Philly: You Need To Make The MIAMI CONNECTION

The release of Drafthouse Films' MIAMI CONNECTION reminds Phil of the joys of local repertory cinema.

The summer is a trying time for movie fans, as theaters fill up with casual moviegoers looking to get some respite from the record high temperatures. Hey, it's hot out, and movie theaters have air conditioning. I'm human; I get it. But more and more I'm starting to think that if you want to have that cherished "communal experience" of watching a movie with other film lovers, as opposed to people for whom the movie itself is incidental, your options are restricted to paying for an inflated IMAX Experience ticket on a Sunday morning, or hitting a repertory screening.

And for all my bitching about not being near the New Beverly, I have no room to complain, as Philly's Exhumed Films continues to flat-out deliver, giving us treasured trash, screening marathons, and off the wall shit that has made my head spin. Much of this content comes from Harry Guerro, a film collector with over a thousand prints in his collection. Thanks to Harry, I've had the chance to see obscure things like Fear Is The Key, The Face With Two Left Feet, and Miami Connection, which is playing on a double bill with LA Streetfighters at Philly's International House this Friday. I was privileged to be invited to Mr. Guerro's home 35mm screening room - eight seats, arcade room, themed trailers before the feature, just holy shit all around - to watch Miami Connection (the print itself on loan to Exhumed Films from Tim League and Drafthouse Films), and if you're a reader of this site, I'm certain that you really, really want to see this film.

If Golan and Globus had been approached to make Streets Of Fire, and threw their lowest possible budget at the project as some kind of tax write-off, the result might come out looking a lot like Miami Connection. The film's protagonists are Dragon Sound, a multicultural group of Tae Kwon Do black belts who sing pop songs about defeating ninjas and being friends forever. One of them, a goober who looks like the guy Henry Hill pistol whipped in Goodfellas, is in love with a gal whose brother is a ninja/biker/coke dealer, so you know trouble's a-brewing. But I'm not going to lie - I'm not exactly sure why everyone is fighting in the film. Some other kung-fu rock band got fired from the club or something, and they team up with the Harley-riding ninja coke dealers to take down our heroes.

Apparently in Florida you can get actors or kung-fu experts, but not both. So Miami Connection is packed with guys who can kick, set adrift in scene after scene of ad-libbed exposition. They know their karate, but no one here has attained their black belt in improvisation. The performances are magical in a way that can only come from asking non-acting martial artists to emote, grasp comic timing, or convincingly pretend to play guitar. Padding the film's brief running time are some extended board- and brick-breaking demonstrations, as well as a detour in which the ninja leader (the only Asian out of all the ninjas) wanders into some b-roll of actual bikers at a bar. It's like when Play Misty For Me stops in its tracks to go to a jazz festival, but with more tits and worse teeth.

The film's top-billed star (and co-director) YK Kim tries, bless him, and he seems likable enough. So every time he opens his mouth you're really pulling for him, but his grasp of English (admittedly better than my Korean) is slightly less flimsy than his grasp of the language of cinema. It's a kung-fu dojo playing at filmmaking, the kind of film where scenes exist because scenes like those scenes exist in a lot of other films. One cast member gives a tearful speech about his missing father, just devouring the scenery, and as he goes for Oscar gold in one long, master take, I realized we hadn't even heard this character's name yet.

But the movie just glides along on its giddy Little Rascals "let's put on a show" energy until the climax, where it descends wholeheartedly into madness. When one of their own is cut down, these unthespians really go for broke, conveying their anguish and rage mostly via their teeth, and unleashing some splattery low-budget gore effects. The experience will have you cheering for more, and running out to tell as many people as you can about this wonderful, terrible gem.

The film is paired with LA Streetfighter, which I'm told is equally insane, hence my purchased ticket for this Friday's double feature. Get your tickets here.