If there’s one movement a martial arts movie can promote effectively, it’s anti-bullying.
One of the reasons a lot of people get into martial arts for is to learn to look after themselves and overcome the constant state of fear that bullying can put them in. It’s about improving quality of life and strengthening character.
Well this partially Kickstarter funded film, The Martial Arts Kid, tells a story that promotes this exact benefit of martial arts. It’s about a young teenager named Robbie, played by Jansen Panettiere, who learns how to defend himself by studying martial arts.
Whilst doing this he overcomes a lot of personal habits and becomes your perfect, family friendly martial arts teenager. But of course, he doesn’t start out that way.
Pre “Martial Arts Kid”
Robbie’s history is one of tough times, no surprise.
He’s in trouble with the law, he lives with a somewhat mean and strict grandmother after his mother died some years earlier. He’s out helping his little gang of friends in their downtown activities when he is caught and arrested.
That’s when his grandmother comes to the conclusion that perhaps Robbie is best living with his Uncle and Auntie – who may be able to straighten him out!
So Robbie ships off to his new home.
What’s easy to notice as the film starts to progress is a massive difference in home culture. Robbie seems to be told what not to do in a negative reinforced environment, but this all changes once he meets his Uncle and Aunt in the film who, although strict, tend to be more positive in their reinforcement and give him a little direction telling him what he can do, rather than what he can’t.
The coolest Uncle & Aunt in history?
I won’t reveal too much more about the story but I will reveal a couple of small spoilers. Robbie discovers that his Uncle and Aunt are martial arts teachers, and are very highly respected in the world of martial arts.
This is highlighted perfectly with Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock playing the parts of Uncle Glen and Aunt Cindy!
Robbie is dragging his feet around town, disappointed with the hand he’s delt when he witnesses his Aunt Cindy fight off an attacker, doing the whole Cynthia Rothrock thing and showing off her high level martial arts skill.
Robbie is stunned by these ‘bad ass’ martial arts moves and learns of his Uncle Glen’s Martial Arts school and starts taking lessons. He is taken back by what he sees at the martial arts club as he catches a glimpse into his family’s heritage.
The formula of film then unfolds….
The Martial Arts Kid, sounds an awful lot like the Karate kid, doesn’t it?
Well producer James E. Wilson talks of this film being a modern update of the Karate Kid as it touches on identical themes. The ‘kid’ is being bullied and learns martial arts to overcome his difficulties, then he starts a rivalry with another local martial arts ‘kid’ from a rival dojo… Dojo Extreme! (sounds like a really douche-bag place to train).
So it doesn’t present anything really unique conceptually in the plot, but is a nice re-telling of the old themes and definitely does a good job selling the benefits of martial arts in an easy watch, teen drama style film.
But this film reminds me even more of another film called the MMA Kid. Sorry, I meant Never Back Down (hard to keep track of these :P). He gains an interest in his rivals girlfriend. Soon enough this girl sees what a jerk the rival is and drifts on over to Robbie and his wholesome, main character goodness.
Of course there are a few more surprises that unravel throughout the film – but I don’t want to ruin it for you! 😉
In a way, this film is lot more like Never Back Down than the Karate kid – only more family friendly. Our main character goes quickly from zero to hero as his confidence grows, it shapes the world around him and he gets the girl. Soon any anger or fear he initially had basically dissipates while his enemies are getting furious.
So, is the film any good?
This movie is decent, but there are some key ingredients that make it worth watching.
Having Martial Arts legends like Don the Dragon Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock elevate the authenticity of this film and can, at times, put the beer goggles on you when you’re watching it – at times I feel like the movie does seem more watchable simply because they’re in it.
Aside from their presence, the film can sometimes get a little flat. But both Wilson and Rothrock show off their skills a number of times and represent their expertise and charisma on screen. This is can be noticed in both the physical action and martial arts knowledge they teach. Some of the lessons taught on screen in the martial arts school are truly valuable and not the expected fortune cookie Mr Miyagi philosophy – they even poke a little fun at this mentioning Miyagi’s “wax on, wax off” technique when Robbie is cleaning his uncle’s car.
I feel like this difference in expertise was required to elevate the martial arts standard in the film through Wilson and Rothrock’s characters – as the audience will never accept a teenager doing amazing things in only a few months of training. So the skill level shown by the other characters (including Robbie) is actually believable since they’re not all supposed to be action stars but real people with an entry level skill set.
I do think that although Jansen Panettiere’s acting isn’t so seasoned, his performance does work well as you find you start to feel for him and relate to his character. So the main cast are definitely doing their job well.
As I stated, it’s decent. It’s a worthy watch if you’re happy to watch a family friendly teen drama with some heavy martial arts themes. As far as small films go, this one is pretty solid.
But what about the action?
This isn’t what I’d call an action film – but there are some flashes of authentic martial arts skill shown throughout the film and eventually in the films finale – making it more of an action-drama.
We’re not talking Scott Adkins or Tony Jaa high level action here, but what is shown is some true martial arts technique and it’s a little more grounded and realistic then the super intense, somersault kick style we all love to see in action films these days.
After all, it stars Wilson and Rothrock – but also has fights choreographed by James Lew. So what you’re getting is small amounts of decent quality, authentic martial arts action throughout in a well told, family friendly film.
The finale is what really houses the majority of the fights and does a good job of colliding both sides of the rivalry. It showcases a variety of moves as almost every character is fighting to end the conflict that has risen during the film.
This is a film is not for the action junkie but for a family or martial arts film enthusiast who wants to see some old skool action stars stepping up to promote the practice of martial arts.
You can find it on Amazon if you’d like to check it out!