It was an age of motorcycle ninjas and drug gang uzis, of cocaine deals in parking garages where everybody was backlit, photographed from below, ready to break into “Beat It” or “I’m Bad,” should Michael Jackson turn up on the soundtrack. There were parachute pants and tank top t-shirts, smoky nightclubs and martial-arts powered pop bands willing to use their fists to hang onto their favorite club gig.
The ’80s — if you weren’t there, you’ve never had “Miami Vice” suit or a decent haircut.
“Miami Connection” takes you right back there, a Z-grade movie made for little or nothing in 1987, returning to life now as a midnight movie at your favorite alternative cinema. It’s “The Warriors” and “Streets of Fire” meets “Miami Vice” the Golden Age of Michael Jackson music videos. Ineptly written and badly-acted, it’s a terrible movie. But it’s also a trip, an amusing and striking acid flashback to the cocaine and Reagan, to pre-Grunge Loverboy-Benatar rock and Linda Hamilton “Terminator” hair, the very definition of a cult film.
Gangs meet in Miami for a drug deal. Cocaine is on the move. Where? “You can move a LOT of coke in Orlando,” one offers. And so you can. The rest of the film is set there, far away from the theme parks. Far away from Miami, too. It’s a city where Dragon Sound, an over-populated band of martial artists turned shirtless parachute-pantsed rockers hold court in their favotite club. They grin and dance and pound through tunes about ninjas and “Friends Forever” and whatnot. They sneak martial arts demonstrations into their stage show. And they smile. A lot.
Mark, played by the martial arts entrepreneur Y.K. Kim, who co-wrote and co-directed the film, is their leader. Jane (Kathy Collier) is their sex symbol.
Near as one can tell from the patchwork plot, Dragon Sound is feuding with the band they took the gig from. Shades of “Purple Rain.” Jane is in love with another band member (Vincent Hirsch). And her brother? “He’s involved with a group of extremely shady characters,” she warns. Yeah, he’s a drug gang leader.
Dragon Sound live together, play together and settle disputes — with other bands, with the drug gang — together. With their fists. With kung-fu fighting. Or something like it.
“They’re all black belts in tae kwon do, and they’re pretty bad.” Which meant “good,” back in the ’80s.
“Miami Connection” dashes from the bikini beaches of Florida to the mean streets of Orlando — ahem — with the Dragon Sound members fighting and flirting and share the odd tender moment of understanding each other’s pain.
“I…didn’t…know,” Mark mutters to an unhappy bandmate, in labored English, “you…had…a…father.”
Many a cult film lives on thanks to the earnest amateurism of the performers and the sometimes clumsy filmmaking (you can see the camera’s matte box in some shots). But “Miami Connection” has serious martial arts chops and a playful sense of its time. Martial arts master Kim trains his fellow bandmembers in tae kwon do, winning a laugh by subduing a friend with the deadly toes-pinching-the-nose hold.
The movie flips from that, from the silly songs (shot in ’80s music video style) to the unfiltered violence of the fights. Ninjas use swords and bows, you know. The blood spurts and the inept local cops never get there in time to interrupt the brawling.
And if you haven’t laughed in the 90 minutes before it (cut down from what was an attempt at a serious two hour thriller), the on-screen coda, the vintage ’80s message you’re meant to leave the theater with, is sure to get you.
“Only through the elimination of violence can we achieve world peace.”
“Miami Connection” is playing Midnight Shows at The Enzian
in Maitland this weekend.
MPAA Rating: Unrated, with a few moments of graphic blood-spurting violence
Cast: Y.K. Kim, Vincent Hirsch, Joseph Diamond, Kathy Collier
Credits: Written and directed by Woo-sang (Richard) Park and Y.K. Kim, a Drafthouse Films release
Running time: 1:27