Monday, February 21, 2011

Miami Connection (Richard Park, 1987)

In a world where ninjas dream of being rock stars and rock stars dream of being ninjas, five guys from Orlando, Florida do their best to complicate the order of things when they try to be both at the same time. The ninja has been around for centuries, but it wasn't until the mid-1980s that the pajama-wearing, sword-wielding assassins started to become well-known in the western world (a predominantly white place where face kicking was still frowned upon). And do you what else was all the rage during that particular chunk of the '80s? Besides, of course, the cinematic output of Amber Lynn and the tight grip of an expertly tied neon scrunchie. Give it up? Why, it was new wave-tinged synth rock. Combining the internal discipline of Taekwondo ("the art of kicking and punching") with the aura-destroying guitar solos that appear at the end of catchy songs about fighting ninjas, Miami Connection is here to show you what life was really like in Orlando circa 1987. While it's depicted in this film as a city that is crawling with nothing but unruly gangs and sleazy lowlifes who drink Coors Light straight from the can, that doesn't mean everyone who resides there wants to spend the rest of their lives hanging around empty parking lots all day waiting to get beaten up by the worst Benetton ad ever. Whether performing the new music of the day, practicing the material arts, or pursuing a university education, the members of Dragon Sound, the most exciting music group currently performing in the Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), have decided to take a different course.

Avoiding the lure of the street with a breathtaking ease, everything seems to be going Dragon Sound's way. However, that ease is jeopardized somewhat when Jeff (William Eagle), the brother of Jane (Kathy Collier), the newest, and sexiest, member of Dragon Sound, finds out that she's canoodling with John (Vincent Hirsch), the band's lanky bass player. Sounds innocent enough, right? I mean, there's nothing wrong with a brother showing concern for the welfare of his sister. And, as most sane people know, dating bass players, lanky or otherwise, can be rife with unforeseen complications. Well, it turns out that Jeff, who likes to dress like a Cuban revolutionary on weekends, is the leader of Orlando's biggest street gang, and is not one to be trifled with. Punching John in the face (I'm surprised he was able to land his blow without the aid of a stepladder) mere seconds after meeting him, Jeff sends a message to Jane (a budding computer programmer), and to anyone else within earshot, that he will not sit idly by and let her exquisite frame be defiled by some mamby-pamby, Taekwondo-practicing musician.

Fraught with so much macho stress and misplaced sexual tension, that I thought my crotch was gonna explode into a million gigantic pieces, the introduction of Jeff and John in the parking lot of the University of Central Florida (John, Jane and the rest Dragon Sound are students there) was a cataclysmic event. Nevertheless, the seed of their adversarial relationship is actually planted in an earlier scene when Jeff attends a Dragon Sound gig at Park Ave., Central Florida's hottest nightclub. There to make a drug deal and talk gangster shit with Yashito (Si Y Jo), an underworld colleague and the leader of Miami Ninja (bikers by day, ninjas by night), Jeff is severely annoyed by the closeness going on between Jane and John as they perform "Friends," a song about loyalty and friendship. Right then and there, you knew John and Jeff were going to collide with one another. A collision that will, no doubt, culminate with a climatic confrontation with a noteworthy ninja.

Upset over the fact they were fired as Park Ave.'s house band, an unnamed rival group–who were, by the way, dumped for being too square–confront the members of Dragon Sound, a band who represent a new dimension in rock 'n' roll. They did the same to the club's owner in an earlier scene, but getting their lumpy, out of shape asses handed to them was the only thing they managed to accomplish (club owners, especially the one's who operate in Central Florida, are notorious for their Taekwondo skills). Anyway, the sacked musicians, along with about twenty hired goons, attack Dragon Sound in the middle of an Orlando street. A melee ensues, and the five male members of Dragon Sound, which include the aforementioned John (who, like I said, plays bass), their "guitar player" and spiritual adviser Mark (Y.K. Kim), a drummer named Jack (Joseph Diamond), a synth whiz known simply as Jim (Maurice Smith), and Tom (Angelo Janotti), their singer/lead guitarist, end up punching and kicking their way through a decrepit throng of piss poor opponents.

Humiliated, the battered and bruised members the rival band make a deal with Jeff's gang: Destroy Dragon Sound and we'll join up with you and give you everything we earn at our future gigs. Just the excuse he was looking for to interfere with Jane's life on a more profound level, Jeff and his ragtag gang of unwashed reprobates embark on a reign of terror against Dragon Sound, or at least they try to embark on one. You see, what Jeff doesn't seem to fully understand is that Mark and John are rabid Taekwondo enthusiasts. In case you're wondering, the reason I listed Mark and John as the rabid Taekwondo enthusiasts, and not the others, is because Y.K. Kim and Vincent Hirsch seemed to be the only one's able to execute the intricate fight moves in a semi-convincing manner. You could tell the other actors who portray the members of Dragon Sound weren't comfortable at all during the fight scenes. The opposite is true during the film's two concert scenes, where Kathy Collier and Angelo Janotti, musicians in real life, seem super-relaxed on stage, while Y.K. and Vincent come off as clumsy and uncoordinated.

The majority of the film's acting–you know, the part of the film that doesn't involve cutting off arms or singing songs about battling ninjas–rests squarely on the shoulders of Maurice Smith. Called upon to emote while not wearing a shirt, Maurice, playing Jim, a genteel keyboard player, is strangely compelling as a troubled man who is bursting at the seams with depth and humanity. Desperate to find his father, Maurice's breakdown scene in front of the other members of Dragon Sound sent shivers down my spine. Which, believe me, is quite the compliment, as I try to avoid making public allusions to the vibrational goings on inside my world class spinal column whenever possible.

Keenly aware of the emotional toll Jim's breakdown would have on the audience, the filmmakers wisely chose to embrace minimalism and retro-futurism for the scenes that immediately followed it. The, what I like to call, trip to the beach and biker jamboree sequences, give the audience a moment to decompress, while, at the same time, examine the complex mating rituals of human beings in a daytime setting.

At the beach, the multi-ethnic Dragon Sound, in a scene straight out of a teen sex comedy with Béla Tarrian undertones, slowly cruise through a fleshy bouquet of late '80s womanhood. Of course, John and Jane (sporting a tasteful black bikini), being a couple and all, are focused on each other (they attempt, with mixed results, to recreate the famous kissing scene from From Here to Eternity utilizing a half-submerged lawn chair for maximum make-out leverage). The others, however, are mainly concerned, as they should be, with penetrating soon-to-be wet things with their black belt penises.

While the beach diversion was all about fun, sun, and procreation, the so-called "biker jamboree" seemed to centre primarily around facial hair and hedonism. A celebration of crudity and sloth, Jeff invites Yahshito to partake in a kind of biker fantasy camp. Awash with topless biker chicks, dirty bandanas, cheap beer, cigarettes, and denim and leather as far as the eye could see, this sequence had such an authentic, lived-in quality that about it, that I thought it created a great dichotomy between the lawful, upstanding world of Taekwondo and the dark and twisted void the bikers and ninjas seem to be stuck in.

A creaseless angel in a shirt dress, the gorgeous Kathy Collier, channeling Linda Blair, a teenage Dinah Manoff, and my high school chemistry teacher, is the lone woman with a speaking part in the realm of Miami Connection. At first I was a tad worried about this gender inequality, after all, it seemed that Uzis, letter writing campaigns to the Defense Department, shirtless male bonding over said letter writing campaigns, ninjas on bikes, and drug dealers in Panama hats were this film's principal interests in the early going. However, after seeing Kathy in action in only a couple of scenes, I quickly came to the conclusion that she was more than enough woman for this film.

Shapely without even trying (the ability to successfully pull off detached shapeliness is an extremely rare gift), Kathy Collier not only earned my respect as a thespian (her rapid fire delivery when it came time to lay down a healthy slab of exposition was a flat-out brilliant piece of acting), but the fact that she co-wrote "Friends" and "Against the Ninja" was, well, too much for this viewer to handle. Boring a misshapen hole deep inside the brain of anyone who listens to it, Kathy's rendition of "Against the Ninja," a Dragon Sound ditty about fighting evil ninjas and restoring harmony to a chaotic universe through Taekwondo, will drive you absolutely a good way, of course.

With all the punching and kicking that goes in this film, you wouldn't think they'd be much time for anyone to step up and seductively slather the screen with the kind of chic fashions that all heterosexual men and their gay allies so wantonly crave. Trained like a laser that was designed to be precise and junk, Kathy Collier brings haute couture to the dew-ridden streets of Central Florida with a voguish intensity that will electrify the spirit and eviscerate the soul.

It's no secret, the humble shirt dress is currently my garment of choice; just the mere thought of a shirt dress makes my favourite sliver moister than a sheathlike structure that is on the brink of becoming more moist. Cinched at the waist with a sassy belt, and still glowing after learning that her class had just placed fourth in an international computer programming contest, Jane saunters across the school's perennially damp campus in her striped shirt dress with a queenly brand of confidence.

After seeing Kathy belt out "Against the Ninja," dressed head to toe in a white lace get-up that left all the Park Ave. patrons standing in awe of her sheer fabulousness, I didn't think she had anything else to offer in terms of eye-catching threads. Oh, man, was I ever wrong. Drifting into Jeff's dingy lair like an untamed butterfly who shirks reality, trying her best to ignore the asinine taunts coming from three of his subordinates (one sporting zipper-covered parachute pants), Kathy causes a fashion furore when she shows up in this black and white blazer and trouser combo with an orange top ensemble. The top, like I said, is orange, and is pretty straightforward as far as orange tops go, and, as per usual, she had a purse to match. But the jacket and pants' black and white tropical-inspired print was so jarring, so exhilarating, that I literally began to hyperventilate as it pranced before me. Forget about skirmishing with twenty ninjas in a swamp-like setting, the amount of courage it took to leave the house in an outfit that bold must have been astronomical.

Conceived by director Richard Park (a.k.a. Woo-sang Park) and Grandmaster Y.K. Kim, the thoughtful film has an underlying message that sheds a fair amount of light on the ills of gang violence. That being said, Miami Connection does boast five elaborately staged action sequences that do a pretty good job depicting a world where Uzi-carrying henchmen fire aimlessly at ninjas lurking in the fern-laden undergrowth, three new wavers take on at least twenty incompetent slobs at a railroad yard (the amount of slobs was more than double when they tussled again at a construction site), rival bands battle it out on the street as if they were starring in a Broadway production of The Warriors, and recently purchased suits are ruined in spur-of-the-moment swords fights that take place in marshy wetlands.

The electronic, Jan Hammer-esque music score by Jon McCallum is one of the best Jan Hammer-esque scores I have ever heard. I'd put the score up there with the likes of Chopping Mall and Killer Workout, as it enriches every scene with a tasty layer of synthy goodness. Oh, and the music cue after a ninja bigwig utters the line, "They will not escape the Miami Ninja!" was excellent.



  1. Why have I never heard of this? I feel ashamed.

    The guitar player is doing two hand tapping with no shirt sleeves. I'm shocked he didn't catch on fire.

    Amusingly, that's the same postcard idea for a poster as Welcome to L.A., but the movies are different as can be.

  2. Reading your entertaining writing makes me want to give up reviewing. The standard is just too high for me.

  3. @Thomas Dukenfield III: I was gonna say, "you should feel ashamed!" But that's not my style. ;)

    I didn't know you could catch fire playing a guitar with two hands. But then again, what do I know? I teach a handjob class at the Learning Annex every Thursday.

    Welcome to L.A.?!? I'll have to take your word on that.

    @Robert M. Lindsey: Thanks, RetroHound. And keep on keepin' on.

  4. Orlando is a cesspool of capitalism and crowds.

    Have you seen this site:

    I don't agree with the author, but I'll admit I laughed a few times. Where are the Shuffle Demons?!? (I'm actually surprised that the Hip didn't make the cut.)

  5. Edited to add:
    Oh, there's the Hip under "The Banal" category.
    And I completely forgot about Frozen Ghost.

    My parents almost moved to Central Florida about a decade ago. (Me: Why?!?!?) Thankfully, my father talked some sense into the rest of the immediate family.

  6. I don't agree with the author, either. But unlike you, I didn't laugh once. What can I say? I take my Luba seriously. ;)

    OMG. They put Men Without Hats in the dreck category! Outrageous! But then again, they had positive things to say about the Dayglo Abortions and DOA, and that pretty much tells me everything I need to know about the author.

    Where are the Shuffle Demons? Probably begging for change on Spadina (a single TTC fare costs three bucks nowadays). Oh, you mean on the cancon list. No clue.

    They left out Strange Advance... I think... nope, I don't see 'em.

    Don't remember much about Orlando, but I do recall digging St. Augustine and a small town called Lake City while I was in Florida.

    Central Florida is where it's at! ;)

    Quirky fun-fact: Cheryl Hines (Curb Your Enthusiasm, Waitress) is an alum of UCF.

  7. To me, this movie is actually incredibly entertaining, and not in a schadenfreude "Hobgoblins" way but in a B-movie way. It has serious issues, obviously, but it's just so relentlessly awesome I don't care.

  8. To me, Miami Connection is a great movie. Sure, there's obvious issues with silliness, acting, etc., but it's just so relentlessly awesome.