Miami Connection will play Popcorn Frights on Sunday, August 21 at 9 p.m. followed by a live commentary by the Popcorn Gallery featuring Miami comics Elli Scharlin and Orlando Gonzalez. You can also buy this movie from Vinegar Syndrome.
Y.K. Kim earned his black belt in taekwondo black belt at thirteen years of age, making him one of the youngest in all of his native Korea. He moved around the world to bring the message of martial arts to the people, from Buenos Aires and New York City to finally Orlando, where he’d set up his fighting empire with his school Martial Arts World and founding the American TaeKwon-Do Federation.
Then Kim met Korean film director Richard Park and they created Miami Connection, a movie that Kim funded with loans, money from friends, his life savings and by mortgaging his school. Sure, he’d never made a film before and had no idea what he was doing. He saw this as another way to get his message out to the people, but every major film distributors and several independent ones basically told him to throw it all away. He responded by spending another $100,000 to continue making the movie perfect.
In August of 1988, the movie opened in eight theaters around Greater Orlando and a few in West Germany, of all places. Even in his adopted hometown, the Orlando Sentinel said that it was the worst film of the year. Kim had thrown $1 million dollars into the film and nearly lost everything.
He continued to be a martial arts teaching success and also learned how to become a motivational speaker, all while ignoring any requests to discuss the film. However, in 2009, Alamo Drafthouse programmer Zack Carlson bought the film on eBay for just $50 and was amazed by what he had purchased. After struggling to connect with Kim — who continually hung up on him — he was finally able to convince him to let the movie play. The rest is history.
It all gets started with a cocaine deal being interrupted by ninjas led by the evil Yashito, who steal the drugs and take it back to Orlando to party it up. Of course, one of them forgets the money and gets killed. Yashito is not to be trifled with.
Meanwhile, Jeff — who leads a gang of scarf and bandana-wearing camouflage loving bikers that are friends with the ninjas — watches his sister Jane play on stage with the band Dragon Sound. He’s not happy.
I have no idea why — Dragon Sound are the coolest 80’s soft rock hair metal funk band that does martial arts to ever exist. Yes, this ethnically diverse group of five men are all best friends — trust me, they wrote a song about it — as well as roommates, University of Central Florida students, Taekwondo masters and, yes, orphans. They are John, who comes from Ireland and plays bass when he’s not falling in love with Jane. Jack is the drummer and he’s from Israel. Jim is half Korean and half African American, but all kick ass and loves to dibble dabble on the keyboards. Tom didn’t get the J naming convention, but he sings, looks like John Oates and comes from Italy. Their father figure is Mark, the Korean rhythm guitarist and Y.K. Kim himself.
Jeff and Mark get into a fight that’s interrupted by another band who are angry that the owner of the club replaced them with Dragon Sound. They are easily defeated. The film that descends into a series of either music videos, fights, training footage or long scenes of people opening their mail. Please don’t take that as a read that I hated this. Quite the contrary.
After Jeff and his gang are all killed by Dragon Sound, Yashito and his ninjas attempt revenge. Jim just wants to get to the airport to meet up with his deadbeat dad, but he’s nearly killed. No worries, though. Dragon Sound easily — and at times messily — kill all of the ninjas, because murder is obviously not a crime in Miami (to be fair, Y.K. Kim was so well-known and beloved in Orlando, the local government and law enforcement allowed him to film anywhere in the city without permits).
Hardly anyone involved ever made a movie again. Which is a shame, because this movie is true innocence, the glory of making something even though you really have no clue. It succeeds in spite of itself and features songs that will get stuck in your head for, well, forever. Songs like “Friends,” “Against the Ninja” and “Tough Guys.” I waited a long time to see this and my life is better from having sat through it.
Check out even more of the story with this documentary from Vice.