Drifter TKD (2008)

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Best known for his role as Ian Reilly in the Hong Kong-U.S. crossover film No Retreat, No Surrender, Ron Pohnel stars, writes, edits, and directs this shot-on-video action film that revolves around the connection between martial arts and the corporate world and features a veteran cast including former Power Rangers actor Blake Foster, Mel Novak, Leo Fong, and Ron Hall. In other words, get ready for a nostalgic flashback.

The film revolves around Harrison Luke, a taekwondo master who is operating his own dojang only to learn that Thomas Tyler, the CEO of Tylertech Industries, has taken over and has incorporated ten of the top taekwondo schools in Los Angeles, including Harrison’s. Harrison becomes increasingly upset to learn that the schools will be run by Thomas’ son Jesse, who turns out to be a former student of Harrison’s. Harrison decides not to join Tyler and leaves the school in disgust, turning himself into a drifter.

When Jesse about his father’s recent deal, he is not happy with the result as he believes in his teacher’s philosophy of martial arts. When Jesse learns that Harrison has disappeared, he decides to go find him and explain to him his side of the story. When Thomas learns that Jesse has disappeared as well, Thomas hires private investigator Jack Marco to find Jesse and bring him back.

Eventually, Jesse and Harrison meet up. Harrison has become a taekwondo instructor to some homeless people in a shanty town. His new students include Army brat Kelly, the not-all-there Charlie Wig, and stick fighting expert Carla. At first, Harrison is upset at Jesse but once Jesse tells him his side of the story, the duo are forced to team up against a gang of thugs who learn of Harrison and realize that his late uncle owned a ranch that was illegally taken and is on its way to become a golf course. However, Harrison has the real documents proving that he is the legitimate owner of the ranch and the thugs will do anything to stop Harrison.

One has wondered what had become of Ron Pohnel since his No Retreat, No Surrender days. After all, he did give one of the best fights of the film when he took on Jean-Claude Van Damme before JCVD gets beaten by the hero of the film. Well, since NRNS, Pohnel relocated to Hawaii where he worked on a talk show and did some other films, eventually forming his own company, Webgeeks Productions.

In this film, he does a lot of work both in front and behind the cameras. He is the titular “Drifter TKD”, Harrison Luke, a taekwondo master whose philosophies on the martial arts are more important than those of the corporate world and their connection to the martial arts. Undeterred by the loss of his school, he leaves Los Angeles and becomes a recluse who tries to find a “home” and on the way, gets to kick some butt.

While Pohnel leads the way in the film, the supporting cast is comprised of veterans such as Mel Novak, perhaps best known for his role as “Stick” in the 1978 Americanized version of Bruce Lee’s Game of Death. Here, Novak plays Thomas Tyler, the CEO of Tylertech who makes a plan to make big money by incorporating the taekwondo schools of Los Angeles. His “henchman” Stevens is played by veteran martial arts actor Ron Hall, who is one of the flashiest martial artists on-screen. However, don’t expect any action from Hall as his role is merely a speaking role.

In the role of Jesse Tyler, Thomas’ son who is not happy with his father’s plans is 2nd-degree black belt and former child actor Blake Foster. Foster is best known for his role as Justin, the Blue Ranger in Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie and the series that was spawned, Power Rangers Turbo. Foster gets to show that he has not lost his skills in acting and martial arts in the film. Making a cameo as Master Lee is the always great-to-see veteran Leo Fong. While Fong’s on-screen time is limited, he still is great to see on screen. In fact, at 81 years old, Fong still continues to work on films and promote his passion of martial arts.

The film does has some comic relief to compliment the more serious tone of the film. It is provided by bumbling private instigator Jack Marco, played by Ron Encarnacion, who only got the job because he is the boyfriend of Thomas’ secretary; and the homeless bumpkin Charlie Wig, played by David Fultz. When Charlie Wig is training with Harrison, Harrison’s treatment of Charlie Wig is somewhat reminiscent of Kim Tae-Jeong’s Master Lee to Kurt McKinney’s Jason in NRNS. It has that comic relief that comes out very smoothly. Plus, there is a very funny running gag, especially in the end credit gag reel where this reviewer will forever remember these three words: chicken thieving bastard!

Solara Key plays Army brat Kelly Miles, a young woman who leaves home due to abuse from her step-father. She soon falls for Jesse but finds herself kidnapped by a rich golf course owner/pimp who turns out to have some connection with Harrison’s family. Ron Pohnel’s wife Charl plays Carla, a homeless woman who at one time nearly fell victim to the pimp, but turned out to be quite a stick fighter. There is definitely a romantic connection between Harrison and Carla and by film’s end, one knows what to expect between these two.

The film makes very good use of its locations as well. Shot in both Los Angeles and Tucson, Arizona, the film is not a journey to find a home for the drifter, but it becomes a self-journey of understanding the meaning of martial arts. For the character of Jesse, his journey to find his former instructor also becomes a journey of self-discovery as he soon realizes the meaning of his existence in the corporate world and to be a man of his word.

Which brings us to the fight sequences. While Hollywood A-list films have proven as of late to showcase the wrong way to edit fight scenes due to quick cuts and close ups, not to mention an overabundance of wire effects, Drifter TKD‘s fight scenes are well edited and the execution is reminiscent of the days when you got to see Chuck Norris kick butt on screen in the 80’s and 90’s. While the film was shot-on-video, the editing of the fight scenes, done by Ron Pohnel himself, is well handled and shows not only taekwondo, but a dab of escrima and even Chinese wushu and kung fu.

Pohnel has clearly not lost a step since NRNS and one can only imagine what a rematch between Pohnel and Van Damme would be like on-screen should the likes of Corey Yuen or Mang Hoi choreograph again. Foster did some fight stuff on Power Rangers and with his continuation of training after his stint on the show, shows that he is a capable martial artist on screen as well as off screen. Perhaps with his look and skill, he may be the lead in a martial arts action film someday.

As one who has been fairly disappointed with the lack of good fight scenes in the big A-list movies these days, Drifter TKD is definitely an enjoyable action film. What more can you get when you got the return of Ron Pohnel, a now-grown up Blake Foster, veterans Mel Novak and Leo Fong, and fight scenes not only well executed but edited the right way. This is definitely one to pick a fan’s interest.

WFG Rating: B+

A Webgeeks Productions Film. Director: Ron Pohnel. Producers: Charl Pohnel and Ron Pohnel. Writers: Charl Pohnel and Ron Pohnel. Cinematography: Travis Davis. Editing: Ron Pohnel.

Cast: Ron Pohnel, Mel Novak, Blake Foster, Charl Pohnel, Solara Key, David Fultz, Ron Encarnacion, Luis Banuelos, Richard Pines, Ron Hall, Leo Fong.

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