Miami Connection

Miami Connection ★★★★

Cult Movie Challenge! Week 44 - a film featured on RedLetterMedia's Best of the Worst! (Jackie's pick!)

Strange take for y'all to chew on: Miami Connection is the good version of The Giant Gila Monster. Insomuch as Gordon McLendon and YK Kim were both local personalities whose work (disc jockeying and martial arts instruction, respectively) placed them firmly outside the world of even casual filmmaking, who both decided to produce their own feature as an expansion of their business practices, worked in the popular genre idioms of their day (giant monster movies and ninja action flicks), and centered a not insubstantial portion of their films on impossibly earnest songs about love and friendship. What, then, is the YK Kim x-factor? Why does my review of McLendon's film see me bounce hard off the concrete surface and declare it an unenjoyable slog without Mike and the Bots, while here I mean to praise this highlight from Mike and the Boys' drunken panel show as junky 80s fun, better emblematic of the decade's soul than many mainstream hits and similar low-budget efforts?

Mostly, while Kim comes across as an overly-eager dork, he's not an uptight dork, or a dork who's needlessly concerned about formalism and line-toeing. He and his crew drawn from his taekwondo classes are remarkably loose and easy about how they produce and present the film, almost rendering the plot incomprehensible in the process. They're lucky one can easily outline the film by going, "Martial arts synth rock band vs burly biker band backed by cocaine ninjas," because the structure is so addled and aimless as to leave me lost until a good halfway through. See, Kim knows what movies need: they need wholesome messaging, but they also need fistfights, stealth action, and brutal swordplay. They need a bunch of half-naked, hairy, hot dudes living it up in their communal house and espousing the virtues of friendship while they cry about their feelings, hang out at the beach, and eat at a friendly Korean restaurant. They need Acting, capital-A Acting, the kind of Acting that makes you question whether this is a piss-take or someone's genuine attempt at replicating human emotion. They need synth, and lots of it, so much synth you'll often find it going harder than anyone has ever gone before over scenes of nothing much happening at all. They need YK Kim, and boy do they Need his quarter-grasp take on the English language as their dramatic lead. YK Kim knows all these things, and for his limited resources and bottomless inexperience, he is going to deliver you all this and more.

How it all fits together, nobody here much knows, and that's a big part of what makes it good. Try to watch Miami Connection as a story with any concrete destination, any concept of how to tie the cocaine ninjas into the inter-band rivalry into one band member's emotional quest to find his father into Kim's glorifying taekwondo as the ultimate in self-improvement, and you'll come away convinced it's a badly edited, worse-paced blind mess. Understand, however, Kim and his crew are throwing this thing together based on whatever feels good in the moment, pursuing ideas as they appear from the ether and dedicating themselves body and soul to their latest screwy notion, and all of a sudden one can vibe with the movie pretty effortlessly. It's a simple world, one where we'll introduce a friendly older character just for the sake of giving him a scene where he shows off his martial arts skills, or else put ninjas on motorcycles because ninjas are cool and motorcycles are cool so the combination should double the coolness, or frequently cut to Dragon Sound jamming in a bar because the guy we hired to write our music just keeps pumping out bangers nonstop, and we can't NOT use them. Then all the innocence takes a turn for bloodshed as the boys shred the ninja gang to shreds, only to somersault back into aching wholesomeness for a father-son reunion and a title card calling for nonviolence towards world peace. You don't understand the Miami Connection. You FEEL the Miami Connection.

Also yeah, a big reason I make fun of McLendon as a humorless dork while praising Kim and his friends as a worthwhile good men following their passion is because, to quote the YTP version of Dennis Prager, they have much better music. Completely unbelievable a band like this wouldn't get laughed out of any serious nightclub, but then again it was Orlando in 1987. The past is, as they say, a different country.

As to the Best of the Worst episode this was featured on, it's difficult for me to say Miami Connection is the far and away obvious winner like the panel does. Sure, I haven't seen Deadly Prey or Hard Ticket to Hawaii, but based on the clips as shown, I could formulate a strong argument for each as the most stunning experience. Deadly Prey has Cameron Mitchell's wonderful speech decrying the ills of society before gunning down his target in the stiffest position you ever done seen, as well as the protagonist simply wandering back home after he finishes with the guys who kidnapped him. Hard Ticket to Hawaii, meanwhile, has the scene of the protagonists knocking an upside down biker off his ride, blowing him up at close range with a bazooka, and then doing the same to the blowup doll he had in his arms, which, no joke, had me gaping in open-mouthed, crinkle-eyed delight like nothing has done in YEARS. All the stuff in Miami Connection SOUNDS insane on paper and proves great fun in the watching - but Hard Ticket to Hawaii made me believe in God with that one clip. YK Kim almost certainly deserves his success the most of anyone highlighted, though. I watched Vice's documentary on the making of and subsequent rediscovery for Miami Connection this morning, and it's genuinely an inspirational tale. Go check it out!

(Oh, and advisory: the free copy on YouTube right now censors a lot of swear words by awkwardly muting the sound, and chops out a few of the more entertaining bits. Seek out Vudu's free HD copy instead.)