Underdog Kids online movie review - "I hate to say it, but your kids really suck"
Imagine my delight when I found out that taekwondo maestro Phillip Rhee was returning to movies after a 17-year hiatus.
The fact that it was for a family film only lightly dampened my enthusiasm, but that thudding noise you heard earlier today was the sound of my crest falling when I saw just how stinky of a picture this turned out to be. UNDERDOG KIDS is clearly Rhee's passion project, and while I like the idea of a positive coming-of-age karate flick, it does far too many things wrong to endear anyone but very tolerant viewers.
The story: An ex-MMA champ (Rhee) coaches troubled inner-city youths en-route to a tournament which will pit them against the nefarious Beverly Hills Junior National Team.
Other reviewers have called it before me, and I concur that this a pretty obvious melding of THE KARATE KID and Rhee's own BEST OF THE BEST. I don't mind the mix, but the filmmakers have disappointingly decided to go the sappiest and most juvenile route with it that they could have. Whatever the movie has to offer in the way of inspirational life lessons has been dipped in schmaltz and covered in cheese, because one of the few things that can halt the pitiful sob stories of the kids and the hammy character-building of Captain Rhee is the asinine comedy, the highlight of which involves the designated fat kid of the group winning a match by farting in an opponent's face.
To their credit, almost all of the featured children have some serious moves, and if placed in the hands of more ambitious directors, they could probably make one heck of an action movie. Most of the fights here aren't bad, but aside from the overuse of slow motion and occasionally choppy editing, the tone of the movie ensures that the importance of these scenes never rises above that of a bunch of kids fighting each other ? not even with the gravity of THE HUNGER GAMES. Richard Norton, Don Wilson, Dan Inosanto, Benny Urquidez, and Jun Chong pop up briefly, but not only do they not fight, they don't even have any dialogue. Phillip Rhee himself only has one match, and I am 90% sure that he's been considerably stunt-doubled.
I'm all for martial arts in the family medium, even when it goes against my expectations, but even if there are some kids over the age of eight who are up to sitting through this, I don't think their parents will be. As both a filmmaker and veteran of the golden era of low-budget karate movies, Phillip Rhee represents one of our best chances of seeing the style of yesteryear revived in the new millennium, but if UNDERDOG KIDS is a taste of what Rhee is interested in doing with his experience, I will be less interested in any future features he directs. Skip it.