I’ve been known to appreciate a bad movie from time to time, but I am not a big believer in “so bad it’s good” movies. I can appreciate extreme badness and highlight it with humor, but that doesn’t mean the movie has “come back around to being good,” as people like to say. It’s simply an awful thing that I have established an ironic distance from. It’s the rare film which draws me in from that ironic distance and makes me say to myself, “this is wretched, and I am absolutely loving it.” Among movies shown at Movie Klub, only The Room had affected me in that way … but then I showed the 1988 film Miami Connection.
The film is the brainchild of Y.K. Kim, a Tae Kwon Do teacher in South Florida. Kim produced the film, paid for it with a rumored $1 million of his own money, cast himself as the lead, and recruited a number of his Tae Kwon Do students to act in the picture.* The story he wanted to tell was about how friendship, music, and a heaping helping of Tae Kwon Do triumph over the corrupting influences of cocaine, biker gangs, and ninjutsu. The film bombed in its day, opening on just 8 screens in Kim’s hometown of Orlando. It was later re-discovered by that haven of bad-movie-watching, the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas.
Our heroes are a frequently shirtless rock band calling themselves Dragon Sound, whose stage show combines music that only the Brady Bunch would describe as “metal” with live Tae Kwon Do demonstrations. They run afoul of a motley crew of villains that includes a rival band, drug dealers, and a biker gang full of ninjas. Their adventures are basically a string of comically un-dramatic scenes used as padding between the songs and the Tae Kwon Do fights.
Give Kim this much credit: he is a legitimate black belt in Tae Kwon Do. Vincent Hirsch also demonstrates considerable fighting skill as John, though it’s weird that he’s a full foot taller than anyone else in the frame with him. Certain shots in this movie are effectively choreographed, all of them featuring Kim or Hirsch … the problem is that many more are not. The bad shots feature all of the classic mistakes of bad martial-arts movies: hammy death scenes, blown moves, unnatural moves (i.e., one fighter moving to block a strike a full second before it’s even thrown), too much posing. Kim manages to make one villain fall off of a building without ever touching him. In short, if you wanted a visual definition of what a martial-arts version of The Room would look like, a great many scenes in this movie would be the place to start.
But it’s the dialogue which turns this movie into comedy gold. Much like The Room, this film seems to be written by a person who has no real concept about how the real world works. I don’t really understand why the drug-dealing ninjas in this movie also have to be members of a biker gang (motorcycles not being very good for stealth), but even more mystifying is that the heroes’ first response to encountering a gang of motorcycle-riding shadow warriors is, “Oh. Ninjas.” Perform that particular line of dialogue any way you like, but I don’t think the result is accurately going to capture your response when you see a gang of fully armed ninjas sitting astride their Harley-Davidsons.
Again like The Room, what brings this movie back around to being good is how crazily sincere it is. Kim really loves Tae Kwon Do, and really seems to believe that the title card which ends the film (“Only Through The Elimination of Violence Can We Achieve World Peace”) is true, even though we saw our heroes slaughter a gang of ninjas just minutes before. You might even say that Miami Connection’s sincerity is more positive than that of The Room, since there is a strong undercurrent of misogyny in Tommy Wiseau’s film. The only bigotry in Miami Connection is of the anti-ninja variety.
Kim has a weirdly Wiseau-type backstory as well. He claims to have arrived in America homeless and friendless, with only his black belt. Some websites list him with the title of Grand Master, but Wikipedia’s list of Tae Kwon Do grandmasters does not include him.** It’s not clear how he was able to finance this film; I never thought Tae Kwon Do teaching was so lucrative that he could do it all himself. That such a guy could even get a movie made is an impressive accomplishment; that it could eventually find a way to charm audiences with its badness is a typically American success story.
Reviewed by Mark Young
*IMDB, among other sources, claims that Kim also co-wrote and co-directed Miami Connection. The film’s credits list one writer-director: Richard Park (whom IMDB refers to as Woo-sang Park). It’s certainly possible that Kim was asserting writing and directing influence behind the scenes.
**The same is true of a “Grand Master Byung Choi,” thanked at the end of the credits. To be fair to Mssrs. Kim and Choi, this Wikipedia article notes that there are honorifics in Korean which are mis-translated as “Grand Master,” and perhaps Kim is using one of those.