According to the American Film Institute, Citizen Kane is the best movie ever made. According to the British Film Institute, Vertigo is the best movie ever made. And according to the fickle users of the IMDb, The Shawshank Redemption is the best movie ever made (as of this writing). But let me tell you: none of those films can compare to the experience that is Miami Connection.
Watch this (slightly NSFW) trailer. I’ll be right here.
The Netflix synopsis might do the best job of describing this wonderful mid-80s time capsule: “A martial arts rock band metes out crime-crushing justice to the motorcycle ninjas who have seized control of Florida's narcotics trade.” The band is called Dragon Sound, and its members are played by Y.K. Kim (as Mark), Vincent Hirsch (as John), Joseph Diamond (as Jack), Maurice Smith (as Jim), and Angelo Janotti (as Tom). In addition to the band, these guys are UCF students and black belts in taekwondo… and they’re adult orphans who all live together. The main villains are Yashito (Siyung Jo) and his second-in-command, whose exotic ninja name is… Jeff (William Ergle). Jeff doesn’t appreciate the fact that his sister Jane (Kathy Collier) is dating Dragon Sound’s John. Meanwhile, a rival band asks Jeff and his gang for help in getting rid of Dragon Sound. Blood is spilled, songs are sung, and Jim even manages to locate his long-lost father along the way. The film ends with a climactic battle in a park between Dragon Sound and Yashito’s goons. Mark kills Yashito, Jim is reunited with his father, and they all live happily ever after.
Y.K. Kim was (and is) a taekwondo Grandmaster. He emigrated from Korea to the U.S. in 1984 without a nickel in his pocket. Today, he makes his living as a motivational guru, publisher, and martial arts promoter. His sole goal in making Miami Connection was to promote taekwondo in America. By all accounts, he had no idea what the hell he was doing. The film opened in only a few Central Florida theaters – one local paper labeled it the worst movie of the year – before it went into obscurity...
...until a man named Zach Carlson discovered it in 2009. Carlson is an employee of the Alamo Drafthouse movie theater chain and was looking for movies for their new Drafthouse Films distribution division when he stumbled across Miami Connection on eBay. Someone was selling a print of the film for $50. Carlson purchased it sight unseen, despite a warning from the seller asking if he was serious. A 2010 screening at the Drafthouse went over like gangbusters and the rest is history. They reached out to Y.K. Kim, who assumed it was a joke and hung up several times. Eventually they made a deal and they even got the whole band back together for a screening at the Drafthouse’s Fantastic Fest event. (Most of the guys still live in Orlando and teach at Kim’s school.)
And now, I’m going to get a little post-modern. My friends and I saw the trailer online... and we assumed it was a joke. A movie made today, but in the style of an 80s martial arts flick, complete with film grain, faded colors, bad wigs, and copious amounts of CGI tinkering to restore the Orlando skyline to its 1980s look. This had to be a wonderful parody – after all, there was no way any of us would’ve missed this movie had it actually existed in the 80s! So I sat down with two like-minded (read: warped) friends and watched it. For the first 30 minutes, we were looking for anything anachronistic: a modern car in the background, a building that didn’t yet exist, etc. There’s a scene in a UCF computer lab and we assumed it was mostly stock footage with the actors shot separately in front of a bluescreen.
But no... this was real. We figured it would’ve taken too much time and cost too much money to make a movie today that looked this authentic. Not even Spielberg or Zemeckis could get it this perfect! And if they did, they’d be showered with every tech award out there: visual effects, costume design, art direction, etc. So we admitted we were wrong. This was a movie made in the 80s and forgotten about. And not just a movie made in the 80s, but made in a city where I actually lived on two separate occasions. The club that Dragon Sound performs at is on Church Street – I was just there two weeks ago! It’s still paved with cobblestones, too.
Ah, the guys. We see Dragon Sound perform their signature tunes (“Friends” and “Against the Ninja”) and it’s obvious that only one of them is playing an instrument correctly. Jim gets a letter about his father and delivers a heartfelt monologue that has to be seen to be believed. Jim’s father is played by a guy who’s younger than the guy playing his son! And for some reason, most of the guys walk around shirtless. When Jim gets a letter in the mail, the guys rush outside in various states of undress and I think one of them is just wearing a towel. At one point, Mark feeds two of the guys grapes… by hand. In another scene, Jack tells Mark and John about his idea of taking Dragon Sound around the world to promote peace and goodwill. “We’d visit all the countries where our parents came from. We’ll play in Israel. That’s where my parents are from.” You know Israel, the taekwondo capital of the world! And the villains… they’re so over the top, it’s amazing. You’ve got Yashito’s ninjas and Jeff’s redneck goons, who have nothing better to do than stand around goofing off. And bikers. Lots of bikers.
“Eighty percent of movies that come out are pretty much lousy by some barometer, but some are found and championed. Why does a movie like Troll 2 bring people back? It's not because it's the only shitty movie that's been made in the last decade. It’s because there’s something charming about it. I think there’s now such an awareness of the possibility of irony that you can’t easily get a movie like this. You need somebody who’s on a different plane than the rest of us.”
Loyalty, honesty /
We'll stay together /
Through thick or thin.