By Liz Lopez
Grandmaster Y.K. Kim, born in Seoul, Korea, excelled in Tae Kwon Do in his native land, as well as in the United States, after his initial struggles as an immigrant in the mid 1970s. Filmmaker Richard Park learned about Kim’s expertise and proposed making a film to distribute internationally. Although Kim was inexperienced in film industry, he took on the challenge to create his first film in Florida where he had established himself. Despite all the time, efforts and money invested in this debut film, it was not successful and was downright turned down by Hollywood and the Cannes Film Festival when initially released theatrically by Kim in 1987.
Three years ago it was resurrected by the curator of the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and subsequently, Drafthouse Films is distributing the action film. It has screened at this year’s New York Asian Film Festival and was an Official Selection at the 2012 Fantastic Fest and Fantasia International Film Festival.
Although I attended Fantastic Fest this year, I was not able to attend the sold out screenings or meet Kim while he was in town. I have now viewed the film and although I found the script interesting, it is difficult not to see some of the glaring flaws, one that I attribute to not having an editor, or perhaps most important, an experienced editor. I enjoyed the nostalgic ride back in time, with the vehicles, wardrobe and hairstyles, but it is sad someone was not brought on board to help pave in the holes in the story’s path. I understand financing can make a difference for a film, but I believe what I viewed was after a second revision of the film in collaboration with Joe Diamand.
I do not consider it a total bomb, as it does capture the era and the music well. Kim used cast and crew of local Tae Kwon Do students, friends and followers to act and be the on-screen rock band Dragon Sound who do a pretty good job with little experience. The cast includes Kim, Vincent Hirsch, Maurice Smith, Joseph Diamand, Angelo Jannotti, Kathy Collier, William P. Ergle and Si Y Jo, along with massive amounts of ninjas and fans as extras in the music scenes.
The lack of acting expertise can be noted, but I think it now appears more comedic than what may have been intended by Kim in his revision and reshooting of the film that is 83 minutes long.
I think film fans that purchase a ticket to the film will be better off not having certain expectations of the film and just enjoy the ride for what it is. A mixture of action, crime and romance to boot, it does deserve to be given an opportunity for a wider audience to view and so far, the results have been positive enough for Drafthouse Films to proceed with distributing it theatrically. It is expanding nationally this month to over fifteen markets, including Austin, on November 9th for a week at The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, as well as the Houston and San Antonio Drafthouse locations in the near future. The film is in English and is rated R, perhaps for the biker ladies lifting their skimpy “blouse” and of course ninja sword fights with some losing their life and the “stupid cocaine” as it is referred to by the non-drug dealers.
Kim describes himself as “a modern philosopher, motivational speaker and world-renowned evangelist of the martial arts.” He is also the lead actor, producer and financier of this film and kudos to him for having a chance at glory for his debut feature film.