The Martial Arts Kid
The Martial Arts Kid stars Jansen Panettiere as Robbie a tear-away teen who, after one more run in with the law, gets sent to the Florida beach town of Cocoa Beach to live with his Aunt and Uncle. His Aunt and Uncle just happen to be world champion martial artists and 80s action icons, Cynthia Rothrock and Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson.
As the new kid, he is bullied in school and around town, especially when he starts a flirtatious friendship with Rina, played charmingly by Kathryn Newton.
Luckily, he discovers that his Aunt and Uncle run a martial arts Dojo in town. To learn self defense but also much needed discipline and understanding, Robbie joins the Dojo and with the guidance and support of his kick ass Aunt and Uncle, starts to better himself. Their future is threatened, however, by an undisciplined and extremely competitive MMA gym across town run by T.J. Storm.
The Martial Arts Kid has a very difficult job to do. It has to be a family friendly, fun, action-packed morality tale that teaches children about respect, restraint and honour without being too preachy or sappy. The film has to introduce the possibilities of martial arts training and its benefit on the mind and body without losing its audience or skimping on the fight scenes. Lastly it has to appeal to people watching this who are big fans of Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock and want a more regular action plot.
Miraculously and barring a few minor issues due to the budget, it accomplishes this tight rope act.
I am a childless, fairly cynical, 36 year old, action movie fan who rarely goes near a gym and yet even I found myself laughing at the jokes, engaging earnestly with the blossoming romance between the leads, appreciating the discipline of the martial arts and fist pumping the air every time Wilson or Rothrock threw one of their trademark kicks.
Don ‘the dragon’ Wilson and Cynthia ‘lady dragon’ Rothrock give strong performances here and even get to cut loose during one memorable costume party dance sequence. They play a convincing couple and caring but stern mentors to Robbie. I was also pleased and impressed that their roles were much larger than I had expected. Don Wilson fans will NOT be disappointed by the climax of the movie, I can assure you!
Jansen Panettiere is just the right side of likable and relatable. Teen actors can be irritating to older viewers and he does have to carry a lot of the film but Jansen Panettiere is, thankfully, somewhere between Anthony Michael Hall and Judd Nelson from the Breakfast Club, which, from me, is high praise I assure you.
Kathryn Newton is assured, sassy and sensitive without ever being saccharine. She takes charge of the romance without ever being a stupid character or, too frequently, a damsel in distress. The two actors play off each other remarkably well and their chemistry is strong and charming to watch.
T.J. Storm and Matthew Ziff play decent heavies and pose a real threat when you consider their size and age differences to their opponents but this is a movie that sets out to show it doesn’t matter on your size or weight, as long as you have the technique and the discipline. Plus, who doesn’t love an underdog story?!
For fans of the large and varied martial arts world, the rest of the film is filled out with cameos and appearances by practically any legendary, American, practicing martial artist you can imagine. They bring authenticity to the film as well as fun Easter eggs for those in the know.
The Martial Arts Kid is a light, well played, surprisingly action packed, lesson on and celebration of the martial arts and its benefits for children to help combat bullying, obesity and shy awkwardness. A must see for families and fans of fantastic screen fighting alike!
A strong 3.5 out of 5!
Hear my interview with Don ' The Dragon' Wilson
And I would strongly suggest you pick up the DVD or Blu Ray!!