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Miami Connection

By RUTH BROWN

[TWO NIGHTS ONLY, REVIVAL] The press screener (and I very much hope the actual screening) of Miami Connection is prefaced by an early ’90s film clip promoting “modern philosopher, great public speaker, respected author, successful entrepreneur and world-renowned evangelist of the martial arts” Y. K. Kim. At first glance, it looks like a spoof on cheesy old martial-arts ads (think Rex Kwon Do), but much like the ensuing film, it's 100 percent authentic, and entirely sincere. Some backstory: Miami Connection was written, co-directed, financed and headlined by Orlando tae kwon do instructor (and possibly all of those things above, but mostly tae kwon do instructor) Y. K. Kim, in 1987. The film failed to find distribution or appreciation in its own time but, in 2009, was unearthed by Austin's Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, and quickly became a cult favorite. It's almost too-good-to-believe fodder for the modern irony-loving millennial audience: Acted (badly) entirely by Kim's friends and tae kwon do students, the plot centers on a “martial arts rock band” called Dragon Sound and its fight to take down a gang of drug-dealing motorcycle ninjas. If the film's only appeal were as a laugh-and-point, "so bad it's good" relic, I'd be loath to add my voice to the sneering and guffawing (I mean, I'm a huge fan of that stuff, but I'm exactly the kind of irony-loving Gen-Y’er it's peddled to, and still recognize that kind of culture-eating-itself crap is probably making us all dumber). But Miami Connection is more than that. Truth is, Y. K. Kim was just one of probably hundreds of self-aggrandizing traditional martial-arts masters who made undercooked straight-to-video beat-’em-up flicks during this period, back in the days when karate still held a certain oriental mystique, and most genuine action-film heroes (Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal, et al.) were trained martial artists made good. Miami Connection is easily the best film I've ever seen in this oeuvre. The cinematography is solid (thanks to the more experienced hand of co-director Richard Park), the storyline is bizarre but entirely comprehensible, the original music is awesome (you will be a Dragon Sound fan by the end of the film), and the fight sequences are surprisingly great for a bunch of big-screen amateurs. In fact, if it weren't for the truly woeful script and acting, there wouldn't be a whole lot to separate this from plenty of ’80s martial arts films that did have national distribution and big-name stars. Yes, it's unintentionally funny—laugh-out-loud funny—but this is also a film with a lot of heart, a genuine historical artifact from a time when tae kwon do was still cool, and a Korean immigrant with a black belt and stars in his eyes could self-make an action film with genuine hope of hitting the big time. Just think how hilarious Tapout-sporting MMA lugheads will look to our kids in 25 years. 

 

Special Note

Hollywood Theatre. 9:30 pm Friday-Saturday, Nov. 23-24. 
 
  • Genres: Drama, Martial arts
  • Running Time: 90 minutes
  • Country: United States
  • Language: English
  • MPAA Rating: R
  • Critic's Score: A
  • Starring: Y.K. Kim [], Vincent Hirsch [], William Ergle []
  • Watch the trailer
 

Show Times

  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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