‘Karate Kid III’ Almost Starred Brandon Lee as Mike Barnes, Sean Kanan Reveals

Before there was Cobra Kai, there were four Karate Kid films. The show is getting close to including every Karate Kid movie star but Karate Kid Part III fans are still waiting for Sean Kanan to return as Mike Barnes, “the Bad Boy of Karate.” Kanan reveals the role almost went to the late Brandon Lee due to an injury Kanan sustained on set. 

'Karate Kid III' Mike Barnes actor Sean Kanan smiles on a Hollywood Museum red carpet
Sean Kanan | David Livingston/Getty Images

Kanan was a guest on Cobra Kai star Martin Kove’s podcast, Kicking It with the Koves. Catching up with his Karate Kid III co-star, Kanan revealed how he was almost replaced by the legend. Cobra Kai Season 5 returns Sept. 9 on Netflix. 

Brandon Lee almost played Mike Barnes instead of Sean Kanan in ‘Karate Kid III’

Mike Barnes was the new challenger to Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) in The Karate Kid Part III. Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith) was in cahoots with Barnes to train Daniel and sabotage his performance in the tournament. According to a People Magazine article from 1989, Kanan sustained internal bleeding from a stunt in which he landed on his stomach. Kanan says he heard Lee would replace him.

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“If I’m being really honest, which I try to be, I was very seriously injured when I was on the film,” Kanan said on Kicking It with the Koves. “I almost lost my life. I can say this now because most of the people have passed on. This was a long time ago but I wasn’t treated very well when that happened. There were no flowers. There were no get well kid. It was get back to the set in 10 – 12 days or we’re going to cast the part. Ironically, they were going to probably hire Brandon Lee from what they told me.”

‘The Karate Kid Part III’ would have been Brandon Lee’s big break

Lee got into acting in the ‘80s with a role in the revival of David Carradine’s Kung Fu and the Hong Kong movie Laser Mission. He wouldn’t appear in American theatrical releases until 1991’s Showdown in Little Tokyo and 1992’s Rapid Fire, before his fatal on-set accident making The Crow in 1993. 1989 was the same year Lee starred in Laser Mission, but Kanan recovered. 

“So after having survived almost bleeding to death, Christmas Day 1989 in Las Vegas having this emergency surgery and having and still having a 14” scar on my abdomen and being treated that way, I very quickly shifted from being oh woe is me to being really angry,” Kanan said. “I was pissed off and I was angry at the way I was treated but I was also angry that life would do this to me. Of course, life didn’t do this to me. Life was just doing what life does. That anger fueled me to get out of the hospital.”

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Kanan trained to be able to perform in the movie. 

“I had them release me against medical advice, start training while I still had staples in my stomach,” Kanan said. “Lost like 30 pounds in probably 8 days. I wound up doing all of my own stunts in The Karate Kid III with the exception of one which was a driving stunt where the bad guys go across the train tracks.  Because I was like look, there’s no way I came back from all this to get run over by a train.”

The film changed Sean Kanan’s view of Hollywood

The Karate Kid Part III was a big break for Kanan. It was his second movie but after that he’s worked consistently for decades, including a long run on General Hospital. He was never the same after that film though. 

“I think once I got back from having that experience, I had a different perception,” Kanan said. “It was a little bit of it’s show business, not show friends. I wasn’t embittered but I grew up a little bit. Also when you’re 21 you feel like you’re immortal. And I learned in that experience that my mortality was very much in question so I think it matured me a lot. I think ultimately that’s what helped me to play the rest of the movie.”

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