Alright, people — show of hands: how many of you saw Miami Connection last weekend at The Belcourt? Now, how many of you woke up the next day with the songs from Miami Connection lodged in your auditory cortexes like Y.K. Kim Krazy-Glued them there himself? Everybody? Great, that's what I thought.
Forgotten for decades until Zack Carlson — a programmer at the famed Alamo Drafthouse and co-author of the fantastic punk cinema tome Destroy All Movies!!! — picked it up for 50 bones on eBay, Miami Connection ostensibly tells the story of a pack of synth-rock playing Taekwondo orphans fighting against cocaine-dealing motorcycle ninjas on the mean streets of Orlando, Fla.
But it's so much more than that. Oh so much more. And honestly? I'm not sure if I even have the words to describe Miami Connection.
This much is clear: Miami Connection is an unparalleled disaster of a movie that confuses narrative and character development with musical interludes and board-breaking. It is, by all regards, crazily made and thoroughly ’80s. But within that swirling tempest of garbage lies a completely entertaining goofball of a movie that is about as silly as anything you'd ever see on Mystery Science Theater 3000. And while the crowd on Friday night wasn't quite singing along to Dragon Sound's hit jam “Against The Ninja” and doing roundhouse kicks in the aisles, I'd like to think that everyone at The Belcourt had as good a time seeing this bonkers masterpiece as I did.
The thing about Miami Connection is that it's completely uninterested in telling a coherent story. It's jammed so fully of unnecessary, irrelevant details that you're never sure what's actually important to the narrative. Where you would usually have character development and forward plot motion, you have extended Taekwondo sparring scenes, where director/writer/star Y.K. Kim kicks people in the face. And really, that's part of its charm. Kim obviously wanted this movie to do for Taekwondo what Way of the Dragon did for kung fu (which is to say, kill Chuck Norris with it). He conceptualized Miami Connection as a mainstream breakthrough for his martial art and sank everything he had into making that dream come true. Even though Kim barely spoke English and reportedly had only seen six movies prior to Miami Connection, he dove right into it. Which is so crazy that I can't help but admire it.
That's why Miami Connection works so well as a cult film. It's an exercise in utter sincerity. It's one of the least self-aware movies I've ever seen, which makes it charming in its badness. Not only is it sincere, but it's completely nuts. I don't know if you really need more than the phrase “motorcycle ninjas” to convey that, but just in case, here's a list of things that happen in this movie:
• Two Dragon Sound performances (available on vinyl!), where Y.K. Kim spends so much time mugging to the camera that he forgets that he's supposed to be pretending to play his guitar.
• When confronted by the band he fired to hire Dragon Sound, a club owner beats their asses with — you guessed it — Taekwondo. This scene is followed by a Warriors-style street fight, where the members of Dragon Sound take on three carloads of band members. I can only assume that the scorned band was Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, based on the number of people pummeling each other.
• The cocaine-dealing villain has a henchman who looks like a tweaked-out Kid Rock. This dude gets kicked in the chest in a construction zone. Obviously.
- An eight-minute rampage through the Orlando woods, where John and Mark fend off the entire ninja clan with nothing more than Taekwondo skills and decapitation on their side. This scene is immediately followed with the high-minded credo, “Only through the elimination of violence can we achieve world peace.” One way to eliminate violence? To do it without prejudice, I guess!
So Miami Connection is certainly bonkers. But it doesn't know it's being bonkers, which is its main asset. It's like how when people don't know they're attractive, they don't know that they can be dicks about it.
If you follow the comments sections of these posts, you may already be aware of “Notes on Camp,” which fellow Scenester Ashley Spurgeon linked back when Army of Darkness screened. This essay is key for understanding why movies like Miami Connection are celebrated and why try-hard nonsense like em>Snakes on a Plane is derided. One quote she picked out: “One must distinguish between naïve and deliberate Camp. Pure Camp is always naive. Camp which knows itself to be Camp ('camping') is usually less satisfying.”
Miami Connection is completely naïve in its efforts. The people making this movie didn't think they were making a bad movie. They probably thought they were making kind of a badass Taekwondo flick. And they succeeded in that. They just didn't really succeed in the “compelling story” side. But that's fine! Nobody will ever mistake this movie for a slickly produced, well-made chopsocky film, but that doesn't mean it isn't fun. And really, that's all I want in a midnight movie — for it to be fun.
My one complaint? Based on the trailer, I was kinda expecting the sort of rock-and-roll movie madness that we've seen in fantastic B-movie schlock like Stunt Rock and, one of my recent faves, Electric Dragon 80.000V. Alas, it's more Taekwondo demonstration than rock band on a rampage, but I still had a hell of a time at this thoroughly watchable piece of cult history.
My Father! I Found My Father!:
• We're going on day seven of “Friends” and “Against the Ninja” being stuck in my head. I fear that they will never leave.
• The drink special was called “Oh My God!” after the exclamation that Jim (Maurice Smith) makes when he gets a letter from his real father. Why is that a plot point in the movie? No clue! The drink was essentially a variant on the kind of terrible frozen drinks you get at crummy resorts in coastal Florida: McCormick's rum, house-made wormwood syrup, pineapple juice, lemon, Peychaud's Bitters, loyalty and honesty. The only thing missing was a tiny umbrella. I can't really comment on the taste because I was still getting over a cold and my tastebuds were ruined. Woe is me.
• The pre-roll returns! When I came into the theater, I saw a supercut of forward flips, a commercial for a ninja class taught by Sho Kosugi (the king of ’80s ninja cinema), a selection of scenes from Terminal Exposure, a trailer for karate nuns and the outstanding film “Who is Y.K. Kim?”
• I just love that Orlando is so set upon with ninjas that nightclub bands are writing original songs about how they need to be defeated. Also, the songs are unbelievably catchy and no less silly than any other pop music that came from the 80s.
• Sorry for the lateness on this one, illness prevailed over my desire to write about motorcycle ninjas.
Next weekend: Just in time for the long-delayed remake to almost assuredly flop hard in its opening week at the box office, the original Red Dawn parachutes into the Belcourt to red-scare the hell out of us. Wolverines!