I watched YK Kim slice a watermelon in half with a samurai sword…while it was balanced on Zack Carlson’s naked stomach. God bless you, Fantastic Fest.
MIAMI CONNECTION is great and, after sitting in a packed screening of the film at this year’s Fantastic Fest, I think many others share my opinion (validation!). The film is one of the better Midnight Movies I’ve seen in some time, as it is the perfect combination of the utterly absurd and the absolutely entertaining. It’s almost like one of the great Cannon Films martial arts epics of the ‘80s (think a more coked out AMERICAN NINJA), if Golan-Globus suddenly stopped spending money on their films entirely.
I had the chance to sit down with Dragon Sound, the fictional band from the movie that includes all of its chop-socky stars, plus the leader (and writer/producer/director/star of MIAMI CONNECTION, Grandmaster YK Kim). What followed was one of the livelier conversations of the festival:
JQK: First off, I want to tell you guys that I’ve seen the movie twice now theatrically and both my wife and I agree that it is the best theatrical experience we’ve had all year. Like, you totally blew our minds.
Grandmaster Kim: Oh! Well come here and lemme give you a hug!
(It’s at this point that I do, in fact, get to hug Grandmaster Kim. It was awesome.)
JQK: Last night, in the Q + A, you guys said you almost felt like this was a joke — MIAMI CONNECTION was being released again? Which one of you was the hardest to convince to come back and play for Dragon Sound?
Grandmaster Kim: I’m gonna answer this question for you – anybody who wanna watch the movie, MIAMI CONNECTION, and if they love to watch drama or romance – I recommend they do not watch it. However, if they love music and exciting action – real action, not computer generated – and the true meaning of friendship, they’re not just gonna gonna love, they’re gonna be crazy about the MIAMI CONNECTION. Why? If they wanna know the meaning behind the true martial arts spirit and philosophy, I guarantee they will love it.
JQK: All right. I would probably agree with you there. Now, last night, Zack [Carlson, of Drafthouse Films], who introduced the movie, started talking about some of the crazy stories behind the making of this movie. Now, without giving too much away as I know the blu ray’s coming out, can one of you give me your favorite “crazy” memories from making this movie?
(Most of the members of Dragon Sound here give bewildered looks to one another. Grandmaster Kim takes the reigns again…)
Grandmaster Kim: OK, um…one thing about this movie is that 99% of the crew and actors were not professionals or not actors. They were all my students [JQK note: YK Kim runs a chain of tae kwon do schools]. And, when professional people make professional movies, they make extraordinary things. Now, while we made this film, a thousand times, we fell down. Our crew didn’t want to make this movie. It was like a nightmare. We weren’t sure if we could finish it. We were physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted. But we overcame this because we stick together. That’s the martial arts spirit. We approached the obstacles and finished this film.
Now, one funny thing is: I took this movie to Hollywood to try and sell it. I showed it to over one hundred Hollywood distribution companies and every single company said, “this is trash, YK Kim. Do not waste your time and money. It’s not gonna work.” But I could not stop because I promised the students it would come out so we could watch it together. So I went to the Cannes Film Festival, in France, and I rented a big theater and invited a whole world wide audience. All of them said: “this is trashy. Don’t try it. It’s not gonna work.”
One guy got interested and said, “why don’t you go back and reshoot the movie.” But I don’t know anything about doing this because I’m not a professional – at all. So I bought the books and tried to find out what plays and I asked a favor of my students and we filmed and remade the movie. Then I took it back to Hollywood again and they said “no” again. So I rented a theater in Central Florida and we opened the movie ourselves. But that requires a lot of money to do yourself – advertising fees, newspapers, stuff like that.
So what I did was: I used my body and my mind and tried to get anybody who would come – high school newspapers, radio, regular newspapers – and they all came out with restaurant owners and others from Florida. It acted like free advertising and I was so lucky. I thought it was gonna be a blockbuster I did on my own. No question!
What happened? All these guys came out and called it “trash”. One guy called it the “worst. movie. ever.”
JQK: I’m not sure that dude should be reviewing movies at all.
Grandmaster Kim: So, as you can guess, the movie was totally dead. And I lost all my money and I was in debt and my name was trash and my school lost half its business.
But, after twenty-five years, I started getting all these phone calls from newspapers and radio and I totally refused. I didn’t want to go through this nightmare again. But one company kept it up: Drafthouse Films here in Austin, Texas. So I hired a person and we investigated the company and found out it was real so we we’re like, “OK, they wanna invest money? Let’s do it”. So I asked this young man who was just 26 years old, Evan [Husney – Creative Director for Drafthouse Films], and I said: “why do you wanna buy this trash?”
Evan said, “this movie is not a ‘day time’ movie. It’s a ‘midnight movie’. And it could be big.” So I went to the theater to see what he’s talking about when they show it. At ten-thirty: only like thirty people show up. And then it’s ten-fifty and there’s like sixty and I’m sitting there like “Oh man, this is not good”. I was getting sad because I didn’t want to watch it die all over again. Eleven o’clock comes: and it’s packed!
It’s so exciting. So I take a seat with them and it’s non-stop. People are cheering and clapping with the film and screaming. I’ve never seen anything like that in my life. I had to pinch my arm and go: “am I dreaming? Is this really real?” And the light comes on after I finish the movie and nobody leaves! Evan goes up to the front of the room and looks at me and goes: “you need to come up here and say something”. And then people are giving me a hug and taking pictures with me. Some were even saying: “this is better than most Hollwood movies in the last ten years! One hundred million dollar pictures — not as good!”
Hollywood! That’s the “home of the movies” city. They treat me like the biggest movie star ever! They’re chanting “YK Kim! YK Kim! YK Kim!” They’re standing up and they’re clapping and I’m totally overwhelmed. I came here to Austin, Texas and I was like: “if Austin, Texas and the Drafthouse likes this movie, because they have to be quiet and no text and they love movies, it can play anywhere. Anywhere in the USA…midnight moviegoers will watch this movie! And they will have a fun and meaningful experience.”
JQK: I gotta agree with you there. Now, I saw the movie back in April up in Philadelphia…
Grandmaster Kim: Oh wait? Philadelphia!
JQK: Yeah, in Philly.
Grandmaster Kim: Oh my God! That’s amazing!
JQK: It was actually on a double bill with LA STREET FIGHTERS. And I know that there’s some confusion as to whether or not you worked on that movie as well. Can you clear that up?
Grandmaster Kim: I was the producer, the director and the star and even cast the movie…
Joseph Diamond: He’s solely talking about MIAMI CONNECTION. He had nothing to do with LA STREET FIGHTERS.
Joseph Diamond: Nothing.
JQK: Oh. OK. Well let’s change course…have you guys ever thought of doing a sequel? Like the tae kwon do EXPENDABLES where you clean up all that “stupid cocaine” out of Florida?
(Laughter. Lots of laughter here.)
Grandmaster Kim: Absolutely not! This movie is what we did and that’s what all of you, whole families of midnight movie fans, can watch. The most exciting, entertaining, and philosophical picture in the history of Hollywood.
JQK: Alright. So…one last question as we’re running out of time here. How bad are you gonna beat Tim League tonight at Fantastic Debates?
(More laughter. YK Kim becomes super animated:)
Grandmaster Kim: Are you coming tonight?
JQK: Hell yes, I am.
Grandmaster Kim: OK…you tell me: you gonna be his side or my side?
JQK: Your side, Grandmaster!
Grandmaster Kim: Alright, well, you cheer for me, I will win. You don’t, I’ll be dead meat.
MIAMI CONNECTION will be released theatrically this fall and December 11 on blu ray and DVD. If you don’t watch it, I’ll hate you. For real.