Pros: Mandatory viewing for any Child of the Eighties!
Cons: Incoherent plot, terrible acting, even worse directing.
You have never seen The Miami Connection, a low budget flick from the late eighties that was all but forgotten until its accidental rediscovery a couple of years ago by B-Movie deities the Alamo Drafthouse. Part Vanity Project, part Public Service Announcement from motivational speaker/taekwondo master Y.K. Kim, it is, quite possibly the most eighties Eighties Movie I have ever seen in my long Bad Movie Watching career. Big Hair? Check! Muscle shirts? Check! Cocaine smugglers in pastel suits? Check! Keytars? Check! Ninja? Check! Its like the whole decade compressed into one 80 minute movie – and IT! IS! GLORIOUS!
We open in Orlando, Florida – and no that isn’t a typo. Despite being the Miami Connection, the film does not take place anywhere near Miami – in the middle of the night as a group of nicely dressed Colombians come ashore to meet another group of well dressed people with Uzis. This, of course, is a drug deal going down – cocaine, to be precise. Suddenly The White Ninja and his Ninja clan show up on motorcycles, kill everyone with Kung Fu and takes the blow and money for themselves.
Cut to The Hottest Nightclub in Orlando (and not Miami) and the opening of Dragon Sound, a new wave band of Tae Kwon Do masters. We’ve got The Asian Guy (Grandmaster Y.K. Kim himself), The Long Faced Guy (Angelo Janotti) on lead guitar, The Black Guy (Maurice Smith) on keyboards, The Other Guy Vincent Hirsch) on Drums, Freddy Mercury (Joe Diamond) on bass and The Chick (Kathy Collier), who also happens to be the love interest with Long Faced Guy. Now, these characters may actually have names, but they’re never actually used in conjunction with each other so I have no idea what these people are called – whatever.
And then a Guy Who Looks Like Chuck Norris shows up. Apparently The Chick is the Guy Who Looks Like Chuck Norris’s sister, and he doesn’t like her hanging out with Long Faced Guy. It also turns out that Guy Who Looks Like Chuck Norris is also in league with the White Ninja. The White Ninja decides that the only way to secure his iron grip on the Orlando (and not Miami) drug trade is by eliminating Dragon Sound!
Cue the non-stop martial arts action, the 80s new wave songs that will stick in your head for a week, the ham fisted romance and overacted family drama as Dragon Sound is caught up in an plot to save Orlando (still not Miami) from the White Ninja’s Cocaine Trafficking. It’s as if the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (and Splinter) were in a band and Shredder dealt in high quality blow. In fact an episode of TMNT might be slightly better scripted than the Miami Connection.
Let me be absolutely, perfectly clear – this movie utterly smashes through the upper tiers of Bad Movie-ness, landing firmly in the Bad Movie Hall of Fame. We’re talking Ed Wood levels of incompetence in film-making and acting. The script is pretty much comprised of what a teenager in the eighties would think is cool, Grand Master Kim can barely speak English phonemically let alone intelligibly, the plot jumps around scene to scene with little regard to continuity or even coherence, actors are stepping on each others lines while clearly looking for the ‘X’ on the ground they should be standing on, the budget must have been a whole fifteen dollars (most of that spent on squibs and kayo syrup), the writing is awful, the direction is horrible and the fight scenes are an incoherent gory mess. It is clear from the very first frames that not only are these bad filmmakers, but nobody on the set has the faintest clue on actually HOW to make a movie.
And it is brilliantly fucking AWWWWWESOME!!!! The Miami Connection is a perfect storm of terrible movie excellence. Much like Ed Wood, the cast and crew of the Miami Connection come equipped with such enthusiasm and boundless energy that the concept of “Hey, this is really crap” doesn’t enter into their heads. They’re having so much fun making a movie that they just didn’t care that the movie made no sense whatsoever.
The story behind the Miami Connection is an underdog comeback tale worthy of Rocky or the Karate Kid. Back in 1987, Korean immigrant Y.K. Kim came to America with only a dream and a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. He teamed with Korean filmmaker Woo-sang Park (the man behind Kill the Ninja and LA Streetfighters – which should tell you all about this movies pedagree), gathered his students and set out to make a movie about a Rock and Roll band that uses the power of friendship (and Tae Kwon Do) to do battle against an evil Florida empire of cocaine-dealing motorcycle ninjas.
In a word, the movie stunk.
The Miami Connection opened in Orlando during a local film festival to a absolutely scathing reception and promptly sank out of sight (save for a limited European release on VHS several years later) and languished in total obscurity for two decades. Enter the Alamo Drafthouse – the famous second run theater in Austin Texas, home of many B-Movie revivals and long time favorite of Harry Knowles, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. The owner of the Drafthouse picked up a 35mm print of the film on Ebay for 50 bucks and screened it during one of their Wednesday Revival nights sight unseen – and the crowd went absolutely apeshit for it. Since then it has enjoyed new life on the revival circuit before being released on DVD and Blu Ray by Drafthouse Films.
While the movie might be terrible, you have to admire YK Kim’s message of dedication and friendship to overcome adversity. The message may be delivered in the most wildly incoherent way possible (A black title card at the end says “Only through the elimination of violence can we achieve world peace” after we’ve watched eighty minuets of kung fu ass kicking, stabbings, and decapitations), but you have to admit that the movie has heart. The characters have such an optimistic outlook, a sense of respect for their master and their martial art, that they genuinely like each other that it’s hard not to get caught up like these guys.
The acting, as I mentioned, is utterly non-existent. When surrounded by Ninja, one of Dragon Sound says “Uh, Ninja” in the most deadpan, monotone offhanded way possible. YK Kim’s thick Korean accent makes every word out of his mouth completely incomprehensible, but the delivery is so earnest that you cant help loving him. Maurice Smith’s breakdown over his missing father is. . . interesting, and his subsequent recovery is like that you tube video of the kid freaking out over getting the Nintendo 64 for Christmas, filled with such raw joy.
That’s the magic that The Miami Connection has managed to tap into, despite being shot by a handful dedicated students and friends who decided one day “Hey, lets make a movie!”. Every single friend that I’ve had the pleasure to show this thing to have had the same reaction: this horrible movie is brilliant! And it was. . . .
THE BAD MOVIE SCORECARD –
BULLETS EXPENDED: 150 (mostly in the first scene)
COOL EXPLOSIONS: Zero
SPRING LOADED CATS: Zero
TOTAL BODY COUNT: 18
GALLONS OF BLOOD USED: Three
MOST MEMORABLE DEATH: The Black Ninja reporting back to his boss, the White Ninja and getting decapitated for his troubles.
BEST LINE: “I didn’t know you had a father. I thought we are all orphans.”
THE DVD –
Before we get into the digital presentation, let me first nod my head to Drafthouse Films. They have completely embraced the eighties-ness of Miami Connection by releasing a VHS version in a big ol’ white clamshell with some really sweet cover artwork that would easily sit on the Video Store shelf with the awesome covers to Chopping Mall, Fear No Evil and Prisoner of the Cannibal God – all the best lurid, atrocious covers that Embassy Home Entertainment had to offer! Plus, if that’s not analog enough for you, you can also get the 12″ vinyl soundtrack of “Against the Ninja” and “Friends forever”! Totally tubular!
Anyway, the DVD is the original 1.85.1 widescreen version – and it looks exactly like what you would expect from a print that was bought off ebay for 50 bucks. All kinds of print damage and scratches pop up here or there and it looks like they used two different sources for the DVD master. The audio is a Dolby digital 2.0 mono track that sounds clear and clean. We also get English subtitles for dialogue and songs. All in all, considering the long and arduous journey that Miami Connection had to endure to get here, the A/V quality looks pretty good!
THE EXTRAS –
First off we get an audio commentary from Grand Master Y.K. Kim and Joe Diamond moderated by Alamo Drafthouse programmer/archivist Zack Carlson. The trio get into the all kinds of trivia, how they tried to cash in on Miami Vice‘s rampaging popularity, the film’s original name, the themes of the movie, details on the fight choreography, and what happened to the cast members since 1987. It’s a great listen and their enthusiasm for the film has not diminished since production despite the initial drubbing from the audience.
Then we get the alternate ending to The Miami Connection and about 10 minutes of deleted scenes, a handful of featurettes that include interviews with Y.K. Kim, Joe Diamand, Maurice Smith, Angelo Jannotti and Vincent Hirsch interspersed behind the scenes clips and photos, some footage of the Dragon Sound Reunion Concert from 2012 at the Fantastic Fest where the band got together for the first time in 20 years. Following that up is a brief piece on Y.K. Kim, his books, his philosophy and beliefs.
Lastly we get a theatrical trailer, a handful of other Drafthouse Films releases. Inside the disc is a piece of paper with the download link for a digital copy of the film, and a booklet of liner notes from Zack Carlson. One final touch – the cover is reversible, with the really sweet VHS cover artwork and the original poster artwork on the other side. Sweet!
THE BOTTOM LINE –
In my years of watching and debating bad movies, I have had an epiphany. There is no such thing as a So-Bad-It’s Good movie. If a movie entertains us, then it’s good, period. What do we watch movies for? Entertainment, distraction, and amusement – if a film provides those things, regardless of how it got there, then it’s a successful movie. It is a good movie. That’s why Plan Nine from Outer Space is still famous (or infamous) some 50 years on, even if it’s because of it’s the poster boy for inept movies: because it’s so damn entertaining.
Much in the same way, The Miami Connection is a horrendously bad flick and a goddamned entertaining one too! And much like any good cult flick, The Miami Connection is best watched with pizza, beer and as many friends as you can gather. Pop it in, pour the beer and let the hilariously misguided and inept charms of the Miami Connection wash over you. . . .
I give it five Orlando Ninja out of five.