Rescued from obscurity by Drafthouse Films and issued to a cult audience hungry for bizarre cultural flotsam, Miami Connection, a cheapo 1987 vehicle for tae kwon do grandmaster Y.K. Kim, hits the sweet spot between stunning ineptitude, hilariously dated period touchstones, and a touching naïveté that gives it an odd distinction. As with the other so-bad-it’s-good sensations that have toured the midnight circuit over the last few years—The Room, Birdemic, Troll 2—its awkwardness comes partly from a foreign-born auteur making an American film, and the culture clash plays out for all to see. Here’s a director and star who sincerely believes that tae kwon do—and the peace-enhancing principles at its honorable core—has the power to heal the world, or, barring that, at least clean up the mean streets of Orlando. Yes, Orlando. In a movie called Miami Connection.
Perhaps the “Miami Connection” refers to the flow of narcotics through the state as a whole, but the action takes place entirely in central Florida, where a marauding gang of motorcycle ninjas moves to seize control of the local drug trade. Meanwhile, Kim’s synth-rock outfit Dragon Sound is taking off, electrifying nightclubbers with “Against The Ninja” and “Friends,” a pair of inspirational singles that recall Stan Bush fist-pumpers from films like No Retreat No Surrender and Transformers: The Movie. The band is pointedly multinational—Kim is from Korea; the singer, a shirt-doffing John Oates lookalike, is Italian; another dreams of touring through his Israeli homeland—and they’re all tae kwon do masters. The two groups come into conflict for a series of convoluted reasons, including a Romeo & Juliet romance and the jilted members of the club band Dragon Sound replaced, and it sets the stage for high-flying, dimly lit, borderline-incomprehensible action.
One line in Miami Connection nicely encapsulates the film’s clunky appeal. On the beach for the obligatory T&A sequence—in landlocked Orlando, mind—a Dragon Sound member offers this appraisal of a particularly luscious bikini babe: “They don’t make buns like those down at the bakery.” This is Kim’s idea of dirty talk, as sweetly innocent as Steve Carell likening breasts to “bags of sand” in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and that sensibility defines Miami Connection just as strongly as its technical miscues. Kim has some funny ideas about how people interact—a game of keep-away with a letter here has the same male-bonding spirit as The Room’s tossing-the-ol’-pigskin horseplay—but mostly, his relentless positivity rules the day. His ideals are as inviting as the ’80s cheese.