A rock band who practice Tae kwon do and sing about the joys of friendship. Ninjas who move noisily between drug deals on speeding pocket rockets. Welcome to the dangerous world of Orlando, circa 1987, and the little film that found a second chance on eBay.
Miami Connection opened and closed in central Florida in 1987, never to see public exposure again, but when an industrious Alamo Drafthouse employee bought a print online for $50 a legend was reborn. The film follows a group of friends who go to college during the day and rock out at night as the house-band for an Orlando nightclub. Their world is shattered though when they’re forced into a confrontation with a rival band, poorly dressed gang members and drug dealing, motorcycle riding ninjas.
Let’s listen to some commentary!
Miami Connection (1987)
Commentators: Grandmaster YK Kim (producer/co-writer/star), Joseph Diamond (c0-writer/star) and Zack Carlson (Alamo Drafthouse programmer and all-around swell movie-loving guy)
1. The bad guys in the opening scene are not real bad guys. Zack makes a comment about liking the feel of the opening thugs, and Kim is quick to point out that they’re not actually criminals. Zack is relieved.
2. Original titles included Against the Ninja and Escape from Miami.
3. Jon McCallum is the film’s special effects artist as well as its score composer.
4. The idea behind mixing ninjas with motorcycles came about because they offered “a very mobile way for the ninjas to get around during the day.” This logic is inarguable.
5. The film’s cast was essentially pulled from Kim’s student roster at his Tae kwon do center from a pool of 10,000. They lucked out in that some of them also knew how to play instruments and write catchy songs. None of them had much experience with acting though.
6. The film’s director, Richard Park, was a big fan of tragedy and continually added a tragic backstory to as many characters as possible. He also crafted the film’s original, darker ending that was eventually re-shot with sunshine.
7. In real life, the good guys and bad guys are actually the best of friends. The various gang members are played by students who’ve been with Kim since they were little kids. Their love for the man is so strong that they never complained about the outfits they were asked to wear. Many of them actually brought their own.
8. The leader of the band who gets booted in favor of Dragon Sound is actually a federal prosecutor in real life.
9. Park directs the film but also plays the kindly restaurant owner who opens a case of whoop ass when necessary.
10. Zack asks if the film had more of a success would they have released a Dragon Sound album, and Kim replies “Of course.” Diamond then adds cryptically that it could still happen…
11. The filmmakers were granted access to downtown streets thanks to Orlando’s strong affection for Kim. The mayor, police commissioner and sheriff all loved him for his contributions to the city and generally positive attitude.
12. One of the fight scenes was interrupted by police who thought the brawl was real. Watching the fight choreography now it’s hard to imagine why the cop would have thought that.
13. Kim never used a stunt double during filming, and he reminds us that all of the action is real… “not computer generated.”
14. Diamond explains that the characters were all made orphans in an attempt “to get everyone to feel sorry for us. It’s trying to elicit as many possible emotions on as many different levels as possible. Yes, did we go overboard a little bit? Possibly.”
15. Angelo Janotti plays Tom and was actually dating Kathy Collier (who plays Jane) at the time, so during love scenes between Jane and John (Vincent Hirsch) the filmmakers had to make Janotti unavailable. They handled Kathy and John’s beach kissing scene by sending Angelo out for beer during the filming.
16. Kim opened his Orlando-based Tae kwon do center in 1978. The city has been crime free ever since.
17. Tae kwon do could bring world peace if people practiced it properly. “If the king of Saudi Arabia’s son and the son of one of the leader’s in Iran both trained together,” says Diamond, “it’s unlikely they would fight against each other later on. They would try to work things out because in Tae kwon do martial arts you just develop bonds and see beyond violence.”
18. Zack asks if the scene where Mark (Kim) grabs Jim’s (Maurice Smith) nose with his foot was a signature move. Kim and Diamond laugh but neither confirm nor deny its authenticity.
19. Zack asks if there were actual gangs in ’80s Orlando like the ones portrayed in the movie, but he’s laughed off and told that was not the case. No mention is made of Central Florida’s well known ninja problem though.
20. According to Kim and Diamond there wasn’t a single injury on set. “It was a miracle,” they agree.
21. Real police officers played fake police officers during a couple scenes including one where the cops exit their cars, guns drawn, and one of them proceeds to nonchalantly point his pistol straight at his fellow officer’s torso. Diamond says they were so excited to be in the movie that they apparently forgot lesson number one from the academy. All three commentary guests share a good chuckle over that one.
22. The big biker scene around the 53:00 minute mark features real bikers who were given real beer in exchange for their presence. We can tell they’re real because of the floppy female breasts and general unattractiveness of them all. “This probably rivals anything that’s ever been shot,” says Diamond, clearly proud of his film’s authenticity. A hundred of the bikers showed up for the film’s premiere too.
23. Zack comments on a scene where Mark gently shoves a grape into each of the other four guys’ mouths. Kim laughs and says it’s important that they have their vitamin C.
24. Diamond refers to Kim as one of “the greatest martial artists in the world” at the 1:05:15 mark. Zack shows impressive restraint with his silence.
25. The climactic battle between Dragon Sound and the ninjas from Miami was filmed in a park near downtown Orlando. Diamond says “it was really challenging… this was not the cleanest water. It’s the dirtiest of dirtiest swamp water you’ve ever seen.” The park’s other challenge? “We had to secure the perimeter to keep grandmothers away.”
26. After the poor Cannes reception Kim returned to Orlando to re-shoot the film’s finale. In addition to casting a man to play Jim’s father who was actually younger than the actor who plays Jim, they also comment on the master ninja’s change from Asian to Caucasian. The original actor (Si Y Jo) wasn’t available so William Eagle, whose character Jeff had already died in the film, took over the role.
Best in Commentary
Joe Diamond: “Most club owners in Orlando are actually trained in the martial arts.”
Joe Diamond: “Tae kwon do is the ability to harness everything, your personal growth and friendship and what’s good in the world to make the world safer and better.”
Zack Carlson: “She’s (Jane) very understanding, this character. He basically says ‘I’m sorry we killed your brother’ and she says ‘oh it’s okay’ and they move on from there. Says a lot about her resilience.”
Miami Connection is an incredibly fun movie, but Kim and Diamond do not make for good commentary guests. There’s no excuse for pockets of silence with three speakers, and even though Carlson does his best to prod them into speaking more they often give short and direct answers devoid of anecdotes. To their credit they do grow more comfortable as the commentary goes on, and Diamond in particular begins to expand his dry humor a bit, but it’s still not as lively as I would have expected for a movie as goofy as this.