This week on TCM Underground: MIAMI CONNECTION (1987)

Miami Connection Poster

Members of a Florida rock band use their skills at taekwondo to combat a ninja drug cartel on the mean streets of Orlando.

Cast: Y. K. Kim (Mark), Vincent Hirsch (John), Joseph Diamand (Jack), Maurice Smith (Jim), Angelo Janotti (Tom), Kathy Collier (Jane), William Ergle (Jeff), Si Y Jo (Yashito), Woo-Sang Park (Uncle Song), William Young (Club Owner), Joy Sharpe (Club Owner’s Girlfriend), Jack McLaughlin (Old Rock Band Leader/Sonofabitch Guy). Director: Woo-Sang Park/Y. K. Kim, Writer: Woo-Sang Park, Y.K. Kim. Cinematography: Maximo Munzi. Music: Jon McCallum. Songs by Lloyd C. Sharpe.

Color-83 min.

Showtime: Saturday January 10th 11:15pm PST/2:15am EST.

Miami Connection

Though situated on the map of the United States about as far east from the movie capital of the world as one can get before falling into the Atlantic Ocean, Miami, Florida has an eclectic — one might even say rich — history of film production. Scenes from such Hollywood classics as THEY WERE EXPENDABLE (1945), NOTORIOUS (1946), MIDNIGHT COWBOY (1969), THE GODFATHER: PART II (1974), and SCARFACE (1983) took evocative advantage of the Dade County seat’s distinctive scenery and architecture but in some ways it is the exploitation market that put Miami on the movie map; those in the Psychotronic know simply could not imagine BLOOD FEAST (1963), SCUM OF THE EARTH (1963), CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS (1972), and MAKO: THE JAWS OF DEATH (1974) being made anywhere else. The success of Michael Mann’s long-running MIAMI VICE (1984-1990) may have had something to do with the development of MIAMI CONNECTION (1987), a rock band/taekwondo school vs. drug smugglers action adventure film made in Miami, Orlando, and sundry sections of Central Florida in the mid-80s and shelved for more than twenty years after the critic for the Orlando Sun snarked “If you can’t say something nice…”

Miami Connection 2

MIAMI CONNECTION was the brainchild of Orlando-based taekwondo master Young Kon Kim, a martial arts entrepreneur whose successes in Florida after similar start-ups in Buenos Aires and New York City won him a slot on the South Korean talk show MEET AT 11PM. Catching the broadcast was Korean filmmaker Richard Park (nee Woo-sang Park), who had helmed a dozen or so action films in Southeast Asia before migrating to the United States and making LOS ANGELES STREETFIGHTER (aka LA STREETFIGHTERS, aka NINJA TURF, 1985), about a young Korean immigrant who runs afoul of a youth gang in the halls of his Los Angeles high school. Park and Kim struck a business deal whereby Kim would provide the majority of financing for a feature that would both showcase his taekwondo prowess and promote an anti-violence agenda. Filming commenced in and around the campus of the University of Central Florida, with action sidebars filmed at Daytona Beach, Winter Park, downtown Orlando, and Miami, which contributes more of a cameo than a star appearance, providing the movie with its title before slipping surreptitiously into the wings.

Miami Connection 4

Casting MIAMI CONNECTION with friends and students (among them Sharlto Copley lookalike William Ergle as “Jeff,” a villain) and sinking his life savings into the project, the athletically adept but cinematically naive Kim found himself without a distributor after shopping the finished film from studio to studio. Turned down flat in Hollywood, Kim trucked MIAMI CONNECTION to the Cannes Film Festival, spending the last of his folding money on an exhibition that wielded the same result: no takers. When he himself opened the film in Florida in the summer of 1988, reviews were dismal and MIAMI CONNECTION was left without a hookup. Flash forward two decades. In 2009, Alamo Drafthouse programmer Zack Carlson laid down $50 as a blind eBay bid on the film and wound up with something that got midnight show attendees hopping to. When Drafthouse creative director Evan Husney reached out to the poorer-but-wiser Kim in hope that he might participate in a proper revival, the grandmaster refused to take his calls. Patience and persistence paid off, however, as Kim came to realize the offer was sincere. MIAMI CONNECTION enjoyed a belated theatrical revival in late 2012, with a subsequent Blu-ray release giving the film the Criterion Collection treatment twenty-odd years after it was remaindered as a tax write-off.

Miami Connection 3

It has become a bone of contention among exploitation film fans as to whether MIAMI CONNECTION is so-bad-it’s-good or genuinely praiseworthy; certainly, the film has a gonzo rhythm and a blithe ignorance of dramaturgy at its most fundamental level, making the viewing experience akin to lucid dreaming. The plot seems cobbled together from shards of other movies, subplots go nowhere, musical interludes stretch on interminably, whole scenes exist simply because a location was secured and nobody wanted it to go to waste, characters improvise statements that contradict what is visible onscreen (a few of these seem improvised by audience favorite Jack McLaughlin, billed as “Old Rock Band Leader” but immortalized by commenters on the film’s IMDb page as the “You Son of a Bitch Guy” for his apoplectic custom of screaming that epithet at any contender), and the film’s voice (in the sinewy corporeality of star-writer-producer Kim) is nigh unintelligible.

Miami Connection - Drafthouse MIAMI CONNECTION will likely be categorized alongside Ed Wood’s notorious UFO docudrama PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1956) and, while the association may be glib, it is not inaccurate. Both films are impassioned pleas for social change and proceed from a place of passion to ride, boldly ride, to their own heartfelt conclusions. What remains most intriguing about MIAMI CONNECTION is its status as a found film, exciting hope among cinephiles that there may yet remain tucked away in attics, garages, and storage vaults all over the land such treasures as the mind can only imagine. Forced Vengeance The kung-foolery continues in the “overnight” slot with the Chuck Norris vehicle FORCED VENGEANCE (1982), in which the American martial arts star, “Action Jeans” entrepreneur, and Bible study advocate busts heads, snaps femurs, and muses on the then-17 years distant Hong Kong handover. Costarring the indefatigable David Opotoshu and Hochstetter from HOGAN’S HEROES.

4 Responses This week on TCM Underground: MIAMI CONNECTION (1987)
Posted By Jay : January 12, 2015 7:20 pm

TCM,

Thank you so much for airing Miami Connection!! Lost gems like this are few and far between. It’s simply one of the best “bad” movies I’ve ever seen. Highly entertaining. Thanks!

Posted By Calcifer Boheme : January 13, 2015 9:59 pm

I adore Miami Connection. It’s obviously not a great film, but that amateur naivete is a lot of its charm.

It’s a movie made by a guy who hasn’t seen many action films, but has heard things. And in the end, it’s as full of heart as anything I’ve seen.

I bought the VHS, which was great. Though now that it’s out of print, I wish I had grabbed the blu ray too.

Posted By george : January 14, 2015 2:55 am

All I remember about FORCED VENGEANCE are:

1. An impressively shot fight scene in silhouette, with a neon background (it looks like a scene from a Frank Miller comic book of the ’80s).

2. Norris’ character is named Josh Randall — the name of Steve McQueen’s bounty hunter in “Wanted: Dead or Alive.”

Posted By swac44 : January 17, 2015 1:15 pm

I’m heading to Fort Lauderdale next month, and now all I can think about is being chased by ninjas through some city botanical garden. They don’t have ninjas in the Everglades too, do they?

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