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Miami Connection (Vinegar Syndrome) UHD/Blu-ray Review

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    Ian Jane
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  • Miami Connection (Vinegar Syndrome) UHD/Blu-ray Review

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    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: May 27th, 2022.
    Director: Richard Park
    Cast: Y.K. Kim, Vincent Hirsch, Joseph Diamand, Maurice Smith, Angelo Janotti, Kathy Collier, William Eagle
    Year: 1986
    Purchase From Amazon

    Miami Connection – Movie Review:

    The story behind Miami Connection is a fascinating one. Spearheaded by Korean immigrant Y.K. Kim, a man who came to America with only his black belt in Tae Kwon Do and a heart full of dreams, the movie was intended as a way of continuing Kim's mission to spread the gospel of martial arts. Self-financed by Kim and directed by Korean filmmaker Richard Park (the man behind Ninja Turf), Kim gathered up a bunch of his students, had his collaborators read a few 'how to' books on film and set out to make a movie about a group of rock n roll orphans who use Tae Kwon Do and friendship to take on a gang of motorcycle riding ninjas. The movie played one theater in Orlando and had one screening at a festival and then disappeared into obscurity (those who Kim screened it for told him it was 'trash') with only a European VHS release of iffy legitimacy making cult movie rounds keeping it alive. Enter the Alamo Drafthouse who bought a print of the movie for $50.00 on eBay sight unseen and who then proceeded to screen it in their theaters where it quickly developed a cult audience. A few years later in 2012 and the movie was being on DVD and Blu-ray after a series of successful screenings across the United States, many with Kim in attendance. Now, a decade after that release, Vinegar Syndrome gives the film a fresh 4k facelift with this UHD/Blu-ray combo pack effort.

    The film begins in Orlando (which is not Miami) where we see a drug deal going down. It turns out that there's a cocaine problem afoot and that a gang of sinister ninjas who ride around town on motorcycles intend to take it over and reap the profits of the illegal narcotics trade for themselves. A ninja mastermind named Yashito (Si Yi Jo) is behind all this but what he doesn't count on is the presence of Dragon Sound, a synth rock band made up of friends Mark (Y.K. Kim) on guitar, Jack (Joe Diamand) on bass, John (Vincent Hirsch) on drums, Jim (Maurice Smith) on keyboards and Tom (Angelo Janotti) on lead guitar - he also shares vocal duties with Jack's girlfriend, Jane (Kathy Collier). The members of Dragon Sound are not only orphans who share a home together (sans Jane) but they're also college students.

    Things get complicated when Jane's brother, Jeff (William Eagle), decides he doesn't like her hanging out with Dragon Sound or dating Jack. In reality, he's teamed up with Yashito and is in cahoots with the ninjas. When Dragon Sound gets a new gig as the house band at the hottest club in town, their days of cruising the beach asking chicks if they wanna 'make it with a rock star' and chilling out at Uncle Song's (director Richard Park) restaurant are over. They're going to have to take a stand against the ninja and stop the flow of stupid cocaine from spreading further - all while Jim tries to find his father, who he has recently learned is still alive.

    Miami Connection is a fascinating, infectiously fun, beautiful mess of a film. The plot jumps around at random, characters talk over one another in countless scenes of improvised dialogue and fights break out at the drop of a hat. The script shifts tones every few minutes and characters spout of amazing bits of dialogue really just because they can. Yet underneath all of this bizarre technique Kim's message of working together and using martial arts to overcome adversity does somehow manage to come through. The film is violent (a text screen at the end of the film backs this up and at least attempts to justify it by stating "Only through the elimination of violence can we achieve world peace") in that it contains throat slashings, stabbings, beatings and even an awesome decapitation but the members of Dragon Sound have such an awesome sense of family that you can't help but love them. They always seem to get along no matter what, bonding over their love of eighties rock, their lack of parents or their complete and total respect for all things Tae Kwon Do. They practice their skills on the lawn of the university when they get out of class and seem to spend pretty much every waking minute together.

    The acting is ridiculous but everyone is trying so hard that you can't be upset by it. Maurice Smith's character gets so insanely excited when he opens the mailbox in the film's now fairly infamous 'Hey guys I found my father' scene that it's akin to watching a little kid open up a Christmas present to find that toy he wanted so bad. Kim's thick Korean accent occasionally makes his dialogue hard to understand and yet the sincerity behind his delivery overcomes it. The musical numbers show that the only one actually playing an instrument on stage is Angelo Janotti, though to Kathy Collier's credit she actually sings rather nicely - the rest of the band 'air guitar' their way through the movie's two 'live' performances with a complete lack of skill but no shortage of drive and enthusiasm.

    All of this lovably naïve insanity builds to the ultimate showdown in which our Tae Kwon Do masters meet the gang of ruthless drug dealing motorcycle ninjas for a gory showdown in which a stream literally runs red with blood. Swords clash, guts are spilled and men will die. The film's sense of positivity gets unexpectedly rocked in the last ten minutes but, of course, good has to triumph over evil, that's the whole point of the movie. It's very much a product of its time, from the music to the fashions to the hairstyles to everything else. It jumps around, makes loads of mistakes, and never once concerns itself with realism or believability. The movie is infectiously entertaining, however. It pulls you along for the ride and you love it. Yeah, maybe it goes better with a few beers in you but really, most things in life do. This is no manufactured cult item, no Grindhouse homage made by a Tarantino wannabe or a shot on video no budget schlockfest but a legitimately unique and insane film worth its weight in gold. There's so much enthusiasm, so much unbridled spirit and life to the film that you really can't help but love it.

    Miami Connection – UHD Review:

    Miami Connection arrives on UHD from Vinegar Syndrome “newly scanned & restored in 4k from its 35mm interpositive” framed at 1.85.1 widescreen in an HEVC / H.265 encoded 2160p with HDR. The picture quality here is strong and this is a nice upgrade over the previous Blu-ray release from Drafthouse Films. There’s noticeably more depth to the picture overall and the colors look quite a bit stronger. There is, overall, stronger and better clarity evident throughout but you’ll really notice it in the night time scenes which look a lot better than they have in the past. Detail is very strong and color reproduction is great. The image is still pretty grainy and some mild print damage shows up throughout but overall, this is a really strong presentation.

    The 24-bit English language DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo mix, which comes with optional English subtitles, is also pretty solid. Dialogue is always easy to understand and follow and the levels are properly balanced throughout playback. There’s some mild sibilance in a couple of spots but otherwise the track is nice and clean with decent depth and range.

    The only extra on the UHD is the commentary carried over from the out of print Drafthouse Films Blu-ray release with Y.K. Kim and Joe Diamand moderated by Zack Carlson that starts off with an explanation of the character types and then delves into the film's use of motorcycle ninjas and how that ties into the 'Miami mania' that was sort of happening around the time that the movie was made. Kim notes that the film was originally meant to be titled Against The Ninja while Diamand talks about shooting the opening fight scene in only one evening using different martial artists from Y.K. Kim's school. Of course, the movie's musical numbers get a lot of discussion, they talk about how the songs are catchy and stick with you after the movie is over but also how they communicate the film's ongoing themes of friendship and sticking together. There are a few spots here and there where Kim and Diamand get a little quiet but Carlson does an admirable job of keeping them on topic and talking. They go on to cover the use of Miami versus Orlando in the film, what some of the cast members have done since the movie was made, and the possibility of a Dragon Sound record should the public demand it. They also discuss the costumes used by the random gangs in the movie, director Parks' big action scene, how Kim and Diamand handled the fight choreography in the film and more. It's a solid commentary and a lot of fun to listen to.

    The rest of the extras are on the first included Blu-ray release starting with Resurrecting The Dragon: Looking Back at Miami Connection (Again), which is a new extensive piece that covers the making of the movie. This featurette runs thirty-three minutes and is made up of interviews with Y.K. Kim, Vincent Hirsch, Joseph Diamond, Faith Cotter, Angelo Janotti, Kathee Collier, Mauriac Smith, Jon McCallum and Jeffrey A. Okun. They cover Y.K. Kim's background in various arenas, his martial arts training and school, how the different martial artists and cast and crew members from the movie came together, working with Richard Park, how the movie was pretty much made without a script, finding locations for the movie, scoring the film, staging the fight scenes, what it was like for inexperienced actors trying to act, having trouble getting the movie finished, how everyone was happy to pitch in and do whatever was required, having to run from the cops for shooting without permits, how Kim would make people do a hundred pushups if they messed up a take, shooting the biker bar scene with real bikers that were paid in beer, getting the cast drunk on whiskey in order to get them to film the final sword fight scene, reusing props form Surf Nazis Must Die, having to go back and do ADR when the live sound turned out poorly, creating the final sound mix, thoughts on the finished film, problems getting the film distributed, doing loads of reshoots with a proper script, the different endings that were created for the movie, getting the movie a small theatrical release in Florida and, finally, of course, the film's cult following and rediscovery. This is definitely worth your time, it's as heartfelt as it is interesting and sometimes quite funny. It's also very well put together and it makes for a really nice addition to this release.

    The rest of the extras are all ported over from the Drafthouse disc. Friends For Eternity: The Making Of The Miami Connection is a nineteen minute documentary that includes interviews with Y.K. Kim, Joe Diamand, Maurice Smith, Angelo Jannotti and Vincent Hirsch. It begins with Kim talking about how he uses martial arts to overcome all obstacles while Smith talks about how his involvement in Kim's teachings and training was like being in a family. Janotti talks about how he was hired because he could play guitar and that his lack of martial arts skills lead to his being beaten up a lot on the movie, while Smith, of course, elaborates on his now infamous 'I found my father' letter opening scene. Hirsch discusses how Kim and Diamand brought him onboard to screen test for the movie and all involved share some interesting and amusing stories with Kim elaborating about his trials and tribulations with distribution and initial response to the movie once it was finished. There are some cool clips and behind the scenes photographs used throughout this as well.

    If that wasn't enough, and obviously it's not, we also get ten minutes of footage of the Dragon Sound Reunion Concert From The Fantastic Fest 2012. Here the band gets back together to play both tracks from the movie in front of a ridiculously enthusiastic audience, even getting audience members up on stage with them. The ‘Who Is Y.K. Kim?’ twenty-two minute short introduces us (and prospective speaking engagement audiences) to the Grandmaster and creator of The New American Dream, which then segues into the segment of the same name, a lengthy infomercial for Kim's books on how to reduce stress and increase physical fitness, mental fitness, financial fitness and more!

    A 2012 theatrical re-release trailer for the feature, menus and chapter selection options round out the extras on the first Blu-ray disc.

    Plus, this release includes the official world home video debut of its pre-release version, Escape From Miami, on a second Blu-ray disc. It’s a pretty neat curio that includes quite a few additional and extended scenes – we get more footage of the Dragon Sound gang going to college, we get a fun bit with the guys at a music store and a thrilling scene involving mailbox installation - as well as the alternate ‘sad’ ending.

    The packaging is also very slick. We get some reversible cover sleeve art, an embossed slipcover and then a separate, sturdier side-loading slipcover that holds everything else in place.

    Miami Connection – The Final Word:

    You'd have to be dead not to have a great time with this movie. A ridiculous amount of occasionally very misguided passion flows from every frame but that doesn't take away from even a second of the movie. The film moves at a very quick pace and offers up more rock n roll orphans and evil ninjas than you can shake a stick at and there's more entertainment value to be had here than most movies made with one hundred times the budget. Vinegar Syndrome’s UHD release is fantastic, offering up two cuts of the film, a new featurette and a bunch of archival supplements with a really nice transfer. Highly recommended!


    Click on the images below, or right click and open in a new window, for full sized Miami Connection Blu-ray screen caps!

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