to her advantage,” Hannah-Kim explains. “For Tory, Kim Da-Eun is this terrifying force that pushes her past her limits but for Kim Da-Eun, her methods are acceptable in relation to how she was trained.”
“I think there’s a degree of perfectionism that makes her that extreme,” she adds. “I think familial expectations, which is a very weighty topic in Asian families, shape you and morph you into someone who is sometimes incredibly high-achieving and has those standards. It was very easy for me to lean into that idea, because those topics hit close to home for me culturally.”
Thankfully, the drama on the set of Cobra Kai was contained to the story being told. “I felt really apologetic towards Peyton because we had these awful scenes, so we really tried to make it as light as possible in between [takes]. We had a lot of jokes about how Kim Da-Eun was toxic and needed to go to therapy and learn some anger management,” Hannah-Kim says with a laugh.
The actress also credits Zabka, Macchio and Griffith, who are all veterans of the franchise, for setting a professional tone that she would like to emulate on all of her projects. “Thomas is a gentleman and a writer as well, so he’s always looking at a scene in this forensic way: How can I improv something? He’s wonderfully inventive in that way,” she says. “I had a scene with Billy on my first day too. I didn’t know how funny he was just off the cuff, and in our scene, we had a bit of a stare off, and he was improvising. The whole time, I was just like, ‘Don’t laugh. Don’t laugh. Don’t laugh.’ And they cut and I just fell over, because he’s so hilarious. Ralph is just incredibly humble and warm, and he’s so kind to everybody on the set.”
For a franchise that has drawn upon the strength of martial arts, The Karate Kid and Cobra Kai have, in recent years, both faced criticism for their lack of Asian representation, with some critics arguing that some of the characters, despite bringing much-needed onscreen visibility, perpetuate long-standing stereotypes about Asians. When she filmed the fifth season last year, Hannah-Kim didn’t have any idea that she was portraying the show’s first female sensei. “It was only after I wrapped that somebody pointed it out to me and my jaw dropped,” says Hannah-Kim, who adds that it is both a “thrill” and an “honor” to break new ground in the Karate Kid universe.