Thursday, December 20, 2012


(US - 1988)

Directed by Richard Park.  Written by Joseph Diamond and Richard Park.  Cast: Y.K. Kim, Vincent Hirsch, Joseph Diamond, Maurice Smith, Angelo Janotti, Kathy Collier, William Ergle, Si Y. Jo, Richard Park, William Young, Jack McLaughlin, John Escobar.  (Unrated, 87 mins)

Since being filmed in central Florida in 1986 at the height of the staggeringly prolific B-movie ninja craze, MIAMI CONNECTION has taken a strange and unexpected journey from lost film to cult movie sensation.  The brainchild of Z-grade NINJA TURF director Richard Park and Korean Tae Kwon Do instructor/motivational speaker/co-producer Grandmaster Y.K. Kim, MIAMI CONNECTION centers on Dragon Sound, Orlando's top Tae Kwon Do rockers: guitarist Mark (Kim), singer/guitarist Tom (Angelo Janotti), keyboardist Jim (Maurice Smith), drummer Jack (co-writer Joseph Diamond), bassist John (Vincent Hirsch), and new female singer and John's girlfriend Jane (Kathy Collier).  Dragon Sound gets a steady gig as the house band at Park Avenue ("Central Florida's hottest nightclub"), which enrages the frontman (Jack McLaughlin) of the band they replaced.  On top of that, Jane's insanely jealous brother Jeff (William Ergle), the Orlando distributor for Yoshito (Si Y. Jo), Miami's top cocaine dealer, doesn't want her seeing John.  While the members of Dragon Sound (orphaned best friends who live together and attend the University of Central Florida) just want to live by the philosophies of Tae Kwon Do, play their music, hang out at the restaurant owned by fatherly Uncle Song (Park), and tour the world to promote peace and goodwill, they have to deal with the kung-fu treachery of Jeff's goons and the lethal ninja motorcycle gang dispatched by Yoshito.

Park (who died in 2006 and never got to see MIAMI CONNECTION's cult rebirth) saw Kim giving a Tae Kwon Do demonstration on a Korean talk show and wanted to make a movie with him.  Kim had moved from Seoul to Orlando in 1976, where he opened a Tae Kwon Do school. The cast is made up of non-professional actors, and almost all of the main co-stars were Kim's students and most of them agreed to work as crew members as well (Janotti, who could actually play guitar and read music, helped write Dragon Sound's songs).  They were a group of friends who sincerely believed in this project.  Kim tried to shop it around to various distributors and nobody was interested in it.  According to the Blu-ray liner notes by Alamo Drafthouse Cinema programmer Zack Carlson (more on him shortly), Kim took the advice of one distribution agent and made some significant changes to the film without Park's involvement, reshooting a large chunk of it despite having no filmmaking experience and referring to a filmmaking how-to book between shots, totally learning how to direct on the fly (Park still retains sole directing credit).  The film managed to get picked up by the low-rent grindhouse outfit Manson International and it opened on about eight screens in the Orlando area in September of 1988, where it died a quick death and vanished, seemingly never to be heard from again.  A disappointed Kim abandoned his dreams of movie stardom and returned to operating his successful Tae Kwon Do school, unaware that his instantly obscure film would be accidentally rediscovered over two decades later.

Cut to 2009, when Carlson stumbles upon a listing for a 35mm print of something called MIAMI CONNECTION while browsing eBay.  Just out of idle curiosity, he purchases it for the Buy-It-Now price of $50 and decides to screen it at the Alamo Drafthouse in the hipster mecca of Austin, TX for the cinema's "Weird Wednesday" program, with the caveat that no one had watched it and he had no idea what it was about.  The audience loved it and the film immediately became a must-see staple at the Alamo Drafthouse, eventually getting a national theatrical release on the midnight movie circuit in the fall of 2012, followed by a recent Blu-ray and DVD release. Unlike a lot of midnight movies these days, where the usual justification for watching and mocking it is that "it's so bad, it's good," MIAMI CONNECTION, while terribly-made, laughably naive, and displaying everything aesthetically horrible about 1986 (the mullets, the fashions, the music) is undeniably infectiously entertaining.  Even the most cynical, seen-it-all cineaste will find themselves being won over by the unbelievable, heart-on-its-sleeve sincerity of the film.  The fight scenes are ineptly staged, the script is a joke (early on, marvel at one of the clumsiest exposition drops ever in the way Jane shoehorns her backstory in after John meets her after class; shouldn't he already know these things about her if they're a couple?), the acting is atrocious (you haven't lived until you've seen Smith deliver Jim's heartfelt monologue about his long-lost father), you can barely understand anything Kim says, the editing is less than fluid (some scenes just stop), and the songs are awful...but you won't be able to help yourself.  You will be cheering Dragon Sound on.  You will be singing along to such songs as "Friends" and "Against the Ninja."  You will, despite every fiber of your being telling you that it's wrong, have a genuine blast watching this thing.

Image Entertainment/Drafthouse Films' Blu-ray (1.85:1 anamorphic) looks surprisingly good considering that the original negative was damaged in flooding from a hurricane in 2004.  Carlson hosts a commentary track featuring Kim and Diamond, and all five members of Dragon Sound are interviewed in another segment.  Also included in the special features are Park's original, far more downbeat ending, deleted scenes (the best being Dragon Sound getting booted out of a music instrument store by the irate manager, fed up with them always coming in to jam but never buying anything), and footage from a Dragon Sound reunion show (!) at the 2012 Fantastic Fest.  YES!

Unlike bad-movie favorites of recent years like TROLL 2 , THE ROOM, and BIRDEMIC, MIAMI CONNECTION is that rare bad movie that you find yourself not mocking with hipper-than-thou snark, but legitimately enjoying.  It's genuinely earnest, well-meaning, and filled with hokey positivity that will win over even the most jaded viewer. In other words, you have to be a total dick to not find this thing incredibly entertaining and Y.K. Kim's belated, dreams-really-do-come-true success story oddly moving.  What else can I say?  I love MIAMI CONNECTION. 

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