Why Miami Connection and Its Kind Vibes Were Ahead of Its Time

In 1988, the independent action film Miami Connection didn’t do so well. Scratch that, it did terribly. Per Orlando Weekly, Miami Connection only managed to score a handful of theatrical screenings, was dubbed the worst movie of the year by the Orlando Sentinel, and then vanished into the ether. A tough blow in a year that also saw releases like Die Hard, MidnightRunand The Naked Gun hit big. That seemed to be the end of writer/director/star YK Kim‘s passion project, but then a funny thing happened. A re-release courtesy of Drafthouse Films in 2012 suddenly gave the production a whole new lease on life and it’s not hard to see why. In 1987, Miami Connection was the opposite of what anyone looking for mainstream action cinema wanted.


Decades later, though, it’s endured as, among other things, an endearing refutation to the toxic qualities of action films of that era. It had to wait a while to find its fanbase, but YK Kim’s creative instincts turned out to be more right on the money than anyone could have expected.

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part of what made Miami Connection so hard to digest for moviegoers back in 1987 is how it often feels like a whole bunch of movies shoved together. The plot concerns a band called Dragon Sound led by Mark (YK Kim), which comprises people from various ethnic and geographic backgrounds. Across the runtime, directors Kim and Richard Park don’t just have the members of Dragon Sound, who are masters at martial arts, fight off ninjas who intend to sell cocaine. There are also skirmishes on college campuses, a romance with a female college student who has a brother who disapproves of Dragon Sound, and, of course, one Dragon Sound member struggling with finding his long-absent father from him.

There’s a lot of ground to cover here, with certain plot lines getting jettisoned for extended sections of the story. Similarly, in the first 30 minutes, all plot momentum gets thrown out the window so that the viewer can watch Dragon Sound perform two uncut songs at different concerts. The erratic and sprawling style of this story didn’t quite fit in an era of compact narratives like The Terminator. But in the modern world of action films that jump everywhere imaginable, such as in Everything Everywhere All at Once, Miami Connection feels right at home. Without realizing it, YK Kim and company made a shlocky action movie tailor-made for the sensibilities of the ADD generation.

There’s also the unavoidable fact that Miami Connection is a rare American action movie from this era of explosion-laden cinema in America to place a person of color front-and-center in the narrative. While global audiences in this section of history were enjoying the physical feats of action stars like Jackie Chan, North American action cinema was primarily concerned with one white guy after another. It was a by-product of the ronald reagan-era of American pop culture, where the status quo, including racial norms in filmmaking, was meant to be upheld, not subverted.

by contrast, Miami Connection Eventually boils down to a showdown between two people of varying Asian descents, while two of the three heroes in the climax are people of color. It’s not enough to make Miami Connection the most based movie of all time. However, it does make it a welcome departure from 1980s action film norms, which not only often put white people front-and-center but also had them duke it out with caricatures of non-white foreigners. Miami Connection certainly feels more at home with a modern American action scene with a greater array of racial diversity than one that produced Chuck Norris star vehicles.

And then there’s the homoeroticism. The 1980s action movie scene in America was full of oiled-up shirtless dudes engaging in over-the-top antics. Thus, there was bound to be crossover appeal to the queer demographic. Unfortunately, the unintentionally queer moments of bro bonding or cameras lingering on beefy torsos were surrounded by a plot that was engaging in fantasies for exclusively cis-het viewers. The submissive role of women in many of these projects ensured there were no vamping queens to dazzle the gay viewers while the similarly disappointing recurring lack of vibrant sets or costumes also put most 1980s action films at odds with queer sensibilities.

The gesturing towards “seriousness” that plagued many subdued machismo fantasies of this era is absent from Miami Connection. There are sequences aiming for gravitas, to be sure, but much of the film is unabashed ridiculousness that queer viewers can get behind. Lots of glam-rock concerts abound in the plot while figures embodying old-fashioned gender roles and steely masculinity are often portrayed as the villains Most importantly, it’s also a feature that’s wholesomely oblivious to the underlying significance of five adult men living in one house together where they’re often waltzing around shirtless. Many 1980s action movies flirt with going into the territory of homoerotic entertainment but never fully get there. Miami Connectionmeanwhile, begins nestled within that territory and never leaves.

The bonds between the lead characters of Miami Connection informing those homoerotic undertones also make this such a pleasant watch for an action film. YK Kim’s script doesn’t waste time on a prolonged on-screen origin story for how everyone became buddies nor does he go down the usual narrative route of breaking up a friend group just before the third act begins. Instead, Miami Connection just allows them to be friends, to quote one of Dragon Sound’s tunes, “through thick or thin” and generate conflict from other external forces.

This allows for uniquely wholesome scenes in a 1980s American action film, such as everyone in the main friend group teaming up to get one of their pals a suit before he’s reunited with his dad. The embrace of such straightforward male friendship, with no cynical gag to undercut it in sight, proves irresistible, especially given the devoid of such rapports in this era of explosion-heavy cinema. just like that Miami Connection is confident its wackadoodle plot or the taekwondo skills of Kim, so too is it fully enamored with just leaning into the power of uninhibited male friendships.

Even the filmmaking has managed to age better than expected, with this being an element that stands out when compared to modern films rather than 1980s action movies. Miami Connection often has clumsy framing and awkward pieces of blocking, all indicative of both the low-budget nature of this film and the fact that the people involved in this project weren’t well-versed in making features. But it’s all captured on crisp-looking 35mm film while the various fight scenes are captured through tangible-looking real environments. This lends a pleasing visual aesthetic that stands in stark contrast to modern action film captured in stale digital cinematography against green screens. Plus, through the power of opposition, such lived-in backdrops make the warm bonds between the lead heroes all the more impactful and meaningful.

Thanks for committing to so many bold creative swings, Miami Connection manages to prove successful not only in finding its voice but in emerging as a welcome outlier in the era of action movie cinema that it was created. Even its weird line deliveries or awkward pieces of editing feel like endearing refutations of filmmaking norms that other bigger-budgeted Sylvester Stallone or Chuck Norris vehicles rigidly adhered to. Best of all, though, Miami Connection has a good heart and a genuine belief in the power of friendship that makes it feel more relevant and enjoyable than ever before. Yesterday’s disposable B-movie schlock has become today’s wholesome ode to the bonds that make life as enjoyable as a Dragon Sound tune.

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