Retro Review: MIAMI CONNECTION: Congratulations, The Plaza Got You Motorcycle Ninjas for Christmas

Posted on: Dec 8th, 2012 By:

MIAMI CONNECTION (1987); Dirs: Y.K. Kim & Woo-sang Park; Starring Y.K. Kim, Vincent Hirsch; Plaza Theatre, HELD OVER for second week through Dec. 13; Trailer here.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

The first thing you need to know is that MIAMI CONNECTION takes place not in Miami, but on or around the beaches of landlocked Orlando.

Still listening? Then the other thing to know is that MIAMI CONNECTION is a movie out of time, a gift from the past that you didn’t even know you wanted. Congratulations, The Plaza got you motorcycle ninjas for Christmas, but you have to go this week to pick them up.

The history of MIAMI CONNECTION is so unbelievable that it’s already a movie legend. In 1987, Korean immigrant and self-described “modern philosopher” Y.K. Kim collected a modest budget and a gang of amateur actors and taekwondo students to craft a martial arts epic about a black-belt rock band’s struggle against drug-dealing ninjas, starring Kim, of course, as the improbable college student hero, Mark. After failing to find distribution, the movie disappeared into obscurity, never officially released.

Twenty-five years later, an employee of the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas, stumbled upon the last remaining film print on an online auction site. The Drafthouse is a kind of national church for movie fans, and they’ve been aggressively searching out and stockpiling 35mm film prints for years, defying the conventional wisdom that film is dead. After negotiating a $50 price for the MIAMI CONNECTION print—sight unseen—the Drafthouse decided to show the film as a random oddity for their midnight crowd. The audience erupted and, somehow, MIAMI CONNECTION became a hit. Now, the Drafthouse has made the movie an official release for their distribution arm, remastering it and shipping it to theaters nationwide. They’ve even mounted a tongue-in-cheek Oscar campaign and produced a new trailer, cut by Jason Eisener, director of CONNECTION’s spiritual soulmate, HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN (2011).

For decades, THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975) was the king of ironic entertainment, beloved for being bad long enough to become an institution, but today’s audiences have been seeking new guilty pleasures. First, we had SHOWGIRLS (1995) and its silly drinking game, and then TROLL 2 (1990) became popular enough to spawn its own documentary. Most recently, crowds pack the Plaza for regular showings of THE ROOM (2003), bringing forks and costumes to make themselves part of the experience.

And now, for these folks, MIAMI CONNECTION feels almost like a culmination. It’s an honest-to-godawful classic, something that’s normally found and championed by the few, now delivered by a major theater entity in a pristine presentation. It’s a movie literally plucked off the scrap heap, polished and mass-produced. Ready-made cult movies tend to flop because audiences are savvy and they know when they’re being pandered to (REPO: THE GENETIC OPERA, anyone?), but the vibe around MIAMI CONNECTION is completely different. This is one group of movie-fanatics speaking to others and saying “you have GOT to see this,” just as they’ve done for years, but never before on this scale.

Part of the film’s charm is that it’s so damn sincere. Y.K. Kim’s college student is just one member of the band Dragon Sound, all of whom are badass taekwondo students/total dorks. For some reason, Dragon Sound’s very existence seems to be standing in the way of a growing drug cartel based out of Miami, but doing business through the band’s club in Orlando. This thin premise kicks off an escalating series of martial arts battles between the band and the cartel’s thugs and, yes, eventually leads to a confrontation with motorcycle-riding, cocaine-dealing ninjas.

In between attacks, the band hangs out at their favorite eateries, spars on campus and fails to score with chicks at the beach. Oh, and one member of the band has about three scenes dealing with the search for his long-lost father, handled entirely via mailbox. Did I mention that the band also writes and performs a song about friendship? That song shares stage time with a ditty about fighting ninjas, which they sing before any member of the band has encountered even a single one.

But no plot synopsis can completely capture MIAMI CONNECTION’s charms. Sure, there are laughs to be found in the schlocky gore effects, bizarre plot twists and bad dialogue (“…because of that stupid cocaine…”), but people don’t go to these movies again and again to simply sit and make fun of them. That’s a mean-spirited reaction, and the crowd with whom I watched MIAMI CONNECTION showered it with love. No, what makes the movie resonate with people is that it’s an endearing reflection of the types of movies it wants to be. When you watch MIAMI CONNECTION, you can recognize the notes the film is trying to play, even if it comes off more than a bit tone deaf. Film is a language, and this is an American urban action movie made by someone who doesn’t quite speak that language, but who was passionate enough to try anyway. This is true, too, of the Italian ambition behind TROLL 2 or, um, wherever the hell Tommy Wiseau came from to produce THE ROOM. If any of these filmmakers had managed to make the movie they attempted, the result would have been a magnitude less interesting. Are these movies bad in the strictest sense? Sure, but they’re also minor miracles. In a sea of low-budget mediocrity, it takes a special spark of passion to fail this spectacularly and entertainingly.

MIAMI CONNECTION doesn’t make much sense as a story, but the action is fun and for real, and it’s a blast to watch the random plot threads bang together and make noise. Most of all, it’s a reminder that films inspire and speak to all of us, even those who don’t quite know the words. Come for the irony and the motorcycle-ninjas, but don’t be surprised if you get caught up in the fun of going to the movies.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game writer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He writes at www.thehollywoodprojects.com and hosts a bimonthly screening series of classic films at theaters around Atlanta.

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Shop Around: Grease Monkeys Is Your One-Stop Rockabilly Shop for Kool Kats, Kittens & Your Bike!

Posted on: Apr 4th, 2012 By:

By Jennifer Belgard
Contributing Editor

Editor’s Note: Grease Monkeys is now an online shop only and their merchandise is also available at select Mon Cherie Presents and other events.

Rejoice, Atlanta Rockabilly guys and dolls! East Atlanta has something new and fab just for you. Grease Monkeys caters to your every need (even your BIKE)! That’s right, you’ll find all kinds a kool accessories for yourself or the kat or kitten in your life. I am particularly drawn to the men’s clothing. It seems to me that you can find something marked “Pin Up” almost anywhere these days, but the really great stylish items for men just haven’t been there. If you’re thinking about heading to Viva Las Vegas and you need some new threads do not, I repeat DO NOT buy online. You now have the ability to look good and support a local business. Now THAT is kool, so I just had to get the full scoop from Joe Grondalski, managing partner.

ATLRetro:  Tell me a little about yourself.

Joe:  I moved back to Atlanta in 2007 from Park City, Utah. I lived in Marietta when I was in high school, then on to Rochester, New York, to attend college. While in Rochester, I started my first business, a recording studio specializing in corporate sound tracking. After selling the recording studio, I moved to Park City, Utah to spend my days snowboarding. I was an aspiring snowboard racer until an unfortunate accident on the mountain ended my racing career. After my racing days, I opened The Phat Tire Saloon on Main Street Park City. We were open almost four years including the 2002 Winter Olympics. I closed the Phat Tire Saloon in 2004 after the building was sold to a corporate entity with other purposes for the space.

After closing my Saloon I began to seriously study the Chinese martial arts, specializing in Tai Chi and Snake Kung Fu at Shaolin Arts in Salt Lake City. While in college I had studied Tai Chi privately with a Master inNew York. Once I arrived inAtlanta, I immediately resumed my training, besides being the managing partner at Grease Monkeys I am a certified Tai Chi, Bagua and Xing Yi at Highland Martial Arts inVirginia-Highland. While growing up in Washington,DC, I was immersed in the DC Hardcore scene at a young age. I have been a part of the “Alternative” scene for over 25 years with a love of the Retro style from the beginning. I have been heavily influenced by my grandfather and his style, down to the same haircut he had in 1949.

What led you to open Grease Monkeys?

There are many factors that led me to open Grease Monkeys, I could write a book about the events that led me to this point. I will try my best to keep this from rambling on. Atlanta has a large Kustom Culture and Rockabilly scene with a ton of events throughout the spring, summer and fall. There was one thing Atlanta was missing, a retailer that specifically caters to the Rockabilly and Kustom Culture scene. I had been frustrated that I could only get the clothes that I wanted online or from a few retailers that have limited stock at a higher price than the internet retailers, without being able to try them on or see the quality in person. I also wanted to keep my prices on par with the internet stores without the shipping costs. This was one of the factors that led me to open Grease Monkeys.

While the internet is a great resource it does not allow the customer to see, feel, try on or have the social experience that a brick and mortar store does. We are also stocking a wide variety of things that no one internet site has. From pinstriping brushes and paint to womens dresses we have it. Want a custom vintage motorcycle helmet? We have that too. Men’s clothing, women’s clothing, flowers for your hair, pinstriping paint and brushes, custom motorcycle parts and accessories, glitter flake purses and crazy socks; we have it all.

After spending more time than I would like to shopping in malls, I noticed that there were not very many stores that stocked all sizes. I wanted Grease Monkeys to be able to offer all of the sizes that the manufacturers offer, from XS to XXXXL, without marking up the larger sizes. It seemed to me that there was a practice in the clothing retail and manufacturing community of tacking on an extra $2-$5 for larger sizes when it only costs the manufacturers pennies to make a larger size. I wanted Grease Monkeys to break that trend; we charge the same ammount for a XS as we do for a XXXXL. As for our non-clothing items,  there were few places that stocked the items that I was always looking for. I wanted to be able to offer pinstriping supplies without the insane art supply store markup of several dollars above MSRP. There was no retailer in the Atlanta area that was stocking restored vintage motorcycle helmets and no one stocking true custom motorcycle parts, the parts we stock are still made by hand and in most cases made in the USA.

Grease Monkeys has great retro/rockabilly clothing for women and men. What would you say are the “must have” items?

For the women’s dresses it would have to be the Captain Pencil Dress by Bettie Page Brand.

Women’s skirt: The Ruffle Sarina Skirt by Rock Steady  

Women’s top: The Zombie Sparrow Button-up by Sourpuss 

Women’s capris: The Hilda Capri in Leopard by Colletif UK 

Women’s T: The Sailor Made T by Black Market Art Company

Men’s work shirt: Grease Gas and Glory by Lucky 13  

Men’s button-up: V8 Button Up Racer by Steady Last Call

Men’s T:  Battleship T by Black Market Art Company

Men’s pants: Speedfreak Pants by King Kerosin  

Any events coming up?

We’re making a huge push to attend as many car and bike-related events as possible in the area, as well as attend shows and events that appeal to the Rockabilly, Hot Rod and Vintage Motorcycle crowd. We keep our website calendar updated with the events we’ll be attending. Some of the upcoming events include:

April 20-22 – CafeRacer Village at Big Kahuna Atlanta, Braselton,GA

May 5 – EAVMA presents Cinco De Mayo Cruise in & Bar-B-Q in East Atlanta Village

Grease Monkeys is located at 1287-C Glenwood Avenue. Hours are Mon.-Sat. from noon to 9 p.m. and Sun. from noon to 6 p.m. 404-624-1587. 

http://greasemonkeys.biz/ and https://www.facebook.com/greasemonkeysatl

ATLRetro Contributing Editor Jennifer Belgard is Co-Conspirator at Libertine, Curator of Curios at Diamond*Star*Halo,  Barkeep at Euclid Avenue Yacht Club, and Co-Coordinator of Chaos for the Little 5 Points Halloween Parade & Festival.  In her spare time she enjoys Turnin’ TriXXX and playing Queen of Your Distraction.

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