NOTE: I’m reposting this introduction to the world of Miami Connection and Y.K. Kim as the film finally starts hitting theaters this coming weekend. You can see exactly where it will be playing over the next few weeks right here- if there’s anyplace near you, I highly suggest you get a group together and make this happen for yourself…
Violence and gore by the buckets?
Enthrallingly shitty acting?
Quotably absurd dialogue?
Catchy musical component?
Compelling movie-out-of-its-time Cinderella comeback story?
Charming, megalomaniacal and vaguely delusional central creative figure?
Oh man, check.
Those are many of the key characteristics that have set apart the very limited collection of films that have at different points in the last few decades managed to escaped the realm of mere forgotten badness and find a sustained life as midnight oddities and cult obsessions. Films like The Room, Troll 2, Birdemic and, to a lesser degree, Pink Flamingoes, The Evil Dead, and Donnie Darko have all scraped to find life in theaters week after week, year after year. Obviously the crowning Midnight Movie is The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which is as much a cinematic institution at this point as any Sight & Sound recognized classic. Their paths have all been different, be it the organic growth of Troll 2 showings that culminated with the charming documentary Best Worst Movie, or the more forced marketing triumphs of, say, a Birdemic.
Well I’m here to tell you that there’s a new Midnight Movie with its own compelling history and brewing cult following in town, the only difference being that it’s way goddamn better and badder than all of that I’ve mentioned so far.
That film is Miami Connection and, if you haven’t already, check out the film’s trailer.
Imagine the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, except most of the guys are much older than teenagers, they’re all normal humans, they absolutely hateninjas, and Splinter still likes to hang out and be cool with the young guys. This is the dynamic of Dragon Sound, a group of martial artists and musicians who live a life of homework, pizza, Friday night club performances, and general do-gooding. They are led by Mike (Grandmaster Y.K. Kim) who is the moral compass and guiding trainer of this band. There is also John, who happens to be dating a girl whose brother is wrapped up tight with a Ninja syndicate that is wreaking havoc on the cocaine trafficking in Central Florida. Eventually the leader of the Ninja clan decides to eliminate Dragon Sound to simplify his partner’s life, which wraps the group up in an adventure that will save Orlando from the scourge of cocaine and ninjutsu.
All of this paves the way for much martial arts action, 80s rock jamming, and some light romantic and family drama, all revolving around the friendship of these four guys and their strangely aged leader. Relatively speaking, the plot is much more coherent than a number of midnight movies, though it’s not without its share of absurd distractions. What’s refreshing here is that the balance between goofy tangents and a brisk potboiler crime movie are perfect for keeping the film entertaining and watchable without losing the sense of amateurism that makes it an oddity.
You’ve probably had the experience of getting excited about showing a so-bad-it’s-good film to your friend or at a party, and as everyone gets a few drinks in them and gets excited you turn it on. Usually it only takes 20 minutes or so to realize that the shouts of “what the fuck?!” and “No way!” have turned into a group of bored people talking, while a shitty movie plays as background noise. That’s not likely to happen with Miami Connection, as the very legitimate martial arts action, catchy tunes, and quotability will get most through the brisk 83 minutes.
For this one I think it’s best to point to Drafthouse Films telling of the tale of Miami Connection’s resurrection…
Following Miami Connection’s very limited theatrical and scarce VHS release in 1987, the film vanished into obscurity. Over two decades later, Alamo Drafthouse programmer Zack Carlson blindly purchased a rare 35mm print from a reluctant eBay seller for $50. A small test screening of the film’s first reel unveiled a relentless fury of ninjas, rock ‘n’ roll, lawless bikers and brutal knife fights. The crowd lost their minds. “We have multiple weekly 35mm exploitation series at the Drafthouse, and Miami Connection has repeatedly destroyed our audience in a more powerful way than anything else in the 15 years of our theater’s existence,” says Carlson. The film has since screened across the country at select festivals and repertory.
How great is that? The film was lost and is now found, which is a narrative midnight movie fans love to be a part of, and yet its rise from exploitation-series afterthought to full on Drafthouse release is purely the result of fervent enthusiasm from peopling seeing the film and loving it!
Now the film has made it’s debut at Fantastic Fest in preparation for a VOD and Blu-ray release, and you’ll be seeing blogs covering it heavily. The FF showing was truly nuts, as was the two-song Dragon Sound concert that followed. It’s been a film geek zeitgeisty event that you’ll definitely be hearing about for a while.
Here’s some of that video:
The only two filmmaking professionals involved with Miami Connection were the D.P. and the co-director, which is a great combination with the amateur everything else. While in no way spectacular in either sense, the film is shot and lit competently enough that it goes down smooth. And where there were almost no film pros involved, there’s almost nothing but martial arts professionals in the film, so whereas the drama of The Room is all delusional incompetence, and the gore of Troll 2 is anti-budget primitivism, there’s no laughing at the fury of Miami Connection. While there are plenty of silly beats and moments woven into fights, there is some serious ass kicking going on. Y.K. Kim filled the film with his students, and proceeded to beat the shit out of them in his homage to the work of Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris. Obviously it never reaches those levels- but ironically exhilarating the film is not.
The So Bad It’s Good
It’s an earnest amateurism in the acting that so often fuels the ironic love for Midnight Movies, and this is where Miami Connection definitely follows the path. While villain Si Y Jo and ostensible lead Vincent Hirsch come the closest to giving genuine performances, most of the dialogue is stilted, and gracelessly delivered. Thankfully the film isn’t too thick with dialogue, so the film doesn’t require an ironic fixation on the cheesiness to function. That said, when it goes bad, it does it hard. One monologue from Maurice Smith about losing his parents is so profoundly over-emoted that it trumps Tommy Wiseau on his cheesiest day, and is destined to be a memorized and recited favorite among cult fans. The rest shakes out as over done “Nooooooo!” moments and the like scattered through the fights, along with a few hilarious phrasings like “stupid cocaine.”
Beyond the performances there are a few hilarious choices in the script, including an extended scene of Y.K. Kim training with his team by way of a clunky exhibition of Taekwando tactics. That said, even here the film is at least setting up a bit of foreshadowing that it pays off later. Y.K. Kim partly made the film to promote the more spiritual, lifestyle teachings of the martial arts, so be ready for some fabulous tangents in that direction.
Here is where it’s time to mention the two-song soudntrack of the film, as “performed” by Dragon Sound (few of the actors actually played instruments). The songs “Against The Ninja” and “Friends” make for astoundingly catchy and upbeat backdrops for the film’s action, and they’re tracks (which you can download for free) you’re sure to have a blast with and drop at parties often.
To enjoy Miami Connection is to enter the world of Y.K. Kim, who could not only kick Tommy Wiseau’s ass, but also rivals even The Room‘s infamous creator in his dedication to self-promotion. That said, Kim is also imbued with a healthy spirit of sweentness, a la George Hardy, and though he’s definitely all about selling the path of Kim, he’s also devoted to making people’s lives better along with his own.
This introductory video is all you really need to see to get it.
As the coverage and travels of the film continue, you’ll see that like Wiseau and Hardy, Kim (and his bandmates in Dragon Sound) are an essential part of the new cult of Miami Connection. The Grandmaster and his disciples moved on from this film 25 years ago, so the amount of humility and genuine joy they’re getting from the film’s new life is a delightful thing to witness. Some band members even thought the initial calls about reunions and new screenings were practical jokes, until they saw the roaring fans with their own eyes.
I ‘ll have an extensive interview with Grandmaster Kim on the site closer to release, but I think it’s enough now to describe entering the interview room to discover a massive stack of coffee table books sitting in front of Kim. These were his own Taekwando books from the mid-80s and after our interview he dedicated one to “My Best Friend Renn Brown,” something he did for many of the press folks he spent time with that day. Though it tripled the load in my bookbag for the rest of the day, it was a lovely gesture for a man who is still clearly shocked by all that’s happening.
So where it goes from here is anybody’s guess. Even with the Fantastic Fest glow on it, I’m absolutely sure Miami Connection deserves to have the kind of response and following of The Room and Troll 2, but whether the world has changed too much –even in the last couple of years– to allow such a thing to develop is still to be determined. The Blu-ray from Drafthouse Films will be great, I have no doubt, but it will be the VOD and theatrical response that really matters. I would assume theater distribution will be limited to the Alamo network, but this is where a service like TUGG could come in. Could Miami Connection be the first TUGG mega-hit, where fans across the country build the midnight momentum of the film? That’s not a path that’s been fully traveled yet or even proven to be viable, but maybe Y.K. Kim and crew will be trailblazers once again…
I’m not sure I’ve fully captured the magic and portent of Miami Connection, as it can be difficult to describe what has become an event at a film festival with a very cultivated, insular audience and expect anyone outside of the bubble to give a shit. That said, I really do think this is one you’re going to be hearing more about in the next few months, and something you’re going to have a great time discovering and sharing with others.
The rollout begins with screenings through November (check the site for dates/places) and then the Blu-ray/VOD drop on December 11th.
Remember: always be against the goddamn ninja…