Saturday, December 30, 2017

A Quick And Revealing Review Of 2017

If I had to describe this year using only Star Trek: Voyager titles, I'd go with this one.

Happy 30th Anniversary To Miami Connection!

Happy 30th Anniversary to my new favorite film, Miami Connection, which is quite possibly the greatest action movie ever made!

So what's Miami Connection about? Heh, now that's a good question. I've seen it several times now, and even I'm not entirely sure. I'll do my best to try and explain it. 

Despite its title, ninety nine percent of the movie actually takes place in Orlando. There are at least three or four different plots going on during the film's runtime, which makes it tough to figure out exactly what's happening at any given time. B
asically it concerns a rock group called Dragon Sound, which consists of five guys and a gal who just want to play music, frolic on the beach and have fun. 

The Dragon Sound guys are an ethnically diverse group of "orpans" (you'll understand that reference if you've seen the film), who are all taekwondo masters. They also attend the University Of Central Florida, despite the fact that most of them appear to be in their thirties. In addition, the guys all live together in one apartment, where they spend the majority of their time walking around shirtless. In fact the guys almost seem incapable of wearing shirts, as if their skin repels all forms of cloth.

Unfortunately their good times are constantly ruined by the various martial arts gangs that roamed freely through Florida in the 1980s. And ninjas! Don't forget the ninjas!

The brother of Dragon Sound's female singer hates the group, and he and his gang of thugs are constantly trying to beat them up. There's also a drug cartel/ninja cabal that despises them as well, possibly because the group has an anti ninja song in their playlist (no, really!). And then there's a rival rock band which was bumped in favor of Dragon Sound, who've vowed revenge against them. I think that just about covers everyone who's against them.

Miami Connection is an absolute roller coaster in terms of its tone. One minute it almost seems like an episode of Saved By The Bell, as the guys 
sing catchy 80's tunes about friendship (!) and playfully banter with one another (shirtless, of course). Heck, there's even a scene that takes place somewhere called "Bayside!"

And then the film unexpectedly turns on a dime, becoming a violent, over the top action-fest, as the guys are attacked by various gangs. The fight scenes are well-choreographed for the most part, and inexplicably feature closeups of extreme blood and gore! 

And then there's the end of the film, in which Dragon Sound member Jim is seriously wounded (by ninjas, natch), causing his pals Mark and John to transform into bloodthirsty barbarians and graphically slay everyone in their path.

It's literally like two or three movies melded together, which of course makes it all the more awesome and fascinating to watch.

Miami Connection is also pure 1980s gold, perfectly capturing the look, sound and feel of the decade. This makes perfect sense of course, since the film was made in 1987.
 At times it almost feels like someone set out to make a 1980s parody film, and got every tiny detail exactly right.

If you're wondering why you've never seen or even heard of Miami Connection before, there's a very good reason for that. Shortly after it premiered back in 1987, it promptly disappeared from the face of the Earth, seemingly forever. It unexpectedly resurfaced a couple of years ago, to the delight of bad film fans everywhere.

The story of how the film came to be, disappeared and resurfaced is almost more interesting than the movie itself.

Miami Connection was the brainchild of Y.K. Kim, a South Korean immigrant who moved to Orlando, Florida in 1976. Kim opened a taekwondo school shortly afterward, in 1978. His school became so popular it was open twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. Eventually he expanded, opening seven more schools in Central Florida.

A director named Woo-san Park met Kim on a South Korean talk show, and was so impressed by him that he suggested they join forces and make a film together. Despite warnings from his friends who all told him he'd go bankrupt, Kim agreed.

The film's original budget was around $200,000, but quickly grew to $1 million. Kim financed the film himself, which caused him to go into serious debt. He ended up losing his home and was forced to sell his original taekwondo school!

Kim was reportedly ready to give up when he had a vision of his late mother, who told him to forge ahead and finish the movie (!). He took her heavenly advice and completed the film in 1987.

Amazingly, the movie screened at the Cannes Film Festival in France (!), where it predictably bombed. Kim then returned to the States, and paid for the film to premiere in eight theaters around the Orlando area. Once again, the film played to sparse audiences, and was a huge financial and critical flop. After that it seemingly dropped off the face of the planet.

Then in 2009, something amazing happened. Zack Carlson, a programmer for the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Texas, ran across an actual 35mm print of the movie on eBay. He bought it for fifty dollars, and began screening the film at the Drafthouse. 

Miami Connection began to develop a following at the theater. Sometime later the Drafthouse contacted Kim about acquiring the distribution rights to the film. At the time, Kim was still smarting from the humiliating failure of the movie, and thought the call was a prank. Eventually they convinced him they were genuinely interested, and that the film had become more popular than ever. Kim relented and made a deal with the theater. The movie continues to grow in popularity, decades after its initial release. It's even been restored and released on blu-ray (!), probably looking better than it did in 1987!

According to Y.K. Kim, he's fine with the fact that his masterpiece is more popular than ever, if for the wrong reasons. Said Kim, "I don't mind... not one little bit, so long as I'm making people laugh."

Here are just a few of the highlights that make Miami Connection so damned awesome:


• As I mentioned earlier, despite the title, the film doesn't actually take place in Miami. There's a brief prologue that's actually set there, but after that it's all Orlando, baby!

• We don't actually get the misleading title card until the 8:24 mark!

• A couple examples of the shockingly realistic blood and gore in the film, that clashes horribly with the fun and wacky antics of Dragon Sound.

• Dragon Sound plays a couple of their hit songs in the film, and THEY. ARE. AWESOME. Their Friends song is pure 1980s perfection, which of course makes sense, since that's when it was written. I defy you to listen to it and not have it stuck in your head the rest of the day. 

Here're the lyrics:
Friends through eternity, loyalty, honesty. We'll stay together, through thick or thin. Friends forever, we'll be together. We're on top 'cause we play to win.
You've got a friend in me. When times get tough, you'll see. We've been together for so long. When I'm weak you make me strong. I know I can depend on you, to show the way and see me through.
Friends through eternity, loyalty, honesty. We'll stay together, through thick or thin. Friends forever, we'll be together. We're on top 'cause we play to win.
All kidding aside, these songs are easily the highlight of the film, and they take me back to a simpler time, before the world became a miserable cesspool.

The songs were all written by Angelo Janotti, the Hall & Oates-looking guy who plays Tom. Of course he's playing guitar shirtless.

He and Kathy Collier (who plays Jane, the Pat Benatar lookalike) were dating in real life at the time of filming. Supposedly Janotti didn't care for the fact that Collier's character was romantically involved with John (played by Vincent Hirsch), and was uncomfortable with their scenes together.

Whenever Collier and Hirsch were about to shoot a love scene, the crew would send Janotti out for beer or on other errands, so he wouldn't see the other two actors writhing around together.'

Janotti and Collier were also the only two members of Dragon Sound who actually had any musical training or talent.

The rest of the band were just faking it and playing air guitar on stage. Let me tell you, you don't need to be a musician to spot the fact that they're not really playing their instruments. This is especially obvious in any shot featuring Y.K. Kim as Mark, whose air guitar skills are horrendous.

• There aren't many films out there that can boast a caption like this!

A couple of the Dragon Sound guys, like John and maybe Jack, actually look young enough to be college students. The rest of them though are clearly in their thirties, and far too old to likely be enrolled. 

Oddly enough, Y.K. Kim looks like he's at least forty five if he's a day, but he was thirty one at the time of shooting!

• Possibly the best scene in the entire film is when Jeff and his thugs confront Dragon Sound for the first time. 

Listen for the moment when Jane tells her brother Jeff that John is a friend of hers. For no good reason, Jeff bellows, "A FRIEND?" at the top of his lungs, which inadvertently makes it the most hilarious line reading of all time.

Also listen as Y.K. Kim, who has a VERY thick accent, struggles with his line, "You do not scare me! At all! Goodbye!" Which of course comes out something like, "You donut scat me atoll! Gerdbye!"

Also take note of Jeff's magnificent, Billy Mays-like ebony beard. This impressive shock of facial hair refuses to reflect so much as a stray photon, much the way a black hole in space absorbs all visible light. It's very impressive.

By the way, this is as good a place as any to address the name situation in the film. The seven main characters are named Mark, John, Jack, Jim, Tom, Jane and Jeff. These generic and similar names (five of 'em start with with a "J" for corn's sake!) make it extremely difficult to remember who's who. Even after seeing the movie several times, I have trouble figuring out which name goes with what character.

• The group has a second hit song called Against The Ninja, and it's equally awesome. Oddly enough, the Dragon Sound members don't actually encounter any ninjas until the very end of the movie, which makes the existence of this song and its placement a bit puzzling. I guess they're just anti-ninja in general, even though they've never actually met any.

By the way, the middle of the song features a fist-pumping call and response line, in which the audience joins in. I've been racking my brain for months trying to figure out exactly what they're shouting here. I finally saw the lyrics online, and they're yelling, "Tae Kwon! Tae Kwon!" over and over. Yeah, I know, it doesn't make any sense, but whaddya gonna do?

• Naturally the Dragon Sound guys only have one car, and they all ride around together in it. Because they must always do everything together. EVERYTHING. Also note that they have a convertible, because of course they do.

Watch for the moment where Y.K. Kim tries to be cool and jump into the car, only for his left leg to get hung up on the side. You'd think a guy who can kick his leg straight up into the air would be able to leap three feet into a car, but you'd be wrong.

• There's some decent martial arts action in the scene in which Dragon Sound is attacked by Jeff's Gang. At least I think it's Jeff's. It could be one of the other several groups that are after the boys.

Most of the film's cast were students of Y.K. Kim's various taekwondo schools, which would account for the reasonably impressive stunt work.

Y.K. Kim was so popular and beloved in the Orlando area that the city government allowed him to film anywhere in the city without a permit. He was even allowed to shut down streets for filming!

Apparently one precinct must not have received the memo, because during filming the police thought the street brawl was real and moved in to stop it!

• Because the members of Dragon Sound are all "orpans," (Y.K. Kim's way of saying "orphan"), they all live together in one house. Shirtless, of course.

This leads us to the famous scene in which Jim tearfully tells the others his tragic backstory. Apparently his mother was Korean, and his father was "black American," which is a term no one's ever said in the history of English. His father then left them, and his mother made Jim promise to find him some day.

Maurice Smith's emoting in this scene is as fascinating as it is cringe-worthy. Note how uncomfortable the other characters look while he's sobbing uncontrollably. Move over, Sir Laurence Olivier! There's a new World's Best Actor in town!

This was Maurice Smith's one and only acting gig. After Miami Connection wrapped, he went on to a successful career in business equipment sales. He's currently the sales VP of an online broadcasting service.

By the way, Jim apparently gets over this emotional outburst really quickly, because after this the film immediately cuts to the guys frolicking on the beach and hitting on various bikini-clad babes. I'm convinced this was done in an effort to assure the audience that this group of shirtless roommates didn't have a case of the gays.

• We're then treated to several runtime-filling moments of Y.K. Kim and his pals practicing their sweet taekwondo routines.

For some reason, Mark ends his routine with Jack (I think it's Jack) by trying to shove his entire fist into his mouth.

He then spars with John for a bit, ending their practice by pinching his nose between his toes. I... I honestly don't know what to say here. It's not like Mark kicks his leg out and grabs John's nose in the blink of an eye. That would have actually been impressive. 

Instead John freezes and patiently lies motionless while Mark slowly brings his foot closer and closer to his face, fumbling around with his toes until he finally grabs his nose. It's one of the most bizarre things I've ever seen.

• Director Cameo Alert! Be on the lookout for the completely superfluous scene with restaurant owner Uncle Song, who's played by Woo-sang Park, the director of Miami Connection.

Uncle Song ends up kicking the ever loving sh*t out of a group of ne'er do wells who try to skip out on their tab. Note that despite what it looks like, the black gentleman in the center of the screen is NOT wearing a diaper. Those are what passed for men's shorts back in 1987. It was a different time.

• Per John's suggestion, Mark starts incorporating some of his taekwondo moves into Dragon Sound's act! Complete with the nose-grabbing routine!

The band also decides they're going to go on a world tour (!) and visit the home countries of all the members such as Korea, Ireland and Israel. Because that's what local club bands do, right? Go on world tours?

• Jeff and his goons just can't seem to let Dragon Sound alone, so they send them a written invitation to a gang fight (!). I am not kidding here.

Amazingly, the Dragon Sound guys actually show up for the fight, rather than call the police like normal humans would. Maybe it's an honor thing.

Note the cartoonish gent at the left of the screen above. This is apparently what Y.K. Kim thought a gang member looked like.

The fight goes on for quite a while, until Jeff spots a couple of police cruisers in the distance. He then yells, "Cops!" and both his gang and the Dragon Sound guys beat it the hell out of there.

Really? Jeff is supposed to be the leader of a bloodthirsty gang of thugs, who're involved in drug trafficking, ninja cults and all sorts of shady dealings. Why the hell would he be afraid of the cops?

It kind of reminded me of kids soaping car windows and running away when they think they see the police.

For absolutely no reason, we're then treated to at least ten minutes of B-roll footage of a biker gang milling around and getting drunk.

These were real bikers too, who were paid in beer to be in the film. Over a hundred of them ended up attending the movie's premiere in Orlando.

• A bit later Jeff tries to kill the Dragon Sound guys yet again. This guy just won't give up! The fight goes on for quite some time, culminating in Jeff and Mark battling one another at the top of a high tower.

Unfortunately for Jeff, during the fight he takes a wrong step and topples backwards off the tower and falls to his death. This is what's known in films as a Disney Death™. One in which the villain gets his comeuppance by accidentally killing himself, relieving the main character of the responsibility and preserving his heroic status.

• Those damned Florida Ninjas then hear about Jeff's tragic passing, and even though he technically killed himself, they vow vengeance against Dragon Sound.

The ninjas would probably look a bit more menacing if their movements weren't so perfectly choreographed here. They look like the Rockettes, or some kind of Vegas revue!

• Finally some good news! Jim checks the mail (shirtless of course) and discovers a letter from his long-lost father, who's flying down to Miami, er, I mean Orlando to see him! Huzzah!

This leads to possibly the most hilarious moment in the film, as Jim exclaims "Oh my GOD!" in a high-pitched, little girl's falsetto.

His shirtless pals then congratulate him. Shirtlessly of course. Note that Tom's out on the front lawn dressed only in a towel (!).

• The guys then pool all their money to buy Jim a brand new suit, so he can meet his father in style. Just then Jane shows up for some reason, after sitting out the last forty five minutes or so of the film. 

We then get a tense and puzzling— reunion between Jane and John, who haven't seen one another since Jeff's death. Jane tells John she's hurting inside, but couldn't stay away because she loves him. John says he's so sorry about what happened to Jeff, and says, "We had no choice. We had to do it."

Apparently John's reading from an early version of the script here, because he had absolutely nothing to do with Jeff's death. As I said above, Jeff blundered off the tower and inadvertently killed himself while fighting Mark! John wasn't anywhere near him!

For some reason, only Mark and John drive Jim to the airport to meet his father. Along the way they're attacked by Florida Ninjas. They then leap out of their car and run into what appears to be a tropical jungle. Sure, why not?

Jim is attacked by a sword-wielding ninja, who slashes him in the stomach! Oh no! Not Jim's brand new suit! If you look closely you'll see they even sliced his new tie in half! The monsters!

• This is the point where Miami Connection goes completely off the rails (if it was ever on them to begin with). When Mark and John see their friend Jim lying bloody and dying on the ground, they both go into full berserker mode. John literally rips his shirt and jacket in half in one swift move! You can practically see their videogame power-ups appear on the screen!

The two then cut through a veritable army of ninjas, mowing them all down in a relentless orgy of violence and bloodlust. It's absolutely glorious in its insanity.

 ,,,,annnnnd then we cut from their manic, blood-stained faces to the group sitting patiently in a hospital waiting room!

I'm guessing the wild-eyed, bloodied pair took Jim to the ER, then called Jack to bring them some fresh clothes, as well as swing by the airport to pick up Jim's dad. That's him at the right.

Note that Jim's dad appears to be approximately the same age as he is, complete with very obvious powdered hair, in a valiant attempt to make him look older. They couldn't have found a fifty year old black man anywhere in Miami, er, I mean Orlando?

 The gang, along with the dad, are then reunited with Jim. Despite the fact that he was almost sliced in half a couple of hours ago, he's apparently free to go home, as they wheel him out of the hospital. Dad tells Jim he's very lucky to have such good friends, and says he'll never leave him again. 

John then declares them all safe, as the happy-go-lucky members of Dragon Sound have managed to kill every single one of their enemies over the course of the film! Yay!

In the original cut of the film, Jim dies on the way to the hospital, as Mark and Jim look up to see his dad's plane fly overhead. When Kim screened the film for potential distributors, they told him that ending was too much of a downer, and he needed to change it.

Director Woo-sang Park had already returned to Korea at that point, so Kim shot a new ending in which Jim lives by himself. Kim decided the film needed additional reshoots as well, and for some reason tapped Joseph Diamond, who played Jack (I think) to write the new scenes.

Diamond had absolutely zero experience in screenwriting, so he reportedly bought eight or nine books on the subject and studied them before tacking the job. Maybe he should have bought a few more.

 We then see what has to be the most jaw-droppingly incredible title card in the history of cinema. Are you freakin' kidding me? This film is ninety minutes of nothing but violence!

Maybe I'm misunderstanding the card's message here. Maybe it's not advocating the elimination of violence, as it first appears. Instead, maybe it's saying that there can only be peace if you eliminate everyone who seeks to do you harm!

 Ah, but we're not done yet! Miami Connection is the film that keeps on giving, even after it's over. Once the story ends, we're treated to a bizarre credit sequence, in which we see short clips of the main players.

Only Miami Connection would use a shot of two people for an actor credit! So... I guess Y.K. Kim is probably the Asian guy here, right?

Um... one of these guys is probably Vincent Hirsch. You've got a fifty-fifty chance of picking the right one!

There were probably twenty five or thirty good closeup shots of Maurice Smith in the film. Y.K. Kim chose to use this one for the credits.

Is... is Angelo Janotti the girl who's framed in the center of the screen here?

Um... which one is this? I... I can't quite make out his face.

Eh, Kathy's face is obscured by the guitar neck AND her name here, but I'm sure the audience will figure it out.

So once again, Happy 30th Anniversary to Miami Connection! If you've not seen it, I urge you to track it down and watch it. Trust me, you won't be disappointed.
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