A Grandmaster Y.K. Kim interview: “Miami Connection”


In 1987, a film 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 screened in only three theaters.  This added up to near-bankruptcy for the film’s producer/writer/star Grandmaster Y.K. Kim.  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 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” screened at the Film Society at Lincoln Center as part of the 2012 New York Asian Film Festival, enjoyed showings across the U.S. at various theaters during the rest of the year, and unleashed its chopsockey fury on high-definition DVD.

In the latest theater reincarnation of the film, the RiffTrax team (Mystery Science Theater 3000 alumni Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett) will provide commentary of “Miami Connection” as part their RiffTrax Live! tour in 2015.  Performing live on Oct. 1, their soundtrack will simultaneously broadcast in more than 700 theaters across the U.S. and Canada, with an encore presentation to take place Oct. 6.

Meniscus Magazine interviewed Grandmaster Y.K. Kim at the New York Asian Film Festival, where he expressed astonishment at the reception to “Miami Connection” and talked about his various projects in Orlando, Fla., including his special blend of U.S. National Exercise.  (Although this interview took place in 2012, this is the first time that it has been published in full.)

Yuan-Kwan Chan: Well, hello, Grandmaster Kim, welcome!  Welcome to New York.

Grandmaster Y.K. Kim:  Hi, hi.

And you’re at the New York Asian Film Festival.  Last night your film screened.  Congratulations.  I just think the story of how your film got rediscovered again, it was quite fascinating.  After the Alamo Drafthouse rediscovered it, when did you hear about the screenings that they were running and the increased interest in the “Miami Connection?”

Actually, six months ago, a couple times, they even called and emailed but we thought that that is what, just a joke.  This is real?

I was really shocked last night.  Oh, it was incredible, you know, just the audience response is remarkable.  It’s marvelous.  Unbelievable.

A couple of us have seen the trailers on YouTube and I know that earlier in the day they showed the trailer.  So I think that really increased the interest.  What was your reaction after you learned that so many people wanted to see it now 25 years after the fact?

That’s a good question.  You know, I do think this, “Miami Connection,” when I produced it 25 years ago, I felt it was garbage but now it looks like it’s a diamond.  I am surprised actually.

I heard that after you saw a cut of the first film you weren’t happy with it and went home and slept for two days.  What did the original film look like and what changes did you make?

Just now I said it was like garbage. I finished the film and when I watched, it was not connected.  I said, these people cannot understand. So we totally rewrote and refilmed and re-edited and mixed it.  So, now it’s like a movie.  It’s really good.

Anybody [who] likes to watch drama, I don’t think it is easy for them.  But anybody who loves music and exciting action, they [will go] crazy about “Miami Connection.”

Was the original story much different from the version that came out?

It is very strange.  Actually, we didn’t even have scripts when we started.  It was just a storyline and then we developed, developed, you know.

How did you come up with the idea for the script, to have it set in Orlando and, you know, have a Miami [link]?

You know, I was and I am successful as a martial arts [businessman] in the U.S., perhaps the world.  So, I went to Korea.  I was on the most popular talk show and one of the action directors [there] was Richard Park.  He watched that show and he flew down to the USA.  He wanted to produce the movie with me. So, I said, oh, sure, yes, because I wanted to promote martial arts to the big screen, just like Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris, what they did.

So, we started it.  And when I announced it to the public in Central Florida, all my friends and community leaders and media friends and everybody came up to me and say, ‘Hey, you are a martial arts expert but you’re not a movie maker.  Don’t do it.’  You know why?  Because in Central Florida, many, many people tried to make movies, not one person finished yet.  That means you’re asking for bankruptcy.

But they could not stop me.  I have real strong determination.  So, I started it.  Most of the time, I am 100 percent right but this time they were right.  Physically, mentally, and financially, totally dried out and exhausted.  The next thing is, I was waiting for bankruptcy.  I had to sit down and think, you know, what should I do? And then at that time, my heart told me, ‘Hey, Y.K. Kim, you do not have that word “bankruptcy” in your life. And so I stood up and I faced all the humongous obstacles and I finished the movie.  I’m proud of what I did.

And it’s still the only movie you’ve made, correct?

That’s right.

Had you considered making any others after the “Miami Connection” or is it just always the plan to do just that?

You know, I have a strong organization.  We call it Martial Arts World which is modern martial arts.  It’s very strong.  Our organization has a plan.  We are producing the most exciting action film every year within five years.

I understand you did the casting for the film as well.  One of the more memorable characters is Maurice Smith who played Jim.  I thi­nk he has an MMA, K1 background.  How did you find him for this film?

Most of the cast, even extras, 99 percent is all my students because I have thousands and thousands of students.  Maurice Smith is, to me, he is a great communicator and he has great character.  So, I casted him.  I loved meeting him.  He did a great and super, dynamic job.

I understand that you left Korea at a young age and you went to Argentina first—

It’s not a young age.  After I turned 13, I wanted to come to the USA but, you know, in the 1970’s, it was like a lottery to get U.S. visa.  I couldn’t get a U.S. visa so I went to South America, Paraguay, and Argentina, and then I came back to USA in 1977.

When you were in South America, did you have any taekwondo—

Of course I took the class and I did it in Paraguay.

I looked at your website and noticed it had the U.S. National Exercise set of DVDs.  Is it possible to explain the concepts behind it and maybe, you know, demonstrate some of your [exercises]?

Well, thank you for the questions.  You and I know what is going on in the USA today: 67 percent of America including, 12.5 million children, are overweight.  They are suffering.  And why?  Because high tech is growing like crazy in the USA.  iPhone and TV, you name it.  You know, like five years ago, TV – today is obsolete.  And three years ago, cellular phone, no one, no one wanted to use it, you know.

But high tech is growth right here [makes fist with left hand and raises] but our lifestyle is still right here [motions with right hand downward].  So, many, many people get sick.  So, over 43 million people are drug addicts and alcoholics and diabetics.  How many people really are, what, healthy? Because the reason is, our young people, they don’t care if they treat their bodies like garbage cans.  You know, they eat junky food, whatever, and they don’t exercise because they don’t have time.

So, I created exercise [where] they don’t have to spend not even one second and they can exercise 24 hours, seven days a week, even they sleep, even while driving and on the airline or while you’re watching TV, and at the office.  So, no one can say, ‘I have no time to exercise.’  I think it will revolutionize America soon.

And a lot of that can be done just sitting or not necessarily having to go and run but maybe at your desk or at least—

Let me show you.  For example, when you’re watching TV just do simple things.  Simple things—you do it just like a thousand times [repeatedly clicks fingers, opening and closing fists while tapping feet], 1-2-3, watch TV.  It will help your blood circulation… easy, you’re going to do this for not even one second.

A second thing, this is, what, a smile on your face, a smile, smile, smile—so, you don’t have to spend time to smile.  Smile is the best exercise for you, for me, for everybody.  And then a fourth thing is: laugh loud like me [laughs].  Try it. Laugh. [laughs]


You know, you try, you try to laugh is…push in your stomach, please.  Push in.

Push it in?

Push in, now push in, push, try to push in and then push out and then try to smile, smile, and then try push in.  It’s hard.  Smile and push in is hard.  When you laugh [laughs], you cannot push in.  And when you laugh you can have internal and external exercise.  You don’t have to spend not even one second.

And then like, you know, breathe.  Most people when they are born, they breathe by low abdomen but when they grow up they start to breathe in their chest.  So they get more tired and get sick.  While their breathing is shallow, when they get angry [huffs], the breathing is very short.  So, they need deep breathing…okay, take a—let me see your, inhale.


Inhale and exhale.  Okay, now, you and I, and the cameraman can watch, you know, watching, inhale.  Inhale and exhale.

[To the camera] Can you see it, what’s the difference?  She breathed in by chest, I breathe by lower abdomen.

When you breathe by your chest here, you cannot have oxygen.  So, tired easily.  But if you breathe by lower abdomen, you can have more oxygen.  So, when you sleep, you’re going to have to breathe.  Do you know what I’m saying?


When you sleep, you don’t have to breathe, yes?


Did you, did—are you listening?


When you sleep, should you breathe or you should not breathe?

Well, you should, hopefully.

Yes, right.  So, the breathing exercise we call power breathing, like power breathing.  So, even when sleep you can have good exercise, you know.  So, I think it’s a power exercise that will save America.

That’s interesting because you never think of those small movements as exercise.  When you look at like yoga classes and so on, where they—some of the better instructors focus more on the breathing, that’s what this [is like].

Yeah, this is like a yoga plus.  We call it a U.S. National Exercise.  Someday everywhere in the U.S., you’re going to see people practice U.S. National Exercise.

You’re also a motivational speaker as well, is that correct?

You’re right.

What are some of the topics that you—

Well, so one is like, “Create Your Own Future,” like the five kinds of fitness.  You know it, I know it: true success, it requires harmony and balance.  Without it nothing works.  So, in order to produce the five kinds of fitness, harmony and balance, you mostly have five kinds of fitness which is the physical fitness, mental fitness, moral fitness, financial fitness, and life fitness. If you have this one you are healthier and stronger and you are smarter and wiser.  And you have your own power and internal strength so you can have peace in your heart.  And then financial fitness, it will help you become wealthier.  And then the life fitness, so you will be a successful leader.  So, actually, the five kinds of fitness will create your own future – so to be healthier and wealthier and happier.

I’ve got one last question, which is: Going back to the film now, looking back at the “Miami Connection,” is there anything now that – you know, it’s being re-released – is there anything you would have changed in terms of the story, in terms of how it was shot?

Until last night, I thought about a million different things I can change.  It can be more practical.  It can be more emotional.  It can be more practical.  So, I could have created an Academy Award.  What I saw last night, it was overwhelming. I mean, the audience was, what, beginning to finish, they were crazy about the “Miami Connection.”  It’s not just them, I mean, how many people, everybody came asking, ‘When are you going to make another movie, that same “Miami Connection?” I was really shocked.  I was really surprised. I think that it will be like truly just like a blockbuster.

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