In fairness to both the critics and cinemagoers of Florida, it is clear how one might mistake Miami Connection for just another subpar piece of ’80s chopsockey “trash.” From its ludicrous plot (the members of Dragon Sound battle both a rival band and a horde of ninjas) to its tin-eared dialog (at one point a character talks about “stupid cocaine”) the film’s amateurish streak is as wide as a politician’s smile. But the movie also boasts an endearing all-for-one-and-one-for-all-one sensibility that separates the film from, and arguably elevates it above, the common action-movie herd. “Most of the movies that were being made in that era were attempting to cash-in,” says Zach Carlson, a programmer at the Alamo Drafthouse. “There are uncountable Rambo knock-offs, there’s a million Road Warrior knock-offs. And all of them feel pretty crass in their attempt to turn a profit. But Y.K. Kim wasn’t aware of what was popular in movies. He just was so dedicated to his martial arts lifestyle. When he made that movie, it was coming completely from his mind and his very unique world and the sincerity of it is really what makes it count. It’s so beautifully innocent and it’s so pure. That is I think what always makes a movie a, quote unquote, cult classic.”
It is thanks to Carlson that Miami Connection is now getting a second chance in cinemas, a quarter of a century after its brief theatrical run. Forever on the hunt for unknown cinematic gems for the Drafthouse library, Carlson paid $50 for a 35 mm print of the film on eBay in 2009, despite the seller actually trying to dissuade him from purchasing the movie. “I wasn’t aware of the film and at the time there was very little information online anywhere because it kind of got strangled in its crib,” says Carlson. “When I contacted the seller he kind of tried to talk me out of buying it. He was like ‘Are you sure you want this? Do you know what this is? It’s not necessarily a movie that people are going to enjoy watching.’ I think he had heard from the guy that he’d gotten it from that it was kind of a dud. He was trying to do the honest thing and warn me that it wasn’t Hollywood’s finest. But it turned out to be better than that.”
In April 2010, Carlson screened the first reel of Miami Connection, sight unseen, at a Drafthouse event. “We have about 3,000 films [in the archive] and many of them have never been released on video,” says the programmer. “So to assess their value as entertainment we do this thing called a ‘Reel One’ party where we take the first 20 minute reel of four or five movies and we play them for a small audience, which come in for free. The audience’s reaction kind of dictates whether or not we program the entire film in our calendar down the line. So we watched like three other movies that didn’t really get much of a reaction and weren’t that fun and then we played the first 20 minutes of Miami Connection.”
“People went completely bananas. Because in the first 20 minutes you’ve got fighting and you’ve got awkward dialog and you’ve got a Dragon Sound performance. You’ve got all this stuff that encapsulates the feel of the movie. Everybody was like, ‘When is that going to play?’ It was about two and a half months later that we actually got to program the film. It was this huge sold-out screening, just from people that had heard about that first reel.”
But when Husney first cold-called Kim’s office about the possibility of rereleasing the film through the Alamo Drafthouse’s new distribution and production arm, he got the brush-off. “They thought it was a prank call,” he says. “I was like, ‘I really love this movie, we want to release it.’ It was literally like, click.”
Kim says that he was extremely wary of revisiting what he describes as “the nightmare 25 years ago” but, intrigued by Husney’s persistence, the Grandmaster eventually signed on the dotted line and accepted an invitation to attend a screening in New York last July. It was there that the martial arts guru asked Husney why on earth he had bought his crappy movie. “His response was, ‘You know, daytime, the family come to watch this movie — no this is not that type of movie,'” says Kim. “But midnight movie goers, they really like it.’ I was skeptical. So I went to the theater. Eleven p.m., they start. At 10:55 p.m., [there are still only] around 60. It looked empty. Oh gosh, I don’t want to die again. Eleven o’clock? Oh my god! Packed! And then I sit with them. I was shocked. beginning to finish, non-stop cheering, screaming, laughing. Is it real? It’s real! I was really shocked.”
The theatrical rerelease of the film is being promoted by a new trailer made by Jason Eisener, whose 2011 debut Hobo with a Shotgun paid homage to the ’80s action genre. “I’ve seen every frame of Miami Connection a hundred times while cutting the trailer, and after close inspection I can say that each and every one of those frames is a goddamn miracle!” says Eisener. “Usually when you find a gem from the past, it will have explosive moments, and then some down time where you could probably leave the room to grab a drink or pizza pocket. That’s not the case with Miami Connection — every second of this film is electric and not to be missed.”
The film is also being hyped by Kim himself. The Grandmaster and Diamond recently recorded a commentary track for the film’s out-in-December DVD and Blu-ray and, prior to the movie’s screening at this September’s Fantastic Fest in Austin, he delighted attendees by slicing open a watermelon balanced on Zack Carlson’s chest with a samurai sword. “It went all the way through the water melon and left this green blade-bruise, where it was a millimeter from disemboweling me,” says the programmer.
So does Kim still think his film is trash? “Anybody who is looking for drama, romance — I don’t think they should watch this movie,” he admits. “However, anyone who loves music and exciting action and true meaning of friendship, they’re not just gonna love, they will be crazy about Miami Connection.”
Midnight screenings of Miami Connection are taking place tonight at the Nuart Theatre in Los Angeles (where Y.K. Kim will be in attendance), the Sunshine Cinema in New York tonight and tomorrow, and in a number of other cities across the country. You can check out Jason Eisener’s trailer below.
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