The Martial Arts Kid

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
The Martial Arts Kid Movie Poster Image
Karate Kid homage offers decent messages, so-so story.
  • NR
  • 2015
  • 105 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The story focuses on learning discipline, confidence, and generosity in order to be a serious martial artist. There's also a strong message about being helpful and treating others with respect and kindness. The movie discourages the idea that martial arts should be used as an excuse to be aggressive or start fights.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Aunt Cindy and Uncle Glen take Robbie in and give him a stable environment, which enables him to turn his life around and become more disciplined and focused. Robbie changes from a slacker delinquent to a serious practitioner of martial arts. He cares about his family and defends the girl he loves. Glen tries to instill in his students that martial arts aren't about getting into or starting fights but about discipline and defense.

Violence

Teens are pursued and subdued/cuffed by police. An abusive bully pushes and punches a kid for chatting up his girlfriend. The jealous boyfriend pushes his girlfriend into his car, grabs her roughly another time, and finally rips a locket off her neck and stomps on it after they've broken up. Many martial-arts fights; some involve sparring in the ring, and others are to protect people, but the last ones are more like street fights but with martial arts. A mugger with a knife is treated to a swift kick/beat down. An angry customer grabs a man and is about to punch him when a martial arts practitioner saves the day. The owner of Dojo Extreme's motto is "Assess, Assert, Dismantle."

Sex

A few kisses between a teen couple. A few women dressed in tight, revealing clothes are ogled. A guy stares longingly at a girl several times. A woman flirts with a man to make her boyfriend jealous. Some martial arts performed shirtless.

Language

Limited use of words including "badass," "stupid, "damn," "hell," and "loser."

Consumerism

Products/brands seen include a couple of Jeep Wranglers, MartialArtsStore.com, Ron Jon (a whole scene is shot in one, and a couple wears Ron Jon T-shirts), Converse.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink/toast at a party/reception.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Martial Arts Kid's story is fairly similar to that of The Karate Kid: A bullied teen decides to take martial arts lessons to feel more confident. Although there's quite a bit of martial arts violence, as well as some scenes of near-muggings and bullying, it's all meant to illustrate the greater point that martial arts should be about discipline and defense, not aggression and alpha-male bragging rights. There's also some mild language and a few kisses, but -- like The Karate Kid -- it's nothing older tweens can't handle.

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What's the story?

THE MARTIAL ARTS KID follows the story of Robbie (Jansen Panettiere), who's sent to live with his aunt in Florida after his grandmother decides he's had too many brushes with the authorities to stay with her. Down in the sleepy beach town of Melbourne, Robbie lives with his Aunt Cindy (Cynthia Rothrock), Uncle Glen (Don "The Dragon" Wilson), and cousin Katie (Kayley Stallings). After Robbie flirts with a pretty girl, her angry boyfriend, Bo (Matthew Ziff), bullies him mercilessly. When Robbie sees Aunt Cindy use martial arts to take down a thief, he finds out that Uncle Glen owns a martial arts school. Inspired to change his ways, Robbie begs Glen to teach him, and the training begins. Bo, it turns out, also takes martial arts, but at an aggressive dojo where destroying the enemy is prioritized over discipline. As Robbie gets better and better, he and Bo hurtle toward an inevitable kick-for-kick fight.

Is it any good?

Part Karate Kid homage and part '80s after-school special, this is a surprisingly retro story that's best suited for the most devoted MMA and martial arts fans, who may actually recognize the cast. A lot about The Martial Arts Kid feels like it was made in the '80s -- like the cheesy soundtrack with inspirational original rock ballads, the overly simplified story of a new kid in town who doesn't fit in, and even the high-waisted pastel-colored shorts the love interest wears throughout the movie.

Then there's the issue that the entire movie, from the title to the major plot points, feels borrowed directly from The Karate Kid. The dialogue even pokes fun at the various similarities, because Glen tells Robbie that he can "wax on, wax off" all he wants, but it's not going to get him what he wants. The movie's messages are definitely positive, but except for the actual martial arts scenes, the story is pretty forgettable and over-familiar. Still, if you happen to recognize the names of the martial artists in the cast, it might be worth it to see their kicks and moves in and out of the sparring ring.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the popularity of "new kid in town" stories like The Martial Arts Kid. Why are they so compelling? Why are underdogs so easy to cheer for?

  • What does Robbie learn about the martial arts? How different is his uncle's studio than "Dojo Extreme"?

  • Discuss the teen romances in The Martial Arts Kid. Which ones are healthy, and which ones aren't? What should you do if you see a girl being pushed and treated roughly by her boyfriend?

  • How are the fights in this movie different from other types of cinema violence? What's the impact of media violence on kids?

Movie details

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