Miami Connection (US - BD RA)
Hey, Gabe got a letter! He found his father! He found his father! Oh my God!
The year is 1987. Motorcycle ninjas tighten their grip on Florida’s narcotics trade, viciously annihilating anyone who dares move in on their turf. Multi-national martial arts rock band Dragon Sound have had enough and embark on a roundhouse wreck-wave of crime-crushing justice. When not chasing beach bunnies or performing their hit song ‘Against the Ninja,’ Mark (Tae Kwon Do master/inspirational speaker Y.K. Kim) and the boys are kicking and chopping at the drug world’s smelliest underbelly. It’ll take every ounce of their blood and courage, but Dragon Sound can’t stop until they’ve completely destroyed the dealers, the drunk bikers, the kill-crazy ninjas, the middle-aged thugs, the ‘stupid cocaine’...and the entire MIAMI CONNECTION!!! (From Drafthouse Films’ official synopsis)
The fine folks at Drafthouse Films are relatively new to the home video game, but have already made a real name for themselves with eclectic releases, including brand new, homegrown cult hopefuls ( The FP) and foreign arthouse releases ( Four Lions, Bullhead). It’s possible, however, that their greatest work will be found releasing previously ‘lost’ exploitation and B-flicks, like George Willoughby’s Wake in Fright and this goofy little number – Miami Connection. Cult discoveries/re-discoveries come in two flavours. The first flavour is that of an already popular film with an established following. When these films are re-released to the public, there’s already a decent word-of-mouth built and sales are assured. The geeks that care about such things buy and re-buy these titles ad nauseum as they are released and re-released on the latest home video formats (how many times have you purchased Evil Dead?). The second flavour is a movie so obscure that only the most insanely obsessive genre fans have any idea what to expect. These movies are time machines back to drive-ins and grindhouses, where audiences would pay for a night of entertainment based entirely on the title and poster art. Word-of-mouth must be earned in cases like these and, if the movie truly sucks, it will disappear again into the ether, where only the weirdos that collect Andy Milligan movies will bother to ever see it again.
Miami Connection belongs in that second category and may be the most bizarre and singular discovery of its type since Criterion released Nobuhiko Obayashi’s Hausu on an unsuspecting public (before that, Synapse’s Horrors of Malformed Men was definitely a ‘find’) – minus most the artistry, of course. But, like all the best artless, amateurish monstrosities, Miami Connection has heart and a charming back-story. According to legend, low-budget action director Richard Park (aka: Park Woo-sang) discovered Y.K. Kim on a Korean talk show in 1987 and convinced the 9th degree black belt, philosopher, author, and inspirational speaker to make a movie. Kim and Park collaborated as directors, then somehow managed to gain enough financial backing to actual shoot their little film. Not surprisingly, every distribution company in town turned them down and Miami Connection premiered in only a handful of theaters. There are rare VHS versions on the market (apparently the UK and Swedish releases made the bootleg rounds for some time), but, otherwise, the film was all but entirely forgotten and Kim went on to gain fame on public speaking tours. Then, one fateful day in 2009, Alamo Drafthouse programmer Zack Carlson blindly bought a print on eBay for $50. The rest, as they say, is history.
Miami Connection is such a singularity of a film doesn’t feel like a ‘real movie’ and, if I didn’t find concrete proof of it’s existence prior to this release, I would’ve assumed it was another in a long line of faux-bad movies – somewhere between The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra and Hobo with a Shotgun. Every ounce of the period’s most ridiculous imagery is squeezed into every frame and the screenplay is crammed with every crime and martial arts genre cliché imaginable – all without an iota of irony. The astonishingly quotable dialogue is woodenly spouted as if Park (who has a cameo as an ass-kicking restaurant owner) filmed the rehearsal footage without telling anyone the cameras were running. I hope and pray that there were dozens of takes and that these were truly the best performances. But here’s the thing: Park and Kim aren’t inept filmmakers – they’re just amateur writers (co-star Joseph Diamand also co-wrote) with questionable aesthetic taste and issues with continuity. This non-inept filmmaking is ultimately what makes Miami Connection a worthy viewing opportunity for a much wider audience than an average B-roll discovery. It’s an entertaining film, it moves quickly, it’s colourfully shot, and the action sequences are, well, kind of good. The burly white dudes don’t brawl with a whole lot of enthusiasm, but Kim, pseudo-lead Vincent Hirsch, and their ninja buddies clearly know what they’re doing. More importantly, Park captures the fisticuffs without obscuring these talents and even throws in an occasionally stylistic flourish for good measure. The climax is so well put together that it threatens to transcend the rest of the film’s ludicrousness.
As a self-appointed connoisseur of terrible movies (mostly from the ‘70s and ‘80s) I know, more so than most people, how little good intentions and a handful of amusing scenes mean if the terrible movie in question is otherwise overwhelmed with filler (see: almost every Jess Franco and Al Adamson movie, ever). Miami Connection does feature plenty of filler between action beats and loony concert sequences, but this filler is almost always unintentionally hilarious and arguably the best part of the whole film. There is some ‘intended humour,’ but Miami Connection is funny because it takes itself so very seriously and isn’t content to be just an action movie. Characters overreact in grandiose fashion to the slightest thing and every single minor altercation results in a fistfight. When people aren’t busy physically pummeling each other and we aren’t witnessing the glory of Dragon Sound, things veer into lumbering melodrama (Dragon Sound is made up of orphans, except Jim, the black guy, who delivers a deliciously pathetic speech about his missing dad) and heavy-handed morals, mostly about racial equality and the nature of violence (Dragon Sound intends on doing a world tour to all of their members’ ancestral countries). The film ends on a card reading ‘Only through the elimination of violence can we achieve world peace.’
Speaking of violence, the violence here (though often unbelievably executed) is quite graphic, more so than the average for ‘80s STV action, most of which usually featured bloody squib hits and arterial spray, but not a whole lot of prosthetic effects or true gore. There isn’t an excess of this kind of violence, but what we get is choice, including a whole lot of deep lacerations and a particularly gruesome beheading. Oh, and it wouldn’t be an ‘80s action movie without oodles of not so subtle homoeroticism. Dragon Sound lives together in a run-down rambler, rarely wear shirts (never wear sleeves), and sometimes just walk about the house with their skinny jeans unbuttoned and unzipped. Because that’s what bros do. Kim also threatens to shove his fist down a dude’s throat during a practice session and Park’s camera lingers on a super-slow-motion shot of the guy’s gaping maw as it awaits entry.
I don’t think anyone was expecting the best from a film this far forgotten, but Drafthouse has certainly taken pains to make their print look good. I’m not sure if Miami Connection was shot 35mm or blown up from 16mm, but a pre-menu screen tells us that a hurricane almost destroyed the negative back in 2004 (a likely story). This transfer was apparently culled from existing materials and scanned at 2K resolution. The wear and tear certainly shows on this 1.85:1 widescreen print (all other home video releases have been full frame), but mostly in the form of print damage (heavy grain, hair, scratches, minor shrinkage, burns, etc), not CRT scanning noise or obvious compression effects. This inconsistent quality rarely bowls over into unwatchability aside from some rare, brief, night shots that are so covered in white fuzz that it’s basically impossible to see anything. In fact, the roughness mostly adds to the experience. Detail levels are sometimes lacking the sharpness and complexity we’ve come to expect from studios like Blue Underground and Synapse, but there’s very little in terms of mushy backgrounds or bleeding edges. It seems that the 2K scanning benefited the vibrant colours more than anything and the effect is genuinely impressive. White levels are overblown and black levels are crushed throughout, but rarely at the expense of vibrant acrylic hues or generally natural skin tones (admittedly, I was hoping for something closer to the neon hues the cover art promised). The whole film has a blueish base hue, which might be intended ( Miami Vice being the ultimate image of cool Miami at the time), but might also be a sign of degradation. Whatever the cause, I like it.
The box art lists a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track, but this is a compressed Dolby Digital 2.0 track. Normally, such an oversight would be worth raising hell about, but, really, Miami Connection isn’t going to sound amazing no matter what audio codec it is presented in. Fortunately, this track doesn’t really show any signs of major compression, likely due to its stereo simplicity. Volume levels are set nice and high without a whole lot of noticeable distortion on the highest ends. Sometimes, the dialogue tracks, most of which appear to have been recorded in post (sometimes badly, sometimes less badly), feature a bit of buzz,and the sound floor is a bit fuzzy, but really, we’re talking about minor issues here. There’s actually some thought put into the film’s sound design, especially in terms of ambient noise and, fortunately for us, the producers over-crank everything in the stereo channels. The sound of a computer class is flooded with clacking keys, the college campus features the loudest birds on record, and the gym equipment clanks like industrial machinery. But things like dialogue and effects are secondary to the awesome synth-rock of Dragon Sound and Jon McCallum’s original synth score. Honestly, the music isn’t bad. I mean, it’s bad, but like the rest of the film, it exists on that rare plan where entertainment and stupefaction collide. I’m going to guess that the Drafthouse people had access to some of the original stereo music tracks separated from the film’s soundtrack, because the crisp and bright sound quality of the music is notably better than the other tracks. The best sounding examples are the concert sequences (watching Kim pretend to play his guitar during these scenes is just the best), which really do sound like PCM-worthy re-mastered audio.
The extras begin with a commentary featuring producer/co-director/star Y.K. Kim and co-writer/actor Joe Diamand, moderated by Drafthouse programmer Zack Carlson. Carlson is well-prepared for the track and keeps things moving by asking the filmmakers some of our most burning questions. Sometimes, the questions are met with a brief and unsatisfying blurb, but, more often than not, Diamand and Kim (usually Diamand) have an amusing little anecdote to share (the best pertaining to the day jobs of some of the supporting cast). Unfortunately, it is difficult to understand Kim at times (though his English has improved a lot since the film was made), but it rarely becomes an issue. The bigger issue is that Diamand is kind of a boring dude who speaks in a droning monotone and doesn’t seem too interested in making light of the movie. On occasion, he surprises with a deadpan joke that seems to catch Carlson off-guard. There’s also something amusing about hearing him treat Miami Connection so seriously, especially his praise of the unintentionally funny dramatic sequences. I was expecting a little more fun from the track and it feels like Carlson is holding back out of respect, but I’m not entirely disappointed, either.
Friends for Eternity: The Making of Miami Connection (19:20, HD) features Kim, Diamand, actors Maurice Smith, Angelo Janotti, and Vincent Hirsch, discussing the making of the film without a hint of irony (though everyone knows its okay to laugh at the film). The DIY, unprofessional history of the production (complete with behind the scenes photographs) is very charming and Kim’s world philosophy is delightfully genuine. There’s overlap with the commentary here, but not too much. Up next is an alternate sad ending (2:20, HD) and 15 deleted/extended scenes (11:50, HD). These include a random excuses to show off Angelo Janotti’s guitar skills. The extras also feature a Dragon Sound reunion concert from Fantastic Fest 2012 (if you look real closely, you can see friends of DVDActive Phil Nobile Jr. and Evan Saathoff in the audience, 10:00, HD), a Who is Y.K. Kim (1:50, SD) vintage pre-motivational speech type thing, The New American Dream (22:00, SD) motivational infomercial-type thing featuring Kim hocking his goods, and trailers for Drafthouse Films releases.
Believe the hype – Miami Connection is a genuinely amusing, real deal, good-bad movie and a great find for the people at Drafthouse Films. It doesn’t require the same patience most amateur productions need to make it between the crowd-pleasing ‘money’ moments. There’s very little downtime and the high points are toweringly silly. This Blu-ray is culled from less-than-perfect materials, but generally looks very nice and especially colourful. The soundtrack is not the DTS-HD MA promised by the back cover specs, but there’s really no reason to complain about the sound quality, especially not the wonderfully dated synth-rock score. The extras are occasionally more charming than informative or entertaining, but it’s certainly a worthy chronicle of the film’s history.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 4th December 2012
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Extras: Co-director/Co-writer/Star and Co-writer/Star Commentary, Friends for Eternity: The Making of Miami Connection, Alternate Ending, Deleted Scenes, Dragon Sound 25th Anniversary Reuinion Concert, Who is Y.K. Kim, The New American Dream Promo Video, Trailers, Digital Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Richard Park, Y.K. Kim
Cast: Y.K. Kim, Maurice Smith, Joe Diamand, Angelo Janotti, Vincent Hirsch
Genre: Action, Comedy and Drama
Length: 83 minutes
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