A cinematic comeback for “Miami Connection”

What do you get when you make a movie featuring motorcycling ninjas in South Florida; a college student synth rock band singing songs about taekwondo and friendship; “stupid cocaine” shipped in Korean ramen boxes; big samurai sword-slicing; and even bigger bad guy beards?

Well, in 1987, this all added up to near-bankruptcy for the film’s director/writer/star Grandmaster Y.K. Kim and the reward of screenings in just three theaters.  Promptly shelved, “Miami Connection” was unlikely to see the light of day ever again.

Then, 25 years later, technology played a role in bringing the flick back to the big screen.  A programmer at the famed Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin, Tx., noticed that a 35mm reel of the film was up for grabs on eBay.  One acquisition and several midnight movie showings later, “Miami Connection” is now suddenly showing across the U.S. at various theaters before unleashing its chopsockey fury on DVD on Dec. 11.  In high definition, no less.

Standing in the center of this maelstrom is Kim, who plays the lead role of Mark in the film.  Kim, a martial arts instructor who doubles as a motivational speaker and book author, was astonished at the film’s reception at the New York Asian Film Festival.

“I was really shocked last night,” Kim said in an interview with Meniscus Magazine the day after the screening.  “It was really incredible.  The audience’s response was remarkable.  It’s marvelous.”

“I felt like it was garbage,” Kim added when musing about “Miami Connection.”  “But now it looks like it is a diamond.  I am surprised, actually.”

Kim, along with his cast and crew – nearly all of which comprised his martial arts students – shot the film entirely in Florida where he still runs a chain of taekwondo schools today.  Several students, who doubled as actors, wrote and recorded the actual songs performed by Dragon Sound, the band of University of Central Florida students in the movie who is the direct target of a group of Miami ninjas.

One of the most unforgettable Dragon Sound members is Maurice Smith, who went on to become a UFC Heavyweight and MMA Champion.  In the film, Smith plays Jim, who when not fighting ninjas, going to school or performing in the band, is on a quest to reconnect with his long lost father.

“Maurice Smith, he is a great communicator and he has great character, so I casted him,” Kim said.  “I love him – he did a great and super, dynamic job.”

Another Dragon Sound member was Joe Diamand, who played the drummer Jack.  Diamand didn’t quite realize what he was in for after a first cut of the film depressed the Grandmaster into two straight days of sleep.

“I was just going to show up, and kick and punch.  I thought it was going to be a lot of fun,” said Diamand, who still studies with Kim today.  “And then they asked me to be production manager.  So I had to coordinate getting everyone on the set…it was a nightmare trying to coordinate everything.  I really didn’t know what I had gotten myself into.”

“And then they asked me to be associate producer,” Diamand continued.  “I said, ‘Okay, I’m doing all this other stuff, why not?’  And then finally, [they] asked me to be a screenwriter.  I’d never done a screenplay before.  I didn’t know what it was all about.  So I went out and bought eight books, and locked myself in my room and kind of read them all over a few days…and we did it.”

“The original story didn’t really capture the true essence – the true martial arts spirit – of what Grandmaster Kim is all about,” Diamand said.  “So we wanted to preserve the great atmosphere of the movie, but we also wanted to at least inject a little bit of his philosophy in there without changing the charm which, after 25 years, people are finally discovering.”

Ben Chan contributed to this report.  For more about “Miami Connection,” including pre-order information of the film on DVD, Blu-ray, limited edition VHS and digital download, go to miamiconnection.org.

For the rest of Meniscus Magazine’s interview with Grandmaster Y.K. Kim and Joe Diamand, watch our YouTube clip below where the Grandmaster demonstrates some chopsockey movies before the New York Asian Film Festival screening, talks about how he connected with director Richard Park and shows some examples of his special blend of U.S. National Exercise!

Video: Interview with Grandmaster Y.K. Kim and Joe Diamand – 2012 New York Asian Film Festival

interview by Yuan-Kwan Chan / Meniscus Magazine
video by Ben Chan / Meniscus Magazine
sound by Darrell Thimoléon / Meniscus Magazine

Video: Grandmaster Y.K. Kim at the 2012 New York Asian Film Festival

video by Yuan-Kwan Chan / Meniscus Magazine