The 1980s were, for better or worse, the golden era of “the action movie.” The blunt, existential grindhouse and pseudo-documentary aesthetics of the 70s were out and the neon-pronounced visions of the new decade were in. The shift was total; guts and grime were replaced by pop images, synth scores and a barrage of one-liners. We got our fair share of Stallone and Schwarzenegger vehicles, a seemingly endless list of genre hits – action-heads were spoiled.
Among all the star-fueled heavy hitters and over-the-top cult classics that emerged from that glorious decade, hiding behind them was a little, independent feature that could. It’s an actioner rife with idiosyncrasies, charming flaws and overwhelming sincerity that, in my eyes, is just as good as its more iconic contemporaries. It’s an underdog film with monumental potential. It’s Miami Connection.
When synth-rock band ‘Dragonsound’ gets tangled in a deadly web of motorcycle ninjas, family drama and drug wars, they are forced to not only save themselves, but the world. If it isn’t already clear, the movie is pure nonsense. An extreme mish-mash of questionably edited fight sequences, clumsy choreography/line delivery and catchy tune after tune of poppy music about the importance of friendship abound. Where Miami Connection rises as high as (if not higher than) the usual suspects of 80’s action is with its sweet, overbearing message: wouldn’t it be cool if we were all just friends?
Miami Connection (1984) dir. Richard Park & Y.K Kim
We first meet our heroes as they are performing in front of an eager audience of screaming, dancing club-goers in Central Florida’s hottest nightclub; a neon sea of dancing bodies, reacting and moving along with the music about being friends and the importance of honesty. This immediately sets the vibe that Miami Connection maintains for the majority of its runtime. The band is seen supporting one another as they jam out on stage in front of fans, encouraging the crowd and each other to pursue artistic freedom and find happiness in all facets of life. The scene manages to perfectly capture the family element of Dragonsound, a diverse ensemble of college student orphans from all walks of life, living under the code of music and Taekwondo.
What makes Miami Connection just as great as the other action classics of the decade is the constant, seemingly contradictory presence of a profuse, upstanding energy that permeates the relationships between the main characters and the sudden explosions of barbaric, street violence. Those moments of monumental brutality are slotted between scenes of Dragonsound bickering over a posted letter or exchanging hopes and dreams on how their music can change the world. The shoddy editing that strings these scenes together should make the whole movie unwatchable, but gross incompetence is no match for immaculate vibes.
Those bizarre touches are where Miami Connection deviates from the slew of Arnie and Sly-driven action pieces that dominated the decade, the tight quotas on bullets per minute, car chases, shredded abs and ripped throats don’t allow for many odd little character moments. Obviously, I won’t knock any of the hits, but it’s Miami Connection’s oddball bright stamp and even its flaws that give it a slight edge over the competition for me.
The glimmering, optimistic star of the film who really cements this movie as a work of wholesome nature is the character of Jim, a part-time band member and full-time good guy. Our dear friend Jim gets an emotional subplot of lost kinship; the opportunity to meet his long-lost father arises when he gets a letter from Washington D.C. After pouring his heart out to his friends, they all band together for Jim’s comfort and guidance, pooling the last of their money to purchase a suit and petrol for the road trip to Washington. Unfortunately, on their way there, they are violently ambushed by biker ninjas and Jim is horribly wounded.
That scene unearths a shocking capacity for intense and unrepentant violence in Dragonsound, quickly breaking out into pure animalistic rage, filled with sweat and streaming tears as they absolutely brutalize every last one of the ninjas. Although the movie can completely change its tone on a dime, those bouts of cruelty somehow manage not to stray dramatically from the message of genuine friendship. It finds a way to separate its action from others of the same era, sharing its gritty kills with dial-high feelings and expression.
The collision of ferociously violent images that one would expect from an 80’s face-melter with so remarkably wholesome a message sets Miami Connection apart as a film that transcends the presumptions of its genre and stands as truly one of a kind.