‘Miami Connection’ Review
Sight and Sound Magazine: it's time for a recount in your decennial poll. 'Miami Connection' is clearly the greatest film ever made -- at least on whatever planet it came from. Hilarious yet oddly touching, goofy yet totally sincere, this is one of the most entertainingly bizarre movies I've ever seen; not so much so-bad-it's-good as so-strange-it's-brilliant. The fight scenes are memorable, the dialogue is quotable, and the rock songs about tae kwon do and ninjas are impossibly catchy. Made and released in the late 1980s and then immediately forgotten, it would have been doomed to eternal obscurity if not for the efforts of Drafthouse Films, who recognized the inspired lunacy that everyone else had somehow missed. For their efforts, they've now got an unmissable cult classic on their hands.
Our story begins in Miami (obviously), where ninjas interrupt a drug deal and abscond with the product and the cash. Then we cut to Orlando -- or at least the onscreen title card says it's Orlando; the building in the skyline with the neon "CORAL CABLES" sign suggests otherwise. Either way, it's there we meet Dragon Sound, whose singer, Jane (Kathy Collier), has a overly jealous brother whose name I confess I did not catch -- let's just name him by physical appearance and call him Grecian Formula Chuck Norris -- and he's none too pleased when his darling, innocent sister shacks up with the band's bassist John (Vincent Hirsch). Grecian Formula Chuck Norris and his gang try to intimidate John into cutting off the relationship, which is a really terrible idea since he -- and every other male member of Dragon Sound -- is a black belt in tae kwon do, a fact he would have known if he'd ever actually listened to one of their two songs, which are both about how they're all black belts in tae kwon do.
The leader of Dragon Sound, in spirit if not in sound (he mimes strumming like someone who has never seen a guitar, much less played one) is Mark (martial arts grandmaster, motivational speaker, health and fitness guru, and philosopher Y.K. Kim). He leads the rest of the band in tae kwon do practice -- which mostly appears to be his excuse to kick the shit out of his friends without them getting mad at him -- and makes sure they eat plenty of fruit at breakfast by literally shoving handfuls of grapes down their throats. Mark, in other words, is a weird dude.
All of Grecian Formula Chuck Norris' efforts to tear apart Jane and John run afoul of Dragon Sound's ferocious fists and lively pop beats, so he teams up with another rock band -- which is also made up of entirely martial artists for some reason -- who are hungry for revenge, after Dragon Sound takes their headlining gig at the local rock club. After those three factions all duke it out, the coke-stealing, bike-riding ninjas from Miami come looking for a little payback of their own and then they surprise the oh God why am I still describing this plot?
The movie is not good in any conventional sense, but it's appealingly weird -- you've never seen anything like it before. What kind of rock band only plays songs about tae kwon do and ninjas? What kind of rock band live together in a house where they sit around all day bickering and not wearing shirts? What kind of ninjas ride Harleys and steal cocaine from gangsters? Why was the movie's alternate title (which appeared at the front of the print that played at Fantastic Fest) 'Escape From Miami' if almost the entire movie is set in Orlando and no escapes from anything?
What kind of rock band gets so angry about losing a gig at a lame club in Orlando that they pick a martial arts fight with the owner? Seriously -- who knew the Orlando rock club scene in the 1980s was so cutthroat?
At the Fantastic Fest screening of 'Miami Connection,' Kim -- who also co-wrote and co-directed the film -- revealed that only two members of the cast and crew, the other co-director and the director of the photography, were professionals. The rest, he said, were all students from his tae kwon do school, a fact that explains how it became so deliciously demented. Kim and his cohorts clearly didn't know a lot about how to make a movie, and didn't let that stop them from doing it anyway. They put together this bizarre paean to all the things they like -- music, friendship, and kicking people in the throat -- and tied it all together with this nonsensical plot about the neverending persecution of Dragon Sound. The result was this masterpiece, in which enthusiasm plus incompetence equals mad genius -- even if Sight & Sound never recognizes it.
‘Miami Connection’ returns to select theaters on November 2nd and hits VOD on December 12th.
Matt Singer is a Webby award winning writer and podcaster. He currently runs the Criticwire blog on Indiewire and co-hosts the Filmspotting: Streaming Video Unit podcast. His criticism has appeared in the pages of The Village Voice and Time Out New York and on ‘Ebert Presents at the Movies.’ He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, dog, and a prop sword from the movie ‘Gymkata.’