Bullying is a popular theme for filmmakers now and is the inspiration for the family-friendly martial-arts tale The Martial Arts Kid. My first reaction to the title was that this was going to be a new take on or satire of The Karate Kid , but that’s not where the film went.
The story focuses on Robbie, played by Jansen Panettiere (Ice Age: The Meltdown, Summer Forever), Hayden Panettiere’s younger brother. Robbie, an orphaned teenager living with his grandmother in Ohio, falls in with a bad crowd. When Grandma sees Robbie being handcuffed by police, she cries out “I can’t take anymore!”, and Robbie finds himself on a plane to Florida to live with his uncle and aunt.
His uncle, played by Don “The Dragon” Wilson (Blood Fist, Lion Strike), and aunt, played by Cynthia “Lady Dragon” Rothrock (Night Vision, Badass Showdown), attempt to instill a sense of responsibility and normalness to his life. As he explores his new surroundings, however, he inadvertently makes an enemy of the town bully, played by Matthew Ziff (Six Gun Savior), when he’s caught talking to the bully’s girlfriend, played by Kathryn Newton (Paranormal Activity 4).
It’s only after he gets in trouble, that Robbie discovers that his aunt is an expert martial artist and that his uncle runs a martial arts school. As Robbie learns to deal with his new situation, his journey is intertwined with his uncle’s rivalry with the cross-town MMA school. Classic martial arts battles ensue.
The MMA school is run by Kaine, played by another veteran martial artist, T.J. Storm (Kickboxer: Vengence). Actress Natasha Blasick (Paranormal Activity 2), plays Kaine’s girlfriend Nika in an entertaining cameo.
Despite all the martial-arts fighting that goes on, the film is not bloody or scary and maintains an uplifting, positive message. It is unrated, but I saw no reason young kids shouldn’t watch this. Robbie’s transformation from an irresponsible goofball to an honest, self-disciplined young man is a theme kids should see.
The Martial Arts Kid is shot in Cocoa Beach, Florida, Don Wilson’s hometown. At times the film borders on a promotional piece for the town, but this doesn’t detract from the story.
Wilson, who has a career in martial arts films going back to the 1980s, has moved into the production end of the business. He financed this film through a Kickstarter campaign and had major support from the martial arts community.
Most the cast is made up of trained martial artists who were recruited in open casting calls, which are featured in the DVD’s special features.
DVD Special Features
The DVD includes the theatrical trailer, deleted scenes and an amusing commentary with filmmakers and cast members. It also includes a section titled “The Journey” which lets you share in the filmmaking experience. You see the film’s launch party, scouting for locations, casting, production, and the filmmakers working the festival circuit.
In addition to being available as a DVD or Blu-Ray, you can stream the film on Amazon or iTunes.