Local martial artist’s skills give a kick to ‘Underdog Kids’


Taking her skills from the mat to the screen, local martial artist Rayna Vallandingham is making her movie debut in “Underdog Kids.” Written and directed by actor and martial artist Phillip Rhee, the family-friendly film is available on DVD and on demand July 7.

“I’ve been waiting for so long,” said 12-year-old Rayna, who lives in Encinitas. “I’m really excited for everyone to see it.”

“Underdog Kids” follows the story of former mixed martial arts champion Jimmy “The Lightning Bolt” Lee (Rhee), who trains a group of underprivileged children in karate. Rayna plays “Leticia Hernandez,” the only girl on the struggling Mid-City Community Center’s karate team.

“I loved the experience,” Rayna said. “I enjoyed working with everyone, especially Phillip. He really is a great martial artist and person, inside and out. He made me feel like family and made me feel welcome. It was my first film and I didn’t know anybody.”

With only a few auditions under her belt, Rayna said her martial arts background gave her the confidence she needed to land her first acting role.

Rayna began studying taekwondo at Church’s ATA Martial Arts in Encinitas when she was 3 years old. Less than a decade later, she has a third-degree black belt and holds 11 taekwondo world titles.

With a goal to one day compete in the Olympics, Rayna is training with Olympian Peter Lopez and three-time Olympic coach Jean Lopez. In February, she won the Nevada State Taekwondo Championship.

“She is so terrific,” Rhee said. “Her role shows girl power. It empowers little girls because she is a champion in her own right.”

Rhee, who also stars in the film, was inspired by the struggles of American families during the recession when he created the concept for “Underdog Kids.”

“Everyone was going through a difficult time,” Rhee said. “I wanted to make a movie that really inspired kids and brought families together.”

“In the film, these misfit kids have nothing,” he explained. “One thing they do have is a coach that instills in them to take everything that’s negative in their lives and turn it into something positive.”

The film was shot July through mid-August 2013 in Southern California.

The 94-minute, PG-rated movie also co-stars Adam Irigoyen, of the Disney Channel series “Shake It Up,” Ryan Potter of “Big Hero 6” and the Nickelodeon series “Supah Ninjas,” Cade Sutton, Mirelly Taylor, Patrick Fabian, Tom Arnold and Beau Bridges.

“This movie will make people laugh, it will make people cry and it will make people cheer,” Rhee said. “I think those are the best kind of movies.”

“I really hope that all the people watching will really be inspired by the story and go after their dreams,” Rayna added. “Anything is possible. Never give up.”

Distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment, “Underdog Kids” is available on DVD and on demand July 7 from Starz Digital.

For more about the film, visit