John G. Avildsen, director of Rocky
and The Karate Kid
, adapts Bryce Courtenay's compassionate novel about the coming of age of a white anti-apartheid activist during the years of World War II in South Africa. Avildsen cumbersomely grafts Courtenay's tale of fighting apartheid onto a Hollywood-style fight-for-the-championship bout. Seven-year-old P.K. (Guy Witcher) is a white South African raised on his family's farm by his Zulu nanny. When his mother takes ill, he is sent away to an Afrikaner boarding school, where he is picked on and nearly killed by the school bully during a pep rally for Hitler
. P.K. survives and is sent to live with his grandfather. He befriends Doc (Armin Mueller-Stahl), a jailed German musician, and a black inmate (Morgan Freeman), who teaches P.K. how to use his fists for some quick boxing moves. At 12, P.K. (now played by Simon Fenton), witnesses black inmates being cruelly humiliated by their racist white jailers. Taking note of P.K.'s fluidity for languages, his black mentor spreads the word that P.K. is the incarnation of the mythic Rain Maker, a messianic liberator who is destined to unite all the African tribes. By the time he's 18 years old, P.K. (now played by Stephen Dorff) is becoming the Great White Hope for the black Africans, boxing his way into their hearts and minds. He joins up with an old boxing foe (Alois Moyo), who is now a township activist, and takes up the apartheid struggle. But things get confusing when P.K. falls in love with the daughter (Fay Masterson) of an apartheid leader.