The story behind Miami Connection is a fascinating one. Spearheaded by Korean immigrant Y.K. Kim, a man who came to America with only his blackbelt in Tae Kwon Do and a heart full of dreams, it was intended as a way of continuing Kim's mission to spread the gospel of martial arts. Self financed by Kim and directed by Korean filmmaker Richard Park (the man behind Ninja Turf), Kim gathered up a bunch of his students, had his collaborators read a few 'how to' books on film and set out to make a movie about a group of rock n roll orphans who use Tae Kwon Do and friendship to take on a gang of motorcycle riding ninjas. The movie played one theater in Orlando and had one screening at a festival and then disappeared into obscurity (those who Kim screened it for told him it was 'trash') with only a European VHS release of iffy legitimacy making cult movie rounds keeping it alive. Enter the Alamo Drafthouse who bought a print of the movie for $50.00 on eBay sight unseen and who then proceeded to screen it in their theaters where it quickly developed a cult audience. A few years later and the movie is now being released on DVD and Blu-ray after a series of successful screenings across the United States, many with Kim in attendance.
The film begins in Orlando (which is not Miami) where we see a drug deal going down. It turns out that there's a cocaine problem afoot and that a gang of sinister ninjas who ride around town on motorcycles intend to take it over and reap the profits of the illegal narcotics trade for themselves. A ninja mastermind named Yashito (Si Yi Jo) is behind all this but what he doesn't count on is the presence of Dragon Sound, a synth rock band made up of friends Mark (Y.K. Kim) on guitar, Jack (Joe Diamand) on bass, John (Vincent Hirsch) on drums, Jim (Maurice Smith) on keyboards and Tom (Angelo Janotti) on lead guitar - he also shares vocal duties with Jack's girlfriend, Jane (Kathy Collier). The members of Dragon Sound are not only orphans who share a home together (sans Jane) but they're also college students.
Things get complicated when Jane's brother, Jeff (William Eagle), decides he doesn't like her hanging out with Dragon Sound or dating Jack. In reality, he's teamed up with Yashito and is in cahoots with the ninjas. When Dragon Sound gets a new gig as the house band at the hottest club in town, their days of cruising the beach asking chicks if they wanna 'make it with a rock star' and chilling out at Uncle Song's (director Richard Park) restaurant are over. They're going to have to take a stand against the ninja and stop the flow of stupid cocaine from spreading further - all while Jim tries to find his father, who he has recently learned is still alive.
Miami Connection is a fascinating, infectiously fun, beautiful mess of a film. The plot jumps around at random, characters talk over one another in countless scenes of improvised dialogue and fights break out at the drop of a hat. The script shifts tones every few minutes and characters spout of amazing bits of dialogue really just because they can. Yet underneath all of this bizarre technique Kim's message of working together and using martial arts to overcome adversity does somehow manage to come through. The film is violent (a text screen at the end of the film backs this up and at least attempts to justify it by stating "Only through the elimination of violence can we achieve world peace") in that it contains throat slashings, stabbings, beatings and even an awesome decapitation but the members of Dragon Sound have such an awesome sense of family that you can't help but love them. They always seem to get along no matter what, bonding over their love of eighties rock, their lack of parents or their complete and utter respect for all things Tae Kwon Do. They practice their skills on the lawn of the university when they get out of class and seem to spend pretty much every waking minute together.
The acting is ridiculous but everyone is trying so hard that you can't be upset by. Maurice Smith's characters gets so insanely excited when he opens the mailbox in the film's now fairly infamous 'Hey guys I found my father' scene that it's akin to watching a little kid open up a Christmas present to find that toy he wanted so bad. Kim's thick Korean accent occasionally makes his dialogue hard to understand and yet the sincerity behind his delivery overcomes it. The musical numbers show that the only one actually playing an instrument on stage is Angelo Janotti, though to Kathy Collier's credit she actually sings rather nicely - the rest of the band 'air guitar' their way through the movie's two 'live' performances with a complete lack of skill but no shortage of drive and enthusiasm.
All of this lovably naïve insanity builds to the ultimate showdown in which our Tae Kwon Do masters meet the gang of ruthless drug dealing motorcycle ninjas for a gory showdown in which a stream literally runs red with blood. Swords clash, guts are spilled and men will die. The film's sense of positivity gets unexpectedly rocked in the last ten minutes but of course, good has to triumph over evil, that's the whole point of the movie. It's very much a product of its time, from the music to the fashions to the hairstyles to everything else. It jumps around, makes loads of mistakes, and never once concerns itself with realism of believability. The movie is infectiously entertaining, however. It pulls you along for the ride and you love it. Yeah, maybe it goes better with a few beers in you but really, most things in life do. This is no manufactured cult item, no Grindhouse homage made by a Tarantino wannabe or a shot on video no budget schlockfest but a legitimately unique and insane film worth its weight in gold. There's so much enthusiasm, so much unbridled spirit and life to the film that you really can't help but love it.
The Miami Connection arrives on Blu-ray disc in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. Taken from two different sources, neither of which appears to have been in pristine condition, the transfer does show some wear and tear in the form of mild to moderate print damage and the occasional not so mild scratches that pop up here and there. Some shots definitely look softer than others but by and large the image quality here is pretty decent, particularly when you take into account the age, obscurity and low budget of the picture in question. While more restoration probably could have been done, the grit and print damage that shows up does result in a film like presentation that seems like a perfectly 'realistic take' on the elements that were available. Detail is pretty decent in close up and medium shots if slightly soft in long distance shots but colors usually look quite nice even if it is sometimes a bit faded. Black levels are decent though far from reference quality, there are no problems with compression artifacts, edge enhancement or noise reduction. Visual perfection? No, but the picture quality is probably about as good as it's ever going to get (particularly when you take into account the negative was ruined by a hurricane in 2004).
The only audio option on the disc is an English language Dolby Digital 2.0 track (it is, unfortunately, not a DTS-HD 2.0 track as the packaging states) with subtitles provided (for the dialogue and the music) in English only. With that said, the sound quality here is good. Yes, it would have been a nice option to include a lossless mix but at least the Dolby Digital mix does its job nicely. Dialogue is clean and clear and thick accents notwithstanding, pretty easy to understand. The musical numbers have got some nice punch to them and there aren't any obvious problems with any hiss or distortion. Levels are well balanced and overall things sound just fine.
The main extra on the disc is a commentary track with Y.K. Kim and Joe Diamand moderated by Zack Carlson that starts off with an explanation of the character types and then delves into the film's use of motorcycle ninjas and how that ties into the 'Miami mania' that was sort of happening around the time that the movie was made. Kim notes that the film was originally meant to be entitled Against The Ninja while Diamand talks about shooting the opening fight scene in only one evening using different martial artists from Y.K. Kim's school. Of course, the movie's musical numbers get a lot of discussion, they talk about how the songs are catchy and stick with you after the movie is over but also how they communicate the film's ongoing theme of friendship and sticking together. There are a few spots here and there where Kim and Diamand get a little quiet but Carlson does an admirable job of keeping them on topic and talking. They go on to cover the use of Miami versus Orlando in the film, what some of the cast members have done since the movie was made, and the possibility of a Dragon Sound record should the public demand it. They also discuss the costumes used by the random gangs in the movie, director Parks' big action scene, and also how Kim and Diamand handled the fight choreography in the film and more. It's a solid commentary and a lot of fun to listen to.
From there we move on to the featurettes Friends For Eternity: The Making Of The Miami Connection (19:16) which is a documentary that includes interviews with Y.K. Kim, Joe Diamand, Maurice Smith, Angelo Jannotti and Vincent Hirsch. It begins with Kim talking about how he uses martial arts to overcome all obstacles while Smith talks about how his involvement in Kim's teachings was like being in a family. Janotti talks about how he was hired because he could play guitar and that his lack of martial arts skills lead to his being beaten up a lot on the movie, while Smith, of course, elaborates on his now infamous 'I found my father' letter opening scene. Hirsch discusses how Kim and Diamand brought him onboard to screen test for the movie and all involved share some interesting and amusing stories with Kim elaborating about his trials and tribulations with distribution and initial response to the movie once it was finished. There are some cool clips and behind the scenes photographs used throughout this as well.
Also included on the disc is an Alternate Ending (2:23) that is much different than the one used in the feature version of the movie, and 11:45 worth of Deleted Scenes. Included here is more improvised trash talking from various bad guys, an awesome scene with Tom showing off his guitar skills by playing the harmonic scale in class and an amazingly great scene in which Dragon Sound get kicked out of a music store for rockin' too hard with demo instruments. There's also a touching moment with Kim's character sitting at the shore as the sunsets where he talks to Maurice Smith about his orphan status. If that wasn't enough, and obviously it's not, we also get some footage of the Dragon Sound Reunion Concert From The Fantastic Fest 2012 (10:03). Here the band gets back together to play both tracks from the movie in front of a ridiculously enthusiastic audience, even getting audience members up on stage with them. The Who Is Y.K. Kim? short introduces us (and prospective speaking engagement audiences) to the Grandmaster and creator of The New American Dream, which then segues into the segment of the same name (22:03), a length infomercial for Kim's books on how to reduce stress and increase physical fitness, mental fitness, financial fitness and more!
Rounding out the extras are the reissue trailer for the feature, trailers for a few other Drafthouse Films properties, menus and chapter selection. Inside the keepcase along with the disc is a form with a download link for a digital copy of the film. Additionally there's a booklet inside containing liner notes by Zack Carlson as well as cast and crew credits and disc credits. The cover art is also reversible with the eighties inspired painting on one side and the original artwork for the film on the flipside - a nice touch!
You'd have to be dead not to have a great time with this movie. A ridiculous amount of occasionally very misguided passion flows from every frame but that doesn't take away from even a second of the movie. The film moves at a very quick pace and offers up more rock n roll orphans and evil ninjas than you can shake a stick at and there's more entertainment value to be had here than most movies made with one hundred times the budget. Drafthouse Films have brought The Miami Connection to Blu-ray in grand style and loaded with extras both amusing and genuinely interesting. Highly recommended and one of the most enjoyable releases of the year.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.