Black-belt Sabbath

'Miami Connection' is the greatest movie you've never seen

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Rock 'em, sock 'em: despite its title, 'Miami Connection' takes place in Orlando.

arts@sfbg.com

FILM In the 1970s, movies like Dirty Harry (1971) and Death Wish (1974) surprised and raised a certain amount of controversy for being quite so blatantly pro-law enforcement, and anti-scum of the earth — viewing good and bad in such simplistic terms was no longer fashionable, it being more typical to see films about corrupt cops or saintly criminals. With the arrival of the Reagan era, however, it became all black and white again. There was a certain amount of eye-rolling in liberal quarters when Rocky fought communism (1985's Rocky IV), Brat Pack teens did likewise (1984's Red Dawn), Rambo fought practically everybody (in films spanning 1982-88), and in 1986, Top Gun's Maverick and Iceman played "Who's got the biggest balls?" like they wanted to do a taste test.

But times had changed very rapidly, and hardly anyone else — certainly no one filling those seats — questioned this cartooned new ultra-machismo as being a little, uh, stupidsville. We seem to be coming full circle back to that era, given recent re-launches of the above franchises, the Expendables movies (an anti-rest home for still-ready-to-'roid 80s action stars), and a Red Dawn remake suggesting a whole lot of people are ready to find not-funny what they rather astonishingly didn't find funny the first time around.

But this stuff is funny, at least if you don't check your brain like a coat before entering the theater. Probably the world's greatest as-yet-underappreciated treasure trove of cinematic camp lies in the umpteen cheaper knockoffs that were made of those original major-studio hits for the grindhouse, cable, and VHS rental markets.

OK, many of these machine-gunning-patriotism-set-to-power-ballads exercises were just formulaic dreck. But a surprising number (especially anything from the Cannon Group) were hilarious formulaic dreck, like the MacGruber (2010) movie but meaning it. They starred not Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Norris, or Van Damme but people like Cynthia Rothrock, Lorenzo Lamas, Leo Fong, and a whole lot of people who'd won some martial-arts prize or other but couldn't touch "acting" with a ten-foot barbell. The likes of Cage II: The Arena of Death (1994), Ted V. Mikels' War Cat (1987), Low Blow (1986), McBain (1991), American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt (1989), and 1986's Hell Squad (Vegas showgirls vs. terrorists!) are among the best drinking-game movies ever made.

These movies likely have their tiny fan bases. But until recently absolutely no one was a fan of 1986's Miami Connection — let us just establish the tone by noting this movie takes place in Orlando — because no one had seen it. In the mid-1980s Richard (a.k.a. Woo-sang) Park, an established Korean director who'd recently transitioned to US marital arts movies, saw fellow émigré and taekwondo teacher Y.K. Kim doing a demonstration on TV. He proposed making an action flick together. So the two cooked up a jaw-dropping story, hired a never-to-be-heard-from-again scenarist, cast Kim's students in most roles, and co-directed what was originally called American Streetfighters. When they were finished, they expected the world to take notice.

The world declined — sales agents and distributors laughed the filmmakers out of their offices. Kim finally arranged Florida bookings himself, yet still Connection died, albeit not before one local critic called it "the worst film of the year." Even its self-made co-director/star finally had to admit it was at best a big write-off.

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