English orphan P.K. is forced to put up with racial hatred at an all-black boarding school. He is taken in by liberal German scientist Doc who teaches him paino before getting locked up in a political prison. While visiting his mentor he meets Geel Piet, a strong African boxer who teaches him the power of African myth, dialect, and the fine art of boxing.
This epic of apartheid, boxing and star-crossed love is a quite astonishing mish-mash of elements in collision. Director Avildsen, who made Rocky, and screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen have turned Bruce Courtenay's reputedly "semi-autobiographical" doorstopper into a melodrama with all the political sophistication of their previous collaboration, The Karate Kid, telling the story of a white South African boy, PK, from his infancy on the veldt to early manhood in late 40s Johannesburg - a modern city, incidentally, represented yet again by a few shacks in Zimbabwe.
PK's life is very tragic. Orphaned and sent to an Afrikaner school where he is tortured for being English, he finds father figures in the cultivated German "Doc" (Mueller-Staid) and black prison inmate Geel Piet (Freeman). On PK's daily visits to Doc, interned for the duration of World War II, the two men devote themselves to the boy - Doc feeding his intellect, Piet teaching him to box.
This is both coming-of-age-ordeal and Cry Freedom revisited, with glorious veldt scenes (shot by Dean Semler) sitting beside cruelly plausible sequence in prison where splendid Freeman's wily wise Piet is forced, literally, to eat shit. Part Two, as it were, goes mad with ludicrous Romeo-And-Juliet-Meets-Rocky developments and black South Africa turning up en masse, singing at touching moments to hail PK as a mythic hero.
Crude, patronising and mawkish, but rescued by excellent performances, beautiful landscape photography, and hard-to-argue-with themes of natural justice, delivered with a punch.