I really, sincerely, had no idea what to expect when I dialed the number I’d been given to reach Grandmaster Y.K. Kim. Interviewing the writer/producer/star of 1987 cult classic action film Miami Connection wasn’t something I ever considered as a likelihood or possibility, especially given that one of the chief areas of humor bad movie devotees have cherished in the film is that Kim can barely speak English throughout, in a role that is more or less the film’s star. When offered the chance, though, in conjunction with tonight’s live national screening of the film by the former MST3k riffers at RiffTrax, I knew I had to do it. You don’t just let these opportunities slip by.
What I found was essentially exactly what I hoped for, and that’s Y.K. Kim—the genuine article from the film, unadulterated, unguarded and “stronger than ever,” in his own words. Some 28 years later, the Korean-born Kim’s English is a bit better, but his refreshingly sincere spirit and belief in the power of friendship and synth rock is fully intact, and he’s very eager to discuss both his beliefs and experience on the film. In honor of his amazing movie (which features a taekwondo synth rock band battling drug-smuggling motorcycle ninjas), check out the below trailer and our interview with the now 59-year-old taekwondo master responsible for one of the most hilariously silly action movies of all time.
Paste: I know you started training in taekwondo from a very young age in Korea. How were you first exposed to it?
Kim: The first time I practiced martial arts, it was after I came into conflict with my teacher’s punishments in school. I got so mad and angry, so I said how can I get revenge on my teacher? I started practicing martial arts, but after 10-20 years I truly appreciated that teacher because I never would have changed my life. Since I practiced, my life has been blessed, and I’ve been stronger and healthier.
Paste: What was it that brought you to America?
Kim: Well, a long time ago, Korea was poor. Now it’s the sixth richest country on Earth but at this time I was looking for the American Dream, setting up martial arts schools.
Paste: Would you say you still have the same philosophy about taekwondo that you featured in Miami Connection?
Kim: I really appreciate that question. Martial arts is much, much bigger than my life. It was a turning point in my life. Without martial arts I am weak, like a stupid person. I couldn’t do many things because I didn’t have any confidence. It’s made me healthier, wiser and happier.
Paste: Had you ever thought about making a film before you met Richard Park, who directed Miami Connection?
Kim: All martial artists do dream about becoming movie stars often, but I was too busy teaching martial arts, I didn’t even watch movies. I couldn’t even think about it. But when he asked me I just said “yes,” and it didn’t matter that I didn’t know how to make a movie at all.
Paste: What did you hope Miami Connection might achieve? How high were your expectations?
Kim: We show why you need to practice martial arts for self defense. But I had the expectation all wrong, thinking it was a blockbuster. One of the major newspapers here called it the worst movie of the year, and I just said “oh my god.” I am not a critic about the movie; I thought we did a good job. I had the imagination, but how stupid I was to think it would win Academy Awards. This is a movie I took to all the major studios, and all 100 I brought it to told me to just throw it away.
Paste: I’ve read in places that you sunk a million dollars into the production and that it almost bankrupt you to make the film.
Kim: I lost everything making it. I was close to bankrupt, and I lost almost everything. Now, though, I’m so glad that people come up to me and write me emails saying that this movie changed their life. It’s the friendship that has touched them. Some people say they’ve watched it 10 times or 100 times.
Paste: The actors in it, they were all your students? What did they think of the finished movie?
Kim: Yes, everyone was my student and nobody knew how to make a movie. I had thousands of students at the time, though. I promised my students that I would show them the movie in a theater, so there was no way to stop it even if I wanted to stop it. I made a promise.
Paste: In the years between 1990-2012, before the movie was rediscovered by Alamo Drafthouse, how often did anyone even mention Miami Connection to you?
Kim: Until a few years ago absolutely nobody mentioned Miami Connection. I didn’t want to remember it because making it was a nightmare.
Paste: So you probably didn’t think there was any chance people would be interested in it again someday.
Kim: Zero, zero, zero, I didn’t expect it at all.
Paste: So when Alamo Drafthouse said they wanted to re-release it, what was your reaction?
Kim: I didn’t think it was real! He got the movie for $50 on Ebay and watched it with his wife and friends, and they liked it too much! So they started calling me and I thought it was a joke, someone playing around.
Then I saw it at a screening in Texas and I was completely shocked. I’ve never seen an audience of midnight movie fans, people screaming and jumping up and down. I thought it was a miracle. That premiere! Wow! There were people asking when we were going to make a sequel!
Paste: When people say they enjoy the film because it’s bad, how does that make you feel?
Kim: I am not a professional movie maker so I understand it 10,000 percent. It’s a bad movie, not professional. But I still believe in the message. Anyone looking for a $100 million movie, they should not watch this movie. This movie is about real action, not computer-generated action, and true friendship. Those fans will love this movie.
Paste: So what do you think of groups like RiffTrax that mock a film like Miami Connection for entertainment, then? Will you be watching?
Kim: I really appreciate them, because without them they’re not going to show the film. If they can make the audience happy, I think that is the most important thing. Of course I’ll be watching. They will make very much fun of me, but that is the freedom of this country.
Paste: In the time since it’s become a cult hit, have you thought of making another film?
Kim: Too many people are suffering because they don’t know true meaning of success. I’ve spent a lot of time writing a book on this and have just finished it. After that publishing I will produce a real, professional movie on this topic.
Paste: Will there be ninjas?
Kim: I don’t think so.
Paste: One last thing: The film’s alternate ending, where Jim dies before his father arrives and the villain gets away, did that ever get shown anywhere?
Kim: That was the original ending, that Jim is dead. The international studio asked me to refilm it, so I did.
Paste: Wow, that’s pretty harsh, Y.K.
Miami Connection airs tonight via RiffTrax Live in theaters around the country. You can buy tickets here for tonight’s show or the Oct. 6 re-airing.
Jim Vorel is Paste’s news editor, and he’s probably watched Miami Connection about a dozen times. You can follow him on Twitter.