Cinephiles speak in hushed tones of lost films, those movies that due to shortsightedness, film decay, fires, or simple misfortune, no longer exist. Shitty cinephiles, a brotherhood I proudly count myself amongst, have our own lost films. These are anti-classics whose creators or distributors experienced a sudden, terrifying moment of clarity and realized they had produced something that no one must see, something that would cause an innocent mind to gaze into a soul-shattering abyss and know — not think, but know for certain — that there is no ultimate meaning to the sick parade we call life. Legendarily bad films like The Day the Clown Cried will languish in a vault unloved by the only audience who could ever appreciate it. This week’s film, Miami Connection was very nearly one of those movies, thankfully rescued by people like me, and we are all the richer for it.
Tagline: Survival the ultimate test…
More Accurate Tagline: Tae Kwon! Tae Kwon! Tae Kwon Do!
Guilty Party: I am a firm believer in the distaff cousin of the Auteur Theory, which I would like to introduce as the Insane Foreign Businessman Auteur Theory. This is when a man whose exposure to the arts consists mainly of a Netflix account, incomprehensible foreign dubs of Hollywood releases, and fever dreams brought on by infected landmine wounds gets it in his head that he can make a movie, and he produces something so bonkers and heartfelt it instantly becomes a cult classic. The Room, other than being the greatest terrible movie ever made, is the prime exemplar of this theory, and Birdemic is its close second. Miami Connection, written, directed, and starring taekwondo teacher and motivational speaker Y.K. Kim takes its place next to these other IFBA films, and boy howdy it does not disappoint.
Synopsis: The film opens in the ‘80s. Holy shit, you guys, the ‘80s. Like the Platonic Ideal of the ‘80s that never existed anywhere other than the neon-streaked wet dreams of Michael Mann, Simon Le Bon, and Destro. The screen helpfully says we’re “Somewhere In Miami,” and a drug deal goes down between two very ‘80s groups of thugs. One side sort of looks like they’re on the way to a breakdancing contest, while the other looks like a bunch of tubby pedophiles with NRA memberships. Ninjas (the leading cause of death in 1987) swiftly crash the party and show these Miami Vice bad guys the foolishness of bringing guns to a sword fight. I remember being a little kid and thinking ninjas had superpowers and could totally take out guys armed with machine guns. So what I’m saying is that Y.K. Kim had the same understanding of ninjas at 40 that I had at 7.
Later at the dojo, lead ninja Yashito briefly harangues his followers for not getting the money from the drug deal before being like, “Aw… I’m just fucking with you! I got the money!” Then Yashito goes and hangs out with his biker gang because of course he does.
Now we’re in Orlando, and Yashito and his henchman Jeff (tell me that doesn’t sound like the title of a BBC sitcom), head into a club where they are instantly dismayed at the house band. And who could blame them? Consisting of five men and one woman, they play the kind of soft rock that makes Kenny Loggins sound like Motorhead. This is Dragon Sound, who turn out to be our sartorially-challenged heroes. Jeff is especially upset because the woman is his sister Jane who appears to have taken up with the bass player (John), who looks like a giant version of Leo Fitzpatrick from Kids.
Later, the members of Dragon Sound ruthlessly matriculate at the University of Central Florida. This is despite the fact that Y.K. Kim’s Mark is clearly a quarter century older than everyone else, but what would a IFBA film be without flagrant disregard to its auteur’s age? Anyway, Jane explains that her parents are both dead and her brother is the only reason she’s able to go to college. And she doesn’t like him. Jeff’s ears must have been burning because he shows up to the school and immediately starts shit with Dragon Sound. Fortunately for everyone, a smash cut prevents any bloodshed.
The club owner where Dragon Sound plays gets a visit from another weird rednecky bearded guy. This guy fronts the old house band and he’s really upset Dragon Sound has taken over. They have a clearly improvised shouting match that hilariously turns into a slow-moving kung fu fight between two badly out-of-shape white guys. The club owner wins and the band leader vows vengeance.
Yashito and Jeff meet up at Ninja HQ and decide they should really get rid of Dragon Sound because they are all that’s keeping Yashito from controlling that area. How? Does Dragon Sound rock that hard? Are their shin kicks and non-threatening multicultural composition some kind of ninja kryptonite? Who knows?
Bafflingly, it’s neither Yashito nor Jeff who corner Dragon Sound after a gig. It’s the spurned other band. And… this fucking band is ginormous. It’s like some weird I Spit on Your Grave version of the Polyphonic Spree. These fuckers, while armed for some kind of Bartertown food riot, straight up surround Dragon Sound, and Dragon Sound just kind of watches them for a full minute before the nerve impulses slowly reach the second brains in their spines and inform them that, yep, a hundred rednecks armed with improvised weaponry and howling for blood has literally never ended well. Unfortunately for the Polygamous Spree, once Dragon Sound has identified danger, they literally will not stop kicking it in the face until it stops moving.
In the next scene, Dragon Sound is at home, and I have to pause to describe this place. The guys have the gayest living situation outside of actually living with a gay man, making homemade hummus, having sex with him, and planning a future together in which you both adopt war orphans. Dragon Sound a) lives together b) walks around without shirts on as much as possible c) keyboardist Jim never actually bothers to button his jeans and d) in one scene they hand-feed each other. So… yeah.
The leader of the Polygamous Spree reaches out to Jeff to take out Dragon Sound. Why? He’s already been told to do this by Yashito… you know what? Never mind. This movie is like a Zen Koan for people with head injuries. Jeff gives Dragon Sound a note to meet at the railroad tracks. Mark, John, and drummer Jack (who just spent the previous scene talking about how scared he was) show up and fight a bunch of guys, one whom is Kid Rock. This fares exactly as well as any of Rock’s endeavors, and Dragon Sound kicks a little ass and leaves. Jeff steps things up by kidnapping guitar player Tom (who looks exactly like John Oates) and keeps him at an abandoned construction site. Dragon Sound never finds out where Tom is, yet shows up and just goes nuts on Jeff’s guys. They beat these guys into unconsciousness or death with metal pipes. Mark squares off with Jeff who goes full Gollum and falls off a high spot and dies.
Hey, remember when there were ninja in this movie? Apparently the movie only just did. We’re back with Yashito, and he vows to kill Dragon Sound for taking out his brother Jeff. And, I’m guessing different mothers? I don’t know. While Mark, John, and Jim are out to see Jim’s dad (more on that later), biker ninjas (because that’s totally a thing and not just something Y.K. Kim scrawled on the inside of his Trapper Keeper) surround them. And then shit gets real.
It’s like Y.K. Kim got some kind of PTSD flashback in the middle of the movie and just went with it. Because what was once a lighthearted action flick about a taekwondo rock band suddenly turns into an ultraviolent kill crazy sword fight with fountains of blood and Fangoria-ready prosthetics. Mark kills Yashito, and the heroes cart wounded Jim off to the hospital. It’s a happy ending as Jack ominously declares, “No one will mess with our band again.”
Life-Changing Subtext: The only thing stopping international drug cartels from total world domination are crappy soft-rock bands.
Defining Quote: Jim, sobbing: “My mother was Korean!” I’ll give the context later, but out of context it’s just wonderfully racist. And really, the context doesn’t make the delivery make any more sense.
Standout Performance: Y.K. Kim can barely speak English, leading to the uncomfortable situation of a man being unable to read the very lines he wrote.
What’s Wrong: Oh no, what’s right? The answer to both questions is simply, “everything.” This movie does nothing right, and yet is charming and entertaining in its sincerity.
Flash of Competence: In the middle of the film, there’s a scene in which Mark, Jack, and John train on the quad. It’s mostly an excuse to practice the kind of slow-motion karate your friend does when he’s freshly back from his first lesson and wants to show everyone how he could totally kick Jet Li’s ass. Anyway, one of the moves has John trying to stab Mark in the back with a fake knife, and Mark displays his awesome disarming skills. You know, assuming the guy trying to stab you has cerebral palsy. Luckily, in the very end, Yashito tries the same move and Mark takes him out. The film successfully employs Chekhov’s Prison Shanking.
Best Scenes: I’ve referred to the musical stylings of Dragon Sound, but nothing I say can truly capture how fucking amazing scenes of the band performing their original songs are. Much like the martial arts, it’s pretty clear there are varying degrees of musical skill amongst the cast. Tom is fairly convincing as the guitar player (fitting, since he’s totally John Oates), but Y.K. Kim has clearly never even heard of a guitar before. His strumming bears a closer resemblance to a sexual assault than any kind of musicianship. And the songs? Oh, the songs! “Against the Ninja,” with its delusional grandiose lyrics and catchy refrain (Tae Kwon! Tae Kwon! Tae Kwon Do!) will change your life.
A useless subplot involves Jim’s search for his father who abandoned him and his (Korean) mother. This search seems to consist of sending letters to various places and then tearfully opening them in front of his pals. When he comes clean (and delivers the film’s Defining Quote), he’s really playing to the cheap seats and this is far beyond the actor’s meager skills. He hits all the wrong beats, making it sound like his character is consumed with shame over having a Korean mother, and a brief orgasm at the memories of his father. The best part is when the other men act betrayed. “Wait, you’re not an orphan?” one demands, which leads to the vain hope that they’re going to kick him out of Orphan Club.
Transcendent Moment: After the Grand Guignol of the finale, in which two of our heroes ruthlessly butchered ninja like they thought there was candy inside of them, the film fades to black and the following appears onscreen:
“ONLY THROUGH THE ELIMINATION OF VIOLENCE CAN WE ACHIEVE WORLD PEACE”
At once a product of its time and insanity itself, Miami Connection is one of the truly great terrible films.