The Martial Arts Kid, 2015.
Directed by Michael Baumgarten.
Starring Jansen Panettiere, Don Wilson, Cynthia Rothrock,Kathryn Newton and Matthew Ziff.
When misguided teen orphan, Robbie Oakes (Jansen Panettiere) gets in trouble with the law one too many times, his grandmother has little choice but to uproot him from Cleveland to Cocoa Beach to live with his estranged Aunt Cindy and Uncle Glen (Cynthia Rothrock and Don “The Dragon” Wilson). Trouble quickly finds Robbie when he makes enemies with town bully, Bo Whitlaw (Matthew Ziff) by talking to his girlfriend, Rina (Kathryn Newton), but upon discovering his aunt and uncle are martial artists, Robbie wastes no time becoming their pupil in the hopes he can finally put a stop to the bullying.
It’d be a low down shame to write off Martial Arts Kid as just some Karate Kid knock off. Even though it sometimes leans on a familiar structure cemented by Karate Kid back in 1984, Martial Arts Kid, in some ways, succeeds in deconstructing it and finds its own voice.
This independent coming-of-age family film hopes to inspire a new generation of future martial artists, showcasing the fundamental principles of martial arts in a way that’s grounded and real. Like Uncle Glen says to Robbie upon finding him generously washing the family car, “No Wax.” This movie steers clear of the mystical eastern philosophical musings of Karate Kid and takes on a more direct and modern approach to its teachings while sending a respectful nod to its ancestor.
Eleven world title kickboxing champion, Don “The Dragon” Wilson and five time martial arts world champion, Cynthia Rothrock are both icons in the realm of 90’s VHS-era martial arts action. Both are known for being unstoppable champions on-screen, but here they trade that persona for characters that are more vulnerable and endearing. One can easily get swept up wishing Uncle Glen and Aunt Cindy were their relatives, ones that can just as easily cook up a mean BBQ as they can mete out swift justice on the occasional mugger.
Troubled teen, Robbie Oakes, played by Jansen Panettiere, brings humor and athleticism to the role. When Robbie’s sent away to live with his aunt Cindy (Rothrock) and uncle Glen (Wilson) they appear to be an unassuming suburban family, but he soon realizes they’re both martial artists with a code of honor that run their own café and respectable dojo by the beach. They‘re also revealed to be retired government agents tasked with training astronauts the hidden strengths of martial arts, such as inner tranquility and pain resistance.
When Robbie tries talking with classmate, Rina (Newton), her boyfriend, Bo Whitlaw (Ziff) instantly makes him the new target for his bullying. Bo studies martial arts at a rival dojo ran by Uncle Glen’s ruthless wayward student, Coach Kaine, who trains his disciples to “assess, assert, and dismantle” their opponent. As Bo’s bullying escalates, Robbie trains diligently under his aunt and uncle, steadily honing his skills under Glen’s “right makes might” maxim. It’s these candid training sessions between Robbie and Glen that really makes this movie shine and sets it apart. Don “The Dragon” Wilson brings a natural patience and earnestness to these scenes, generously lending Jansen Panettiere his many years of real world martial arts teachings on-screen and Jansen takes to them like a pro. As tension soars between Bo and Robbie, the climax is nothing short of non-stop action packed mayhem that satisfyingly pays off.
All in all, Martial Arts Kid is a surprisingly enjoyable experience, filled with humor, realness, and action. Although the script falters at times, serving up some laughable dialogue and occasionally falling prey to all too familiar clichés, director and co-writer Michael Baumgarten still manages to quell strong comparisons to a certain other kid martial artist by crafting a film with authentic martial arts action coupled with wholesome family values. Martial Arts Kid is a spirited independent film that has serious promise of becoming its own franchise and it opens itself up for a sequel.
For more information, please visit: http://www.martialartskidmovie.com/
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★