Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Power Kids

This originally appeared at

Fuck “The Karate Kid.” Am I the only one who has a problem with the fact that, in a movie called “The Karate Kid,” he goes to China and learns kung fu? Looking at the box office returns from this past weekend it certainly looks that way. Why didn’t they just call it “The Karate Kid Learns Kung Fu”? Then I would have no problem with it.

My irrational anger notwithstanding, if you want to watch children fight, instead of wasting your time on this latest Hollywood rehash of one of my precious childhood memories (and on the same weekend at the “A Team” retread no less), you should watch “Power Kids”.

“Power Kids” is a product of Prachya Pinkaew (“Ong-Bak”, “Tom-Young-Goong”) and his Baa-Ram-Ewe production company, and translates the adrenalin fueled, Muay Thai action of his previous movies to kids. “Power Kids” is full to overflowing with adorable little children, who could beat the living hell out of me, running around, jumping off of things, and throwing flying knees. That’s why I love Thailand. American’s national sport is baseball, while theirs is the one of the world’s most brutal martial arts.

Wuth (Nantawooti Boonrapsap), Pong (Paytaai Wongkamlao), Catt (Sasisa Jindamanee), and Jib (Nawarat Techarathanathanprasert) are all students who live at Master Lek’s (Arunya Pawilai) Thai Boxing academy. I’m not sure where their parents are in all of this, but the only time any of their progenitors are mentioned is in relation to Pong, whose father is a famous country singer/comedian (Petchtai Wongkamlao, Dirty Balls from “Ong-Bak”, and also his real life father), but only appears in the film via photograph.

Despite being happy-go-lucky, junior badasses (they come together to beat up a giant muscle-man in a slapstick scene that shows their unity through groin pummeling), these kids have all the standard kid problems, bullies on four-wheelers, drunken Americans, the big RC-car race tomorrow, and, most pressing, congenital heart defects. Wuth’s younger brother, Wun, has a bad heart and collapses while fleeing some neighborhood toughs. The good news is that the doctors have found a suitable donor organ for transplant and are prepared to perform the operation, just in the nick of time. The bad news is that a group of heavily armed insurgents has taken over the hospital where the heart is, “Die Hard” style.

In four hours the heart will become unusable, so the kids know exactly what they have to do. They don’t even blink. Without pausing they invade the hospital, and the rest of the movie is little kids launching themselves off of things with reckless abandon, and bludgeoning fully grown soldiers, which is exactly as awesome as it sounds.

It is pretty obvious which of the child actors can actually fight. Most of the real action is delegated to Wuth and Catt, whose stunts and fight sequences are impressive for anyone, let alone kids this age. Pong and Jib are generally left to run around and evade the bad guys by hiding under a sheet next to dead bodies in the morgue. Pong is the comic relief, though his shtick wears thin after a while. The climactic fight between Wuth and Catt and the rebel leader (Johnny Nguyen, “Tom-Young-Goong”) in this narrow hallway, is a fitting final battle, and it includes the craziest action of the movie.

The kids are headstrong and brave, but this isn’t “Spy Kids” (which, despite the fact that no one believes me, is an incredible movie in it’s own right). The kids don’t single-handedly take down an armed insurrection and save the day. They’re not commandos, they don’t have a bunch of gadgets, they’re just kids. Also, unlike an American movie, these kids are actually in danger. They get shot, kicked, and beaten, and when this happens, they bleed their own blood. When guys with guns chase them, you feel like there is a real chance that you may see a kid get shot.

The end comes together too tidily to be entirely satisfying, but, unlike a lot of films featuring children, “Power Kids” avoids being overly sentimental and ending on a freeze frame of a group hug.

For my sake, do me a favor. Skip “The Karate Kid Learns Kung Fu”, and watch “Power Kids” instead. You’ll thank me for it later. “Power Kids” are way better than all of the Fresh Prince’s kids combined. And it’s short. The entire film, credits included, times out at 73 minutes.

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