Alamo Drafthouse founder Tim League and his staff are always looking for something old and obscure to show at his theatres. One day, they stumbled across a print of an independent movie made in 1987 by a martial artist named YK Kim. That movie was called Miami Connection. A few months after a several successful screenings in Austin, crowds ate up the long forgotten film at the New York Asian Film Festival. And this year it headlined a special night at Fantastic Fest.
Kim, the film’s creator, had spent many years building up his own martial arts business after coming to the US as a homeless immigrant, then lost it all when the movie became a financial flop. Now, he’s living the dream he could never have imagined 25 years ago. Playmaker Magazine sat down with Kim and asked him about his unlikely journey that is now taking him around the world as a successful filmmaker.
Playmaker Magazine: What has it been like, watching this movie with audiences that are so into the movie and love it when they watch it, never having that experience until 25 years after you made it?
YK Kim: Before I answer your question, I want to tell your audience that if you want to watch Miami Connection, it’s not for you if you want to watch drama or romance. Anyone who loves to listen to music, watch exciting action, real action and not computer generated action, and the true meaning of friendship… they’re not just going to love the movie, they’re going to be crazy about Miami Connection. Why? Because behind it is a movie that shows the true meaning of martial arts spirit and a deep philosophy of the new way of life.
PM: You made this movie all by yourself. What was that experience like, making it with a bunch of amateurs. When people talk about independent movies, it doesn’t get more independent than this.
Kim: This movie was made by a bunch of ordinary guys doing something extraordinary. I went to Korea and was on a popular TV show. A famous action movie director watched and followed me when I went back to Orlando. He asked me if I would like to make a movie based on my spirit and philosophy. Before he finished asking the question, I said yes. But when I started the movie, I didn’t know how. All my friends and community leaders told me that I couldn’t make the movie because I’m a martial arts expert, not a movie maker. “You will lose everything.”
But my martial arts spirit, I couldn’t listen to them. I believed I could do it. But the money I had was quickly gone. The bank wouldn’t lend me any money and I lost my friends who lent me money. I couldn’t do it. All the people that said I couldn’t do it were right. I should’ve listened to them. That was sad. I was angry and frustrated, but at the same time I said to myself that as long as I was alive, I had to maximize everything I could do with my body, mind, and heart. I finished the movie anyway.
PM: But you weren’t done with the movie. I’ve read that you made a lot of changes after you finished that first cut.
Kim: That’s right, but first I tried to sell it. Every single movie company told me that the movie was trash and to throw it away. That’s not in the martial arts spirit, so I went to the Cannes Film Festival in France. I rented a huge theatre and invited all the movie buyers. Everyone said it was trash, but one company man told me that if I rewrite, re-edit, and remix it that maybe he’ll buy it.
But I didn’t know how to do that. So I bought books and read every page. I rewrote the script and changed the movie. It had a bad ending, so we re-filmed and remixed it. When I took it to Hollywood again, still nobody wanted. But did I give up? No. That’s not in the martial arts spirit.
PM: You’re out of money at this point, though. How did you finance the exhibition and advertisement to show people the movie, even at a local level?
Kim: I had to use my body and my brain. I was waking up at 5 am and coming home sometimes at midnight and sometimes at 3 am. I had to go everywhere to hundreds of lounges, taking pictures, going on radio and TV, and even going to high schools and doing public speaking. I raised and spent over $3 million for everything. I was so excited. It’s going to be a blockbuster!
And then what happened? An Orlando Sentinel critic called it the worst movie of the year, “Don’t go watch it.” I still figured everyone would come watch the movie. But they didn’t follow me, they followed him. So the movie was dead. I lost all my money. My name is done. I had to start a new life. I was successful right away because I had a strong spirit. So I forgot about the movie.
PM: When did you start hearing rumblings about Miami Connection again? If you forgot about it and didn’t want anything to do with it, what finally convinced you that people might want to watch this movie 25 years later?
Kim: Two years ago, here and there, people were calling me wanting an interview. I said no. I didn’t want to have that nightmare again. But one company continued to pursue me, the Alamo Drafthouse. So my lawyer and I signed the deal. They invited me to a late night screening. It started at 11:00, but only 30 people were there by 10:30. At 10:55, there were still only 60 people. Still empty. I start thinking I’m going to die a 2nd time. But at 11:00, it was packed. I gave them an exciting martial arts exhibition and I told them thank you for coming.
And when I watched with them… they were cheering! It was crazy and nuts! Non-stop cheering, laughing, clapping, I had to pinch myself. I thought I was dreaming. People were taking pictures, hugging me, and telling me that it was the best action film ever, better than the big Hollywood movies.
I took the movie to Hollywood and they treated me like a big movie star. Now people are going to enjoy the movie all over the world.
PM: Well thank you for your time and we’re glad that your journey brought you to Texas for Fantastic Fest.
Kim: Thank you!