In 1987, the big and important Hollywood film Ironweed was released to critical fanfare and a truckload of award nominations. At about the same time, an independent martial-arts movie called Miami Connection—about a tae kwon do–fighting synth-rock band that battles cocaine-smuggling motorcycle ninjas—played in a handful of theatres in Florida and was booed off the screen.
Guess which one people want to see these days? To put it another way: when was the last time anyone went out of their way to watch Ironweed?
Miami Connection, coming to the Cinémathèque on Friday (April 5), is a solid-gold phenomenon. Besides being an insanely entertaining three-scoop sundae of a film, it comes with a killer back story. Originally directed by Woo-sang Park, reshoots had to be handled by star Y. K Kim when Park returned to Korea, leaving behind “a really terrible film”. Kim, calling the Straight from Orlando, Florida, recalls: “I am a martial artist; I was not a movie maker. I was in nightmare.” Kim’s rebuild didn’t fare any better with audiences, so Miami Connection was mothballed after those first disastrous screenings in the ’80s.
A quarter of a century later, thanks to the efforts of Drafthouse Films, Miami Connection’s fighting style is better than anyone else’s—a fact known to patrons of packed midnight screenings across North America. “When I watched the audience reaction, I pinched my arm,” Kim says of a recent showing in New York. “ ‘Is it a dream, or real?’ To me, it was like a miracle, after 25 years! It’s unbelievable! Remarkable! Almost everyone say, ‘This is better than a $100-million Hollywood movie.’ ”
If it needs to be stated clearly: the appeal of Miami Connection lies mostly in its spirited amateurishness. Kim himself brings a lot of zesty overacting and fractured English to his role as Mark, the de facto black-belt leader of the band Dragon Sound. On top of that is the film’s irresistibly positive message, laced into a narrative that features decapitations, T & A, and other assorted mayhem. Then there’s the weirdo detail that only ever survives in a film like this one, like Kim’s favoured move of grabbing an opponent’s nose with his foot, coming soon to an animated gif near you.
“Ninety-nine percent of the crew and the actors is all my students,” Kim says. “We had a lot of accidents, but we are martial artists, so we survived.” For the record, Kim isn’t really playing guitar in the musical interludes—“No, that’s very fake!” he roars—but everything else about Miami Connection has precisely the kind of honesty and heart that dies inside a multiplex. The rewards could never have come too late for Kim, but would he do it all over again?
“I lost my name; I lost all my money, but I never regret nothing,” he states. “I have learned an incredible lesson: money come and go. After I finished it, I get back up right away; I build financial power again. I don’t have any problems, and I have learned too much from that movie in life.”