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‘The Martial Arts Kid’ (review)

Produced by Cheryl Wheeler Duncan,
James E. Wilson

Written by Michael Baumgarten,
Adam W. Marsh

Directed by Michael Baumgarten
Starring Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson,
Cynthia Rothrock,
Jansen Panettiere,
Kathryn Newton, Matthew Ziff,
T.J. Storm, Chuck Zito

A bit of a stylistic throwback, and with a lot of homage paid to The Karate Kid with some modern day tweaking, The Martial Arts Kid goes more the family-friendly route than you might expect from movies featuring Don “The Dragon” Wilson (Bloodfist) and Cynthia Rothrock (Lady Dragon).

A delinquent high school kid from Cleveland, Robbie, portrayed by Jansen Panettiere (Ice Age: Meltdown, Robots) is sent to live with his aunt Cindy (Rothrock) and uncle Glen (Wilson) to finish up the school year, encounters bullying via the film’s primary antagonist, Bo (Matthew Ziff, Kickboxer: Vengeance) after showing interest in a girl named Rina (Kathryn Newton) and finds himself interested in Glen’s Tang Soo Do dojo after witnessing Cindy neutralize an attacker with relative ease. The other side of the martial arts coin presents itself upon Robbie also visiting the MMA gym where Bo trains under Coach Kaine, played by TJ Storm (The Wrecking Crew), who teaches a more overtly aggressive style under the mantra “Assess… Assert… Dismantle!”

A love story and significant character development is intertwined with the martial arts themes, which culminate not only in a match between Robbie and Bo, but also an all out brawl between the two schools.

The pacing is a little slow at first, and the love story stuff tends to bog the film down at times, but Panettiere is able to show some solid acting chops in some places, if not a bit overdone on occasion. Panettiere is also able to show some incredible athletic ability in the fight scenes, among the best you’ll see for this kind of story and family movie in recent memory.

Wilson, Rothrock and Storm all have their opportunities to show their amazing abilities and do very well in their respective mentor characters. Ziff does a very good job of being hateful, and Storm hams it up a little as Kaine. Some of the inner conflict and redeeming qualities of Bo and Kaine, however, are only briefly touched upon and then quickly forgotten. This also works both ways for the styles themselves: while Kaine’s MMA gym fills the Cobra Kai role, hopefully the audience does not take that as a reflection of MMA in general.

One thing that sets The Martial Arts Kid apart from The Karate Kid is that, rather than the martial arts being a backdrop for character development, here you’ll see martial arts take front and center as a vital component to the film. Rather than simple philosophy and the occasional technique via household chores thrown in Miyagi-style, several of the training sequences here feature legitimate techniques, moves and principles that the audience might end up wanting to try out for themselves afterwards in a training session of their own. This is one of the more impressive movies of its type, and with a crowdfunded budget, a sequel (teased near the end of the film via Chuck Zito as Bo’s father) could prove very interesting

Filmed in Cocoa Beach, Florida. Directed by Michael Baumgarten (Pretty Obsession, The Guest House), written by Michael Baumgarten and Adam W. Marsh. Fight Choreography by the immortal James Lew (Big Trouble in Little China, Best of the Best).

The Martial Arts Kid is available exclusively at


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