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Junkfood Cinema: A Passionate Case For ‘Miami Connection’s Criterion Release

By  · Published on September 29th, 2012

Welcome back to Junkfood Cinema; they don’t make buns like this down at the bakery…well they do, we just bought them all. This is the weekly bad movie column that makes all other bad movie columns look far better by comparison. Every week we serve up a delightfully terrible movie with every intention of ripping it to shreds. But then, as we are forced to spend two hours with that celluloid terror, a funny thing happens. We begin to fall in love. The film engenders a genuine feeling of adoration within us that we can’t always fully articulate even as we articulate it. So yes, Junkfood Cinema has officially been reclassified as a form of Stockholm Syndrome. To wash down the deeply disturbing breakthrough we’ve just had, we will offer a disgustingly awesome snack food themed to the film.

Fantastic Fest may be over, but its effects linger like the hangover we may or may not but totally are experiencing as we/I write this. One of those effects is the scorched Earth where once stood the Drafthouse theater that showcased a repertory screening of 1987’s Miami Connection. Now I know what you’re thinking, “Junkerford, isn’t Miami Connection a little too mainstream for this column?” Perhaps you’re right, but my name is Junkseph. However, despite the fact that everyone and their sister, Everywina, has seen this masterpiece, it somehow managed to go unreleased on anything but VHS. Drafthouse films, the harbingers of international genre fare of spectacular quality, as well as Miami Connection, have had the brilliant foresight to distribute the film on DVD and Blu-ray starting in December. This, and the fact that it is a transcendent filmic experience, accounts for Miami Connection’s appearance at Fantastic Fest.

As much as we love and revere Drafthouse Films, the fact is that Miami Connection is long overdue for induction into the catalog of the esteemed Criterion Collection. People may get the impression from the Drafthouse Films box art that this is somehow a bad movie. Au contraire mon fromage, it is a triumph of independent (ly bankrupt) filmmaking that delves into the very essence of what it means to exist in Miami kind of once. It was conceived by writer/director/actor/Orlando dojo proprietor Y.K. Kim. Who, in between teaching pale, slack-jawed swamp children how to execute a sidekick, crafted one of the great films about motorcycle ninja drug dealers in this history of that thing I just mentioned.

I would actually argue that Miami Connection is not a very complex movie. I know, I know. My membership in the critical community may be jeopardized by so incendiary a statement, but I wouldn’t even classify it as entirely art house. My contention is that it’s not quite as layered and painstakingly constructed as, say, 2001: A Space Odyssey and don’t actually see its script as being as complex as one by Charlie Kaufman. And yet Kaufman’s precious little Being John Malkovich, with all its existential crises and wanton lack of ninjas, has found purchase within Criterion’s library. Let’s breakdown exactly why Miami Connection should be granted similar distinction.

That’s not to say Miami Connection is without identity issues. It actually gives us an uncompromising look at life in Miami, and by Miami we totally mean Orlando, in the 1980s…or 20s…or 2250s depending on whose costume you’re looking at. It holds itself as a grand scale crime thriller, but features locations as exotic as that one warehouse, the world’s chintziest night club, and The University of Central Florida…’s computer lab. It happens to be a movie that doubles as a subliminal promotional video for UCF. It’s also interesting that a club that does business with thieving ninjas would headline one of the only bands in the world with an anti-ninja anthem as part of their musical repertoire.

This actually brings us to our next point, that transition I mean. Thematically, Miami Connection may be the most important film of the 1980s. It’s about time a movie took a bold stance against ninjas. Finally a film that refuses to glorify ninjas and shows them for the despicable, motor-cycle-riding murderers they are…who are also surprisingly bad at robbery. Really guys, you pull off a heist and forget to take the money? They open the movie by murdering a defenseless group of narcotic entrepreneurs, crippling south Florida’s most crucial industry.

So many classic films are defined by their scores and soundtracks, and Miami Connection is no exception. The music of the legendary Dragon Sound, yes THAT Dragon Sound, provides the rhythmic pulse of the movie. It’s hard to deny that this band rocks uncontrollably despite the overwhelming obstacle that their music does not actually sound like dragons. Who could possibly question the masculinity of a bunch of shirtless guys wearing karate pants and singing about being “friends forever?” With lyrics about honesty, loyalty, and sticking together through thick and thin, it’s a song so multifaceted that it works as both a rock anthem and a recruitment jingle for the Cub Scouts of America. One must especially enjoy the little Asian guitar player. He flails about like a mental patient as he rocks out so hard he doesn’t even notice his guitar is not plugged in. The musicians here are also the stars of the film, and I assert that with almost no understanding of what the word star actually means.

Trust between director and actors is a vital component. Y.K. is clearly a master thespian himself. He will have you fully believing he is actually an Orlando area karate instructor who speaks English as a second language; second to Klingon, that is. He trusts his actors so much that he doesn’t even restrict them to the antiquated limitations of a “quality screenplay.” There are so many moments in which characters are yelling over each other, stepping on lines left and right with no regard for whether the audience is following the zigzag-y thread of the conversation. It was a bold choice to get the performers liquored up to the point of mumbled jabbering and then shove them into each other until they’re too angry to speak. And speaking of speaking, the villainous head ninja sounds like his lines were dubbed by Dolph Lundgren, which would basically mean a person whose native language makes him incoherent to American audiences was dubbed by a person whose native language makes him incoherent to American audiences.

If you were to examine Miami Connection on its surface, you may make the terrible mistake of believing it is a cheap, desperate action film. But look closer, this is a clever guise. The fight sequences, at first seeming attempts to play to the baser pleasures of its audience, are actually so poorly designed and idiotically silly that they can hardly be considered crowd-pleasing at all. In the special features of the Criterion release, James Lipton could sit down with Y.K. Kim and allow him to explain that Miami Connection is really an elaborate parable for the weakening American economic system of the late 80s, and how our fear of subjugation to foreign economies made us violently paranoid of the people of those countries. He could then explain how that explanation is stolen from a theoretical examination of Die Hard. He would then honk Lipton’s nose with his foot and run away giggling. Inspired.

Other special features would include a three-hour documentary chronicling Dragon Sound’s 1988 world tour. They went to Disney World, Sea World, Holiday World, and the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta. There would also be several episodes of Miami Vice, cover art from Banksy, a sleeveless Dragon Sound teeshirt, and an instructional video on how you too can pretend to defend yourself from angry, but otherwise completely unimposing, goof punk ninjas. Criterion, this needs to happen. To whom shall I address all of these threatening letters and spoiled fruit stink bombs?

Junkfood Pairing: Maple Bacon Sundae

When Denny’s introduced the idea of bacon on an ice cream sundae, many people laughed and a few cardiologists wept. We here at Junkfood Cinema shut down for an entire month to do extensive research on whether this was in fact the greatest invention in the history of the human race; results indigestibly inconclusive. Miami Connection harbors a similar collaborative genius. They take ninjas (which are essentially the bacon of cinema) and sprinkle them onto the conceptual ice cream sundae that is the biker gang movie. I guess what I’m saying is that Y.K. Kim is every bit as creative as Denny’s.

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Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.