As a film critic, my job is to unpack the themes, critique the performances, confront the problematic elements. At the end of it, I've got to decide whether the movie is good or bad. But then there are such movies that exist so beautifully in that gray area between bad and good. They may feature overly dramatic performances, silly dialogue or a story so ridiculous that it must be seen to be believed.
1987’s Miami Connection is one such movie. It was poorly received at the time of its release, but thanks to Drafthouse Films, their eBay surfing, and 40 bucks, an original print was purchased, and it finally found its audience. It’s for those folks who love hairy-chested men, mustaches, short-shorts, rock music, motorcycles, guns, ninjas, and lots and lots of testosterone. It’s a whirlwind of everything terrible and great about the ‘80s, and it’s screening this Saturday at the Alamo Drafthouse in Richardson.
Miami Connection is about a group of friends for eternity who are in a rock band together called Dragon Sound. They also happen to be in college and know martial arts. Circumstances see them going up against a gang of motorcycle ninjas who are in deep with Florida’s narcotics trade. Things go down gloriously.
Seemingly influenced by such films and shows as The Outsiders, The Karate Kid, Lethal Weapon and Miami Vice, Miami Connection is so deliciously charming that it demands to be seen on the big screen with a crowd who aren’t afraid to hoot and holler and have a great time. So, if this sounds like a blast-and-a-half – and it is, trust me – check out my interview with the jack of all trades Grandmaster Y.K. Kim, who wrote, directed and stars in Miami Connection. Kim will be live in-person at the special screening.
Preston Barta: This film means so much to so many people, like myself. How would you say your relationship to this film has changed over the years?
Grandmaster Y.K. Kim: “I filmed it in 1986. I showed it to the public in 1987. In 2012, it was brought back to the public by Drafthouse films. We had screenings in Austin, New York and Los Angeles. I was really, really surprised how the audience responded to it after all this time. It was crazy! Anyone who expects a 10, 20 or 100 million dollar kind of movie, I don’t think they will watch it. However, for anyone who loves to see real action – not computer generated, but original and organic action – and who have an appreciation for the 1980s community and stories about true friendship, they will be crazy about this movie.”
I’m beginning to notice how we are becoming more and more nostalgic for the ‘80s, because of shows like Stranger Things and Kung Fury. Miami Connection, although it was made in the ‘80s, celebrates all those recognizable ingredients from the ‘80s. Are you someone who is nostalgic for that period? Do you like ‘80s movies?
“Actually, I was an instructor of martial arts. I didn’t really know much about movies. I wrote, directed and produced Miami Connection, but before I started the movie, I knew nothing about making a movie. It was a nightmare making this movie, but I promise my students each day that whatever I touch, I finish. Fortunately, I finished the movie, despite all the obstacles that came my way. My skill is most certainly action. My collaboration with the others attached to the film helped make all the connections needed to complete the story.”
The movie is all about learning and growth. What would you saw is the greatest lesson you learned from making the film?
“[Laughs] Oh! I could make a whole other movie about all the lessons I learned. I learned so much, but the one thing I really learned was to never, ever give up. We all say that, but when you really face it, it’s a powerful feeling when you conquer something that feels impossible. When I produced this movie, I had no idea it would be that difficult. Making a movie involves so many things. But again, I had no choice.
When I tried to sell the movie, I went to all the different studios. I feel like I met with hundreds of different distribution companies. You name them, I talked to them. All of them said this movie was trash that needed to be thrown away. But I couldn’t give up! Some advice I got was if I changed the last scene of the film, I might have a chance. So I rewrote and reshot it. I got it done and go it out there.”
What’s so great about these screenings that the Alamo Drafthouse puts on is how it is putting us in contact with movies that were either too ahead of their time or didn’t quite find their audience. It causes us to learn so much about ourselves and how our tastes have evolved. By going to these screenings and seeing how people react to it, are you still finding yourself learning more things about the film you didn’t recognize initially?
“There’s a big difference from the way people are interacting with me today compared the 1980s. I am so glad that people are finally understanding what I was trying to do. I wanted to share my love of martial arts with people. That was my focus. It didn’t work in the 1980s, but now it is working well.
When I went to New York for a screening, I thought I was going to die. It was my dream coming true. People were screaming, jumping up and down, crying and laughing. I went to Los Angeles, same thing. People waited hours to see me. Same in Austin. I couldn’t believe it. I was so happy and really surprised by all the reactions.”
Do you think if you were able to go back in time, knowing everything you do now, would you redo the movie or leave it alone to keep the specialness that it has today?
“That’s a good question. If I had the opportunity to produce the movie again, I think I could really turn it into a blockbuster. I learned so many great things from my experience making this and since making it. But this movie is bigger than my life, so I wouldn’t. It’s too special now.”
Miami Connection screens at the Alamo Drafthouse in Richardson on Saturday, April 20 at 8:30 p.m. You can purchase your tickets through drafthouse.com.