Director: Y.K. Kim, Richard W. Park Starring: Y.K. Kim, Vincent Hirsch, Joseph Diamand, Maurice Smith Screenplay: Joseph Diamand Country: USA, Hong Kong
Why is the ninja cinema's laughingstock? I don't recall the last time I saw a genuinely good ninja film - it might have been the animated Ninja Scroll film. And Miami Connection certainly isn't one, but to be fair it's only about 10% ninjas (the rest being 25% tae kwon do and street brawls, 25% cheesy 80's music, 20% dumb drama and 20% filler).
Fresh from popular screenings at the Drafthouse Cinema in Texas, Drafthouse Films have lovingly restored the enjoyably goofy and inept 80's/ninja/music/buddy/crime film Miami Connection for our home viewing enjoyment, and in the process saved it from obscurity. This is a blessing for bad movie fans everywhere, and of absolutely no importance to anyone else.
For those who aren't familiar with the film (which is probably almost everyone), Miami Connection charts the odyssey of soft-rock band Dragon Sound. This band, comprised of a group of buddies who are also all orphans, is headed by tae kwon do practitioner Mark ("Grandmaster" Y. K. Kim, who's also a motivational speaker and producer of Miami Connection). When they're not singing in the band or hanging out at their house they apparently attend college (although what they study isn't made clear). Dragon Sound score a gig at a popular nightclub in Orlando, Florida (yes, Orlando, not Miami as referenced in the title) much to the chagrin of another band, who for some reason enlist a local gang of heavies headed by a bearded thug named Jeff (William Eagle) to put the band out of business. To complicate matters, Jeff just happens to be the arsehole, controlling brother of Dragon Sound lead singer Jane (Kathy Collier) who's going out with Dragon Sound member John (Vincent Hirsch). There's also a subplot involving a group of motorcycle-riding ninjas who want to control Florida's drug trade, but that doesn't really connect with the main thread of the plot.
So, Miami Connection already has a few things in its favour. Firstly, motorcycle-riding ninjas. Holy shit! That should be reason enough to watch this. Unfortunately they aren't quite as mental as the magical ninjas in Godfrey Ho's cut-n-paste ninja films from the 80's, but these ninjas are still pretty awesome in their ninja-ness. Secondly, the film features a bunch of simplistic, cheesy yet admittedly quite catchy songs from Dragon Sound. Though these musical scenes go on too long, and they set the movie as most definitely an 80's production, they give Miami Connection a large amount of its charm. And thirdly, the fight scenes aren't entirely hokey, though they're far from matching your standard Jackie Chan Hong Kong fight scene. The fighting matches the rest of the production - it's not really polished, so it comes off as silly rather than exciting. It doesn't matter, really; we're watching Miami Connection for the cheese and the ineptness, not for any Oscar-winning worthiness.
Beyond these elements, for bad film aficionados at least, Miami Connection truly shines in other departments. Earnest dialogue falls completely flat. Odd editing choices abound: scenes start and end with no concern for flow or context. The film's preachy message of peace is laughable considering we've watched 90 minutes of ninjas, street fighting and bloodletting. Acting is either stilted or completely overdone (just check out Maurice Smith's Jim as he weeps about getting news about his father). And lead actor Y. K. Kim might be an excellent tae kwon do artist - he's certainly got some good moves to show off - but he doesn't have much presence, and unfortunately his English is incredibly hard to understand, his delivery proving to be more incomprehensible than Dustin Hoffman's Mumbles in Dick Tracy and Bane from The Dark Knight Rises combined. But like The Room's auteur Tommy Wiseau, Miami Connection wouldn't be half as much fun without its very odd and very specific lead.
Sloppily directed by Woo-sang Park (here credited as "Richard Park", and showing up in a brief role as a restaurant owner who dispenses his own tae kwon do justice), Miami Connection is one of those wonderful "so-bad-it's-good" movies that doesn't realise how inept it truly is. Hence, that's where a lot of the magic happens. As The Room has shown, an artist with a vision and noble intentions typically give way to the grim reality of putting together a production. I have no doubt it's a complete bastard to make any movie involving lots of people and differing areas of expertise, let alone make a truly great movie. Sometimes the planets align and we get a true masterpiece. Other times, the planets align and we get a piece of idiocy that's compulsively watchable. Miami Connection may not be as staggeringly inept as Samurai Cop or any of Godfrey Ho's ninja films, nor as misguided and misjudged as The Room, but it certainly contains its share of forehead-slapping moments. The group of friends cruise the beach in an open top leering at the girls, looking like rejects from a gay music video. When Dragon Sound is performing we're subjected to some of the worst pretend guitar playing yet seen on film. There's a whole section with bikers that's completely irrelevant to the plot and seems only to be there to show some breasts. A training scene is presumably there to show the beauty of tae kwon do, but the surplus of unnecessary slow-motion highlights some of its less-than-stellar choreography. Bad guys roam around topless in jeans and prove to be as threatening as warm bread. And the reshot ending is as predictable as it is hokey.
I firmly believe, despite Drafthouse Films' attempts otherwise, that Miami Connection isn't the cult film it's made out to be, and certainly not the "best worst movie" out there (that'd either be Samurai Cop or The Room). It shows more technical aptitude than some of the most terrible (read: unwatchable) films out there. But it is silly in its earnestness, flawed in most departments and, like a lot of things from the 80's, hugely entertaining despite (or perhaps because of) itself. So sit back, crack open a beer, and try to comprehend what the hell Y. K. Kim is saying in between the roundhouse kicks, crouching ninjas, perms and horrible wardrobe.
Drafthouse Films provides a disclaimer on the Blu-Ray (and, presumably, the DVD) of Miami Connection before the film starts, saying "Miami Connection was almost lost when a hurricane destroyed the film's original negative in 2004. Our transfer was assembled from the best existing materials and scanned at 2K resolution. Due to the nature of the available elements, some imperfections and inconsistencies may occur."
Imperfections and inconsistencies? No fucking shit. Whilst some scenes are bright, colourful and fairly clean, a lot of Miami Connection's video is pretty poor - dim, lacking detail, scratches and noise all over the place, particularly in the opening scene. Now if this were for something like a restoration of Casablanca I would be horrified. But the poor video quality on Miami Connection doesn't irk me as much. Like I mentioned in my review of Samurai Cop, I believe that poor video and audio quality on a film like this actually improves the film, or at least gives it that grindhouse, bottom-of-the-barrel sensibility that you wouldn't get on something like James Cameron's Titanic. I liken it to back in the VHS days where you'd watch a B-grade piece of lunacy on a tenth-generation copy infected by white lines. Audio quality isn't much better - Miami Connection's 2.0 soundtrack is merely okay on a decent sound system, and even the Dragon Sound music scenes don't really make much of an impact.
The news is better on the disc's collection of extras. You can listen to an Audio Commentary with star (and producer) Y. K. Kim and actor/associate producer/screenwriter Joseph Diamand, interviewed by Zack Carlson from the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Texas. It's something of a mixed bag - there are a few awkward dead spots, but Diamand provides a lot of information, and Carlson is good at prodding Kim and Diamand for details. Kim doesn't add as much to the commentary, possibly because of the language barrier. Friends for Eternity: The Making of Miami Connection is a making-of feature, pretty routine stuff for the majority of its 20 minute running time, though there are a few bits of particular interest for fans and some illuminating comments which suggest some of the cast acknowledge Miami Connection's cult status.. The disc contains an Alternate Ending (the original ending, replaced with the more upbeat one that's in the finished film) and Deleted Scenes which are mostly extensions of existing scenes. The Dragon Sound Reunion Concert From Fantastic Fest 2012 featurette is exactly that, and pretty dull unless you're a rabid Dragon Sound/Miami Connection fan. The disc also contains various trailers, and a booklet with liner notes.
For me, the best features are the two infomercials: "Who is Y. K. Kim?" and "The New American Dream". I love this shit. These promotional videos espouse the virtues of Grandmaster Y. K. Kim and his methods for weight loss, self-confidence, financial well-being and practically everything else. They are as predictable and ridiculous and insipid as every other informercial you've seen, but because they star Y. K. Kim they are instantly made 120% better. God, just imagine an infomercial starring Tommy Wiseau!
Miami Connection is everything a "bad-but-good" movie should be: poorly conceived, gloriously ignorant about itself, full of terrible acting and dialogue, hilariously misjudged. But it has a charm that's all its own, thanks to a goofy 80's vibe and star Y. K. Kim's baffling way with delivering his lines. And I defy you to watch Dragon Sound perform "Against the Ninja" and not wind up with a smile on your face.
Digital Retribution aims to bring you the latest news and reviews from the local genre scene. If you see or hear something that might be of interest to our readers, please get in touch!
For promotional and advertising inquiries, feedback, requests, threats or anything else, visit our Contact Page.
About Digital Retribution
Originally born unto this world as Terror Australis.net back in March 2002, Digital Retribution is a proudly Australian website devoted to all things horror, cult, and exploitation that strives to promote Australian films and filmmakers while sharing its questionable taste in ultra-violent smut-laden local and international offerings with the rest of the world.