So Bad It’s Good: ’80s Rock and Killer Ninjas Meet in ‘Miami Connection’

Bad movies are not a simple matter. There are nearly as many categories of terrible movies are there are for great ones: there are films that are insultingly stupid (Batman & Robin), unintentionally funny (The Room), unintentionally, painfully unfunny (White Chicks), so bad they’re depressing (Transformers), and so on. But the most rewarding terrible movies are those we know as So Bad They’re Good—entertaining in their sheer incompetence, best braved in numbers, where the ham-fisted dramatics and tin-eared dialogue become fodder for years of random quotes and inside jokes. And in this spirit, Flavorwire brings you a new feature, So Bad It’s Good.

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Our inaugural offering’s journey to the screen is, frankly, more fascinating than anything in the film itself. Florida Taekwondo instructor and motivational speaker Y.K. Kim shot Miami Connection in 1987, co-writing, co-directing, and starring, as well as financing most of the picture out of his own pocket. He couldn’t find a distributor, though, and after two weeks of hometown playdates in ’88, it sunk into obscurity. Twenty years later, a programmer for Austin’s famed Alamo Drafthouse bought a 35mm print of the movie, sight unseen, on eBay for 50 bucks; when he screened the opening reel at the Drafthouse, the audience went bananas.

Watching that opening, you can see why. There’s nothing we love more than a healthy dose of ‘80s cheese, and from frame one, Miami Connection reeks of it. With a vibe vaguely reminiscent of Don Johnson’s “Heartbeat” video, a cocaine deal in a junkyard (or, as it would seem from the weirdly post-apocalyptic aesthetic of the film, a Miami playground) goes awry when a band of ninjas — yes, ninjas — appears on the scene, easily dispatching the Uzi-carrying drug baddies and making off with a generous portion of cocaine. That cocaine, like so many things in Miami Connection, promptly disappears from the narrative; the storytelling here has a weird, twice-removed quality, where entire scenes and subplots have nothing to do with anything.

We’re next introduced to Dragon Sound, a synthed-up “rock” band first seen playing in a nightclub, where the sport-coated emcee hyperbolically promises, “We have a new house band, with a new dimension in rock and roll!” They play their song “Friends” in its brutal entirety, and good luck getting that little earworm out of your brain at any point in the week following your introduction to Miami Connection. Onstage, the band is led by Tom, played by a John Oates clone (or maybe junior varsity Freddy Mercury — Teddy Mercury?) named Angelo Janotti, but off-stage, the group’s leader is Mark, played by Grandmaster Kim.

These guys do everything together: they play music, attend classes at the University of Central Florida (every member of the band looks to be a cold, hard 35, minimum), do Taekwondo, and cohabitate. Oh, and they’re all orphans. (A big deal is made of this, for reasons beyond our viewing group.) It takes a while to piece all of that together, however, since the filmmakers seem reluctant to include any dialogue scenes. Once the actors start talking, you can see why.

Jane (Kathy Collier) meets up with bandmate John (Vincent Hirsch) between classes, and pours out about as much exposition about her life and family as you can smash into one scene — which is peculiar, since they’re apparently dating. But they won’t be for long, since Jane’s brother, who is involved with some “shady characters,” shows up in the university parking lot with said shady characters. He screams at John and sets off a beatdown that would only be improved by someone yelling, “Dorothy Mantooth was a saint!”

Meanwhile, back at the club, a couple of middle-aged white guys scream at each other about rock and roll:

(There’s not a lot of moderation in the performances, is the point; there’s a pretty good chance no one ever uttered the phrase “Can you give me a little less on this take?” during the production of Miami Connection.)

The “rival rock band” angle gives Miami Connection its narrative motor, such as it is. The band that Dragon Sound usurps enlists Jane’s brother and his shady characters to get rid of “that damn band, Dragon Sound,” and the leader of said band doesn’t seem like the savviest negotiator: “You get my job back, and any money I make is yours.” Wait, what?

Honestly, though, that line may not be the fault of the screenwriters; the behind-the-scenes featurette indicates that much of the dialogue was improvised, which is why there are so many scenes of people who can’t improvise standing around, trying painfully to do so. (Example: three knuckleheads attempt to catcall at Jane when she visits her brother, and one offers up that old favorite, “Salami!”)

But the written scenes are no less horrifying. One of the many (many) subplots concerns Jim (Maurice Smith), who makes contact over the course of the film with his real father. When he discovers dear old dad (a “black American”) is alive, he delivers an “emotional monologue,” and the camera just lingers on it, stubbornly refusing to cut away and give the actor — or the audience — any relief.

There’s more. Much more. The band’s Pat Benatar-style tune, “Against the Ninja.” Dragon Sound’s street rumble with extras from the “Allentown” video. The beach montage. The full, long Taekwondo demonstration. The Volvo-driving kidnappers. The big climax, in which great damage is done to what seems to be a mid-level botanical garden, and swords are wielded. And then the feel-good ending, where (spoiler alert) Jim is reunited with his father — clearly played by an actor his age or less, with badly grayed hair — and the climactic bukkake of spraying blood and body parts is inexplicably capped off with the following onscreen text: “Only through the elimination of violence can we achieve world peace.” Nice incongruity!

And yet, strangely, you get the feeling that they honest-to-God meant those words. There’s an astonishing yet charming sincerity about Miami Connection; it’s a quality that’s striking if you happen to watch the 100% delusional “making of” retrospective documentary on the Blu-ray and DVD. Even now, all these years later, most of the parties involved are pretty clueless about how utterly, incomprehensibly bad their movie is. And that, truth be told, is part of its charm. On a recent episode of the Harmontown podcast, host Dan Harmon and guest Doug Benson discussed the recent explosion of “purposefully bad” Z-movies —made-for-Syfy fare like Sharktopus and Piranhaconda. “Ten, 15 years ago, you’d see these titles and go holy shit,” Harmon said, recalling an era of getting high, wandering video stores, and selecting terrible movies based on descriptions and box art. “Holy shit, these people are trying as hard as they can to make a good movie,” went the theory, “this is their Citizen Kane, and lets watch the result… but now, in this post-Piranha 3D, post-Mansquito world, it’s like, ‘No, it’s supposed to be funny!… And I’m kinda like, ‘Fuck you if you think it’s funny. Fuck you, try hard, so I can laugh at you.’”

That sincerity, that sense of people trying as hard as they can and still coming up with something like Miami Connection, is what makes a bad movie truly, unforgettably great. As John Waters once said, “Irony ruined everything… Even the best exploitation movies were never meant to be ‘so bad they were good’. They were not made for the intelligentsia. They were made to be violent for real, or to be sexy for real. But now everybody has irony. Even horror films now are ironic. Everybody’s in on the joke now. Everybody’s hip. Nobody takes anything at face value anymore.” Miami Connection’s creators can be accused of no such irony. And God bless them, they certainly weren’t in on the joke.

Miami Connection is available on DVD, Blu-ray, and on demand. Special thanks to fellow Bad Movie Night viewers Marni Chan, Meridith Jones, Amber Malott, Brenda Welch, and Mac Welch.