If you’re the type of moviegoer who enjoys films that are poorly made, terribly acted, only semi-competent in executing action sequences, but ones with tons of charm and enthusiasm, Miami Connection just might be your new favorite movie. Made in 1987 and promptly forgotten, someone at Drafthouse Films bought a copy of it using Ebay and is now releasing it for the world to see. The plot involves a synth-rock band named Dragon Sound full of Tae Kwan Do black belts who battle drug lords and a gang of motorcycle-riding ninjas to stop the cocaine trade in Orlando. And the final product totally lives up to that ridiculous premise.
Miami Connection is the brainchild of co-writer, co-director, producer, and star Y.K. Kim, who makes a living off screen as a martial arts grandmaster, inspirational speaker, and dojo owner in Orlando. On screen he plays Mark, an easygoing backup guitarist for Orlando’s own Dragon Sound who is far better at martial arts than he is at playing the guitar. John (Vincent Hirsch), the lanky bass player, is in love with the group’s female singer Jane (Kathy Collier), and all goes well until Jane’s jealous brother Jeff (William Eagle) – known for hanging with a rough crowd – gets involved and starts muscling John out of the picture. Unbeknownst to Dragon Sound, Jeff is involved with a gang of cocaine dealing ninjas based in Miami, and when they team with the scorned band that Dragon Sound ousted at the club where they play their music…you can smell the street fights already.
The action bounces back and forth between being totally sanitized and gruesomely violent with no warning and zero consistency, which actually becomes sort of fun after you get used to it. You never know whether someone is going to get kicked in the chest or beheaded, and with either one a possibility at all times, it makes enduring some of the more questionable elements of these scenes (things like lighting, camera placement, and editing) a bit easier to swallow. The settings for action scenes also vary drastically, ranging from some sort of low-lying marshland to a railroad station to what appeared to be a combination of a castle and a junkyard. As someone who lived in Orlando for a year in the 2000s, I assure you that no such place still exists (if it ever did in the first place).
But in spite of these flaws (or perhaps because of them), no other movie so earnestly wears its heart on its sleeve, and the genuine affection for the filmmaking shines through even though it certainly doesn’t live up to generalized standards of being a “good” movie. (That’s a whole separate topic covered by Matt Singer at Criticwire.) From the lyrics of the band’s amazingly-terrible-yet-catchy-as-hell songs (things like “Tae Kwon Do is our way of life”) to the wise old restaurant owner character who tells the group the true meaning of martial arts, it’s clear that Kim was using this film as a vehicle for spreading the gospel of his art. Miami Connection is the rare action movie with a mission statement, and as cheesy as it gets at times (OK, the entire time), there’s just something about it where you can’t help but smile.
The acting is excruciatingly bad and the over-dubbed voices are godawful, reminiscent of the director’s work on a film called L.A. Streetfighter from a couple of years prior. The plot doesn’t even try to make sense much of the time, and extended sequences of the band cruising the beach trying to pick up chicks or practicing martial arts on the University of Central Florida campus seem to be just things that these actors would normally be doing anyway, regardless of whether a camera was there to see it or not. (Only two members of the cast were actually professional martial artists, and the rest were students at Kim’s school.)
The movie raises so many more questions than it answers, and if you’re open to films like these, you’ll likely have a blast with your friends laughing about the inconsistencies and questioning character motivations. It’s a ludicrous film, but the unadulterated passion that went into making it somehow takes it to another level. It’s not nearly as audacious as Buckeroo Bonzai Across the 8th Dimension, another film that featured the lead characters in an 1980s rock band, but it’s not trying to be; the only think Y.K. Kim wants the audience to get from this is that maybe, just maybe, Tae Kwan Do could be the answer to life’s problems. If you’re looking for something fun and insane to watch, Miami Connection could be the answer to yours. Until next time…