Tae Kwon Do Spirit: Y.K. Kim on Miami Connection

The man behind the new midnight sensation on its troubled initial release and the 'Academy Award quality' film he wants to make next.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

This month, Drafthouse Films is releasing Miami Connection in several theaters around the country. The 1986 movie was the pet project of Tae Kwon Do instructor and motivational speaker Y.K. Kim. He stars as the leader of a rock band who has to fight a gang of drug dealing ninjas. Drafthouse’s Zach Carlson discovered a print of the film and brought it back, premiering at Fantastic Fest to an enthusiastic crowd, who later enjoyed a performance by the film’s band Dragon Sound. We got to chat with Kim the following day.

For a list of theaters playing The Miami Connection, visit the Drafthouse Films website.

CraveOnline: How do you feel about the reaction to the screening, when people are both cheering and laughing at the movie?

Y.K. Kim: Before I answer your questions, I was wondering how much fun you had last night.

I had fun.

Are you sure? You’re going to tell everybody?

Already did in my Fantastic Fest report.

You did? Thank you, thank you. It was great. The reaction I saw was unbelievable. If Austin, Texas is like this, I think all over the country will be nuts.

Where did Miami Connection play in 1986?

Let me tell you before, anybody looking for watching a movie like a drama, romance, I don't think they should watch Miami Connection. However, if they love good music and exciting real action, not computer generated, and the true meaning of friendship, they’re not going to just love Miami Connection, they will be crazy about Miami Connection. You know why? Because this movie is the true meaning of martial arts spirit and deep philosophy everybody needs. It can be fun, exciting and meaningful. I’m going to answer your question. We filmed in central Florida and Miami in 1986. It played in Central Florida, Orlando, Daytona Beach and Melbourne at 8 different theaters.

What was the reaction back then?

Okay, let me tell you. I don’t even know what a movie means. I’m not a moviemaker at all but I wanted to promote martial arts, what I love. So we finished the movie and I took this movie to Hollywood, 20th Century, Paramount, you name it. Over 100 distribution companies, every single company said, “Hey, Y.K. Kim, this is trash. Just throw it away. Don’t waste your time.” So I had no choice. Throw it away or I keep going. Tae Kwon Do spirit says keep going, so I went to the Cannes Film Festival in France. I invited all worldwide buyers, I rented a theater, but the same thing. Everybody said, “No, don’t do it. Stop it. Don’t show it anymore.” I asked them why. “This is really trash. Nobody will buy it.” But among them, one gentleman is the senior vice president of Manson International, he said, “If you re-shoot it, maybe it will work.” So I asked him why? “How can you kill the good guy and let the bad guy live?” So I came back but I didn’t know how to direct a movie. The director was already gone so I had to buy the books and read the books and ask my student, who’s Master Diamond now, to help me. So together we re-filmed and finished the movie. I wanted to show Hollywood again but already they rejected it. So give up, or keep going? Again, martial arts spirit says pursue it. So I opened it in Central Florida but you know distribution requires lots of money, but I already dried out all the money. So what I did is I used my body, my brain. Three months, interview after interview, all over the media and public speaking and signs at Wal Mart and all around, everywhere. I think I spent over $3 million on promotion. I was just so excited that it would be a blockbuster. What happened? The Orlando Sentinel, the biggest newspaper over there, their movie critic was so popular, he wrote it was the worst movie of that year and nobody would watch it. My expectation was so high, like the sky was the limit but the audience rejected it. So it was dead.

25 years later, was this the reaction you were hoping for?

After 25 years, the last two years some TV stations and radio stations called me and wanted to interview me. I didn’t respond because I didn’t want to have that nightmare, but one company continued to pursue me, Drafthouse. So I asked my personal attorney and the president of our association. They investigated Drafthouse and saw it was a real company. So we signed the deal. They invited me to New York last summer. I went over there. The first thing I asked was, “Hey, why did you buy this trash?” They said, “What? It is not a daytime movie, family comes and enjoys it together, but midnight moviegoers are different.” So I went to the 11PM premiere. At 10:30 PM, 20-30 people show up. I was disappointed. 10:55 PM, only 60 people in a 360 seat theater. I remember 25 years earlier. At 11 o’clock, a packed room, no room to come in. So I thought it was sensational exhibition and I thanked them for inviting me here [to Fantastic Fest.] When I sat down with that audience, wow, what a shock. Laughing and screaming and cheering, beginning to finish so I pinched my arm. Is it real or not? It was real. After it finished, the lights came on and nobody left. So I went to the back office, for 10 minutes I was sitting down. So I came out, oh gosh, everybody came and gave me a hug and wanted autographs and took pictures. Many people said, “I think that was the best movie of the last year, the last 10 years, the best action movie ever.” I was really shocked. So anyone who loves watching a real action film, this is it.

For Dragon Sound, how does it feel that the song, “Friends Forever” is now stuck in our head for the rest of the festival?

Thank you for that question.

How many takes would you do of each scene? Were there any first takes in the movie?

Again, I had a couple thousand students. Actually, over 10,000 members so I could pull out a couple thousand people, all martial artists. 99% of the actors and crew are all my students. We only had two professionals. One is the DP, one is the director. So they know it. They practiced all the time so we didn’t have any problem with action.

There is still violence in the world. How are we going to eliminate it?

I truly appreciate that. That’s a vital question. You never eliminate violence, but how can you avoid violence? That’s the key. We have to have people build inner power, true self-confidence. If they have confidence, and avoid violence, that’s the key. For example, if anyone wants to fight with you, run. Just run. Avoid it. If they continue to both you, you can use your strong point and your opponent’s weak point. You can use communication. Most people don’t fight right away. Usually fight starts as verbal problems, so if you know how to handle that, I think we can avoid the violence.

Dragon Sound has stayed together after all these years, so did you really become friends forever?

Of course, they’re all my students. Two of them are masters now. Two are black belts.

What was your experience as the casting director on the film?

I told you I didn’t have any movie experience. I didn’t even have time to watch movies before. I didn’t even know what casting means, so what I did is the same as martial arts: right place, right person. If they have the right attitude, if they have the right skills, if they have the right leadership, I hired them and then we played.

Where was that ninja training camp with the bridge and the springs?

Close to the martial arts school, we have a park there. It’s a central park in Florida. We filmed it there.

Could there be a Miami Connection 2?

No. No.


The next movie, we are going to try a family movie, so even children can watch it together. We’re going to make Academy Award quality movies, so seven years old to 90 years old, mother and father, brothers and sisters, everybody can come watch it together.

What will the next movie be then?

The next movie we’ll probably call Sabom-nim.

Is that a Korean name?

Yes, Sabom-nim means Master.

The title in the film Miami Connection says Escape from Miami. Why?

We changed it three times. Number one was Against the Ninja, the [name of the other] song we had. Then Escape from Miami and then finally we changed it to Miami Connection because it is really a connection.

Are you excited to see the DVD extras for Miami Connection?

Oh yes, more than excited. It was great, fantastic.

Did they film the Dragon Sound concert for the DVD?


Who are your students today?

I’m teaching modern martial arts. It combines physical fitness, mental fitness, moral fitness, financial fitness and life fitness. What do I mean by physical fitness? If you build physical fitness, you will be healthier and stronger. Number two, mental fitness, if you build mental fitness, you will be wiser and smarter. Then everybody needs moral fitness so everybody needs to have peace in their heart and confidence and inner power. Then they need financial fitness. We live in the supernation of the world but 87% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. They have to learn financial fitness so they can have financial power so they can have financial freedom. The last thing we call life fitness, so you must know how to control your own destiny. Then you must know how to build your successful network so you can have true freedom. So if you build physical fitness, mental fitness, moral fitness, financial fitness and life fitness, you can create a winning future to be healthier, wealthier and happier so you can have a real quality life.

Is it okay if we take a week off to enjoy these Fantastic Fest movies and eat and drink at the Alamo Drafthouse?

[Laughs] That’s a good question. What is your answer?

I think I have to take it easy.