To properly address Miami Connection, we must first travel back to the time of the film's creation, 1987: a year of Iran-contra hearings, Def Leppard's Hysteria, and season three of TV's pastel powerhouse Miami Vice. In this milieu simmered Y. K. Kim, a self-described "modern philosopher, motivational speaker, and world-renowned evangelist of the martial arts," who immigrated to the United States from Korea in 1976 and was now ready to establish himself in America beyond the world of tae kwon do. The chosen vessel for Kim's crossover ambitions: a feature film, to be made not with professional actors and crew, but with a collective of southern Florida tae kwon do students, who poured their hearts, souls, and money into the film Kim believed would bring the beauty, ass-kickery, and peaceful camaraderie of tae kwon do to the big screen.
It never made it. Rejected by every studio in Hollywood, Kim's Miami Connection was doomed to the dustbin, where it remained—unloved and virtually unseen—for more than 20 years.
Then came the fateful day in 2009 when Zack Carlson, a programmer for the Austin-based Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, noticed an eBay listing for a 35 mm print of a film called Miami Connection. Despite a complete lack of information on the film's subject, makers, and era of creation, the Alamo bought the mysterious title for 50 bucks, with plans to add the print to their archive. Then they watched it, realized they had unearthed a fucking miracle, and set about sharing their amazing find with the masses.
To say that Miami Connection is bad is a crushing understatement. Miami Connection is so bad it makes Tommy Wiseau's The Room look like Wild Strawberries. The plot—involving a tae kwon do troupe that moonlights as a bouncy pop band that's challenged by a gang of jealous drug-dealing bikers—is insane. The dialogue, crafted with the ear of an ESL television addict, is rudimentary in the extreme—"You need to get rid of that band, so you can control that area" goes my favorite line—with the actors seemingly making up what they say as they go along. The actors are not actors, but tae kwon do students, and their attempts at acting are as hilariously awkward as Dame Maggie Smith's attempts at tae kwon do. Badly overdubbed dialogue abounds. Hilariously bad fight scene follows hilariously bad fight scene. There is much random toplessness and a handful of hyuk-worthy scenes of bloody violence. It is terrible.
But out of this tragic mess of failure and incompetence, a distinctly sweet spirit emerges. Its source is the cumulative gameness and good sportsmanship of everyone involved in Miami Connection, which is drenched in a goofy joy that is contagious. I'm tempted to say, "It's like if everyone at your dentist's office got together to make a homemade musical action film"—but there's no "like" about it. That's exactly what it is, with "dentist's office" swapped for "tae kwon do studio," and the joys of Miami Connection are akin to the joys of a small-town talent show, of public-access TV bloopers, of William Hung singing "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Eager to share the joys of Miami Connection far and wide, Drafthouse Films reached out to writer, director, and star Y. K. Kim, whom they found still operating his tae kwon do studio in Orlando. Initially wary of the newfound interest and fearing another failure for his beloved film, Kim was won over by a screening of Miami Connection at the 2012 New York Asian Film Festival, where his work was met with start-to-finish rapture. "It is like a miracle. I feel like I am watching a dead body walking," says Kim of his resurrected film. "At the premiere in New York, I couldn't believe it! I thought I was dreaming, so I pinched my arm... but it was not a dream. It was real!"