The Martial Arts Kid is a Karate Kid themed tale following rebellious teen Robbie (Jansen Panettiere) who has various run-ins with the law. He soon moves to Cocoa Beach, Florida to live with his Aunt Cindy (Cynthia Rothrock) and Uncle Glen (Don “The Dragon” Wilson) who also teach martial arts.
Struggling to settle in, Robbie takes a liking to local girl Rina, but her bully boyfriend makes it his mission to punish and humiliate the new kid. In his attempts to stand tall and win the girl, Robbie begins training with his Aunt and Uncle, soon learning that Bo the bully trains at a rival club, leading to the inevitable showdown between both sides.
The Martial Arts Kid is a fun outing. The Karate Kid comparisons are obvious throughout, with a few winks even thrown in, so it doesn’t attempt to reinvent the wheel. However, for fans of this genre, its classic underdog story, the likeable cast, positive messages and frequent action, these factors make it fun.
Martial arts legends Wilson and Rothrock are always great to watch and portray a naturally likeable, charismatic Aunt and Uncle team, while young lead Jansen Panettiere does a good job playing a mischievous but ultimately kind hearted kid. TJ Storm (Black Cobra) makes an imposing villain and it was cool to see Chuck Zito (Homefront, TV’s Oz) in a small cameo. Some performances from the supporting cast are weaker, with many non actors in the fold. In fact, it would have been nice to see more emphasis on the drama driving the action.
The fight choreography by James Lew (TV’s Luke Cage) is simple but lean, mean and capitalises on each star’s abilities, even throwing a few of their signature moves into the mix. It was great to see Aunt Cindy rock the scorpion kick!
While capitalising on the nostalgia (especially seeing these iconic stars) the film’s writing, performances and TV visuals feel like a 90’s family flick at times, not necessarily bad for throwback audiences of a certain age, it should be said. So the film feels dated but, within the borders of this genre, it does work. All in all, The Martial Arts Kid is clean family fun, promotes the values of traditional martial arts and is an enjoyable ride for fans of Wilson, Rothrock and VHS era martial arts cinema fans.
Disclaimer: Watching this movie made me revisit two of my top movies from Wilson and Rothrock… Ring of Fire and Rage and Honor, respectively, so hats off to 90’s American martial arts!
The Martial Arts Kid is out now on Blu-ray, DVD & Digital.