William Shatner — Extended Interview

Did a short interview with William Shatner for a local paper — you can read it here

Here’s the extended version of our talk.


He’ll forever be known as Star Trek’s Captain Kirk, but William Shatner’s willingness to embrace his campy persona has made him more prolific than most actors a quarter of his 82 years – and he’ll explore his long, strange trip in detail in his one-man show Shatner’s World: We Just Live in It at Duke Energy Center on Jan.12, a performance Shatner says has left him “moved to tears” many times by the audience’s reaction.

Shatner began his show at the suggestion of an Australian fan, figuring “if it fails, nobody’ll know – it’s the way of the wild.”  It’s become a consistently evolving beast, touring Australia, Canada and the United States, including a sojourn on Broadway.  “The show, which had its original inspiration in Australia, has become inspirational to me as a result of doing it,” says Shatner in a phone call from Los Angeles.

Shatner had one of his most acclaimed projects with Chapel Hill’s Ben Folds on the 2004 album Has Been, which reinvigorated Shatner’s oft-derided musical career.  “I fell in love with Ben Folds and his family – we’ve remained friends over the years and I would love to perform with him again,” says Shatner, who recently released the prog-rock album Ponder the Mystery with Billy Sherwood of Yes.  “He’s a musical genius.  I like him and admire him very much.”

Captain Kirk and Star Trek typecast the stage-trained Shatner for years, something he addresses in Shatner’s World.  What does he make of the modern state of television, where shows are sometimes held up as superior to film or prose literature?  “I absolutely agree with you – television has become a great medium, and people are looking to it for works of art as well as wide entertainment or circus entertainment.  There seems to be a deepening of people’s taste, requiring artists to fulfill that yearning by coming out with things that appeal to their more fundamental tastes, rather than just on the surface.  That applies to movies, television and now things like Facebook and Twitter and all those viral networks.”

We had to ask Shatner about the recent incident in North Carolina where Indian Trail Councilman David Waddell resigned in the form of a short letter written in Klingon.  Shatner hadn’t heard of this prior to our interview and is somewhat baffled by Waddell’s choice: “I would think he lessens the impact by being superficial in referencing this language that doesn’t exist,” Shatner says. “If it’s a joke, is he making his resignation a joke? I would think that he would serve his purposes better by writing a well-reasoned, carefully-worded letter that spoke of his desire to do good, rather than make a joke of it and write it in Klingon.”  He was more intrigued to hear noted Klingon language authority Lawrence M. Schoen will be in Raleigh for illogiCon the same weekend as him: “It brings to mind what is language, and how is language devised, and can you have subtlety in a made-up language?  It’s a really interesting creative question.”  He finds similar invented languages fascinating, but wonders how wide an audience they can reach: “Getting back to the guy that resigned, if he wishes to reach a large audience to express his opinion, he’s got a very limited audience of five.”

Antony Johnston on THE FUSE

Antony Johnston lights THE FUSE at Image Comics

by Zack Smith, Newsarama Contributor
Date: 03 January 2014 Time: 12:00 PM ET
CREDIT: Image Comics

Antony Johnston is no stranger to scifi worlds with his long-running post-apocalpytic series Wasteland at Oni. Now, the prolific creator is headed offworld with The Fuse, a new SF series from Image Comics, where he also recently launched the fantasy Umbral.

The Fuse, which launches this February, is a crime comic with a SF twist…specifically the setting, one that hasn’t really been depicted in comics before and allows for all manner of unique stories. We got the goods on The Fuse from Johnston, along with some preview art.

Michel Fiffe on COPRA

Michel Fiffe’s COPRA: the One-Man Written, Drawn, Self-Published Villain Epic

by Zack Smith, Newsarama Contributor
Date: 02 January 2014 Time: 03:00 PM ET
CREDIT: Michel Fiffe

He did it.

In a world where it’s still a great challenge for entire comic book creative teams to get a book out on a regular basis, Michel Fiffe produced 12 issues of his offbeat, action-packed supervillain team Copra entirely on his own…and we mean, he did everything, from story to art to self-publishing outside of the Diamond system employed by almost every comic company.

Let’s take a moment to contemplate that.

Aaron Becker on JOURNEY

Going back to old policy of posting links to individual articles I publish this year.  Let’s see how long this lasts…


READING / INTERVIEWSAaron Becker takes children on an illustrated Journey

Posted by  @thezacksmith on Wed, Jan 1, 2014 at 10:36 AM


Journey Cover

  • Aaron Becker
  • Journey Cover

Aaron Becker has worked on such big-budget CGI-animated films asThe Polar Express and A Christmas Carol. But for his first picture book,Journey (Candlewick Press, $15.99), he turned to a simpler, old-school format. Although he uses computer models of his landscapes to help figure out the look and lighting cues for his dream-like landscapes, the final results are less digital than manual.

“The computer tends to be the beginning of the process, when I’m figuring out compositions, laying out scenes and stuff,” says Becker on the phone from a visit to his family in Chapel Hill. “It sounds a lot more complicated than it actually is.” The end result of his process are simple pen-and-ink drawings painted over in watercolor—though the world he creates is as deep and vivid as anything seen on screen.

Best Articles of 2013 Compilation

Here are the most best things I wrote this past year.  I think this averages out to one great piece per week.  I am pleased by this.


The Strange History of Marvel Comics’ ULTIMATE ADVENTURES with Hawk-Owl and Woody

Peter Milligan and Brendan McCarthy, Pt.1

Milligan and McCarthy, Pt.2




GRENDEL Retrospective with Matt Wagner, 1

GRENDEL Retrospective, 2

Fantagraphics Reprints Crockett Johnson’s BARNABY

Nick Offerman of PARKS AND RECREATION talks AXE COP, Comics and More

BONE Creator Jeff Smith on Self-Publishing


Jonathan Hickman and Mike Costa on GOD IS DEAD

Priest and Bright on the Return of QUANTUM AND WOODY


The Many (Toy) Faces of Sylvester Stallone

How to Build Your Dragon: Putting Together Mattel’s MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE Classics Granamyr Toy

Tracking down the ADVENTURE TIME Marshall Lee Plush Toy

Sillof and Patton Owsalt’s FASTER, EMPIRE!  STRIKE!  STRIKE!

Masterpiece Transformers Soundwave


Caldecott Winner David Wiesner on MR. WUFFLES

Jhn Agee (LITTLE SANTA) and Loren Long (OTIS)

A look at the musical MARY POPPINS and P.L. Travers’ original books (done in Feb., before SAVING MR. BANKS came out)

Jan Brett on CINDERS


THE DARK IS RISING Author Susan Cooper


Zilpha Keatley Snyder on BELOW THE ROOT

Weird Picture Books That I Enjoy

More Weird Children’s Books: The Mushroom Planet, Chicken Trek, Suzuki Beane and More


Nice Price Books in Carrboro to Close


Craig Zobel on Directing COMPLIANCE

Golden Age Bakery Puts Comics on Cookies

Elizabeth Strout on THE BURGESS BOYS

TV Production in NC with HOMELAND, BANSHEE, UNDER THE DOME and More

INSPECTOR LYNLEY Author Elizabeth George Visits

Attempting to understand CATS in a local production

Local Produce Delivery Startups


Unseen REGULAR SHOW Script: “Bad Grammar”

My REGULAR SHOW story “Sombrero World”

Interview on “Sombrero World” in USA Today

Another Interview on “SomBrero World” in the News and Observer

My ADVENTURE TIME Story “Grocery Time” (Pt.1)

My ADVENTURE TIME Story “Grocery Time” (Pt.2)

FREE COMIC: “Decaffeinated” with Thomas Boatwright


Shows You WON’T See This Fall

31 Loose Ends from Season 4 of ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT


Hugh Dancy on HANNIBAL: Season One

Why I Heart Megatron: A Transformers Post

400 or so SIMPSONS Quotes

More than 60 BEAVIS AND BUTT-HEAD Videos

The anniversary of the end of ST. ELSEWHERE

My Strange Obsession with LAW & ORDER: SVU


THE HEARTBREAK KID, SAVE THE DATE and other films for singles on Valentine’s Day

Thunderbirds are Go(ne): A Tribute to Gerry Anderson

Miami Connection: All 230+ Things I Love About this Film


Sexual Harassment In Comics: A Male Writer Speaks Out

A lot of what goes on in comics outside the actual books tends to go over my head.  I stay off of message boards, avoid getting into arguments, and at cons, I just seek out who I want to meet, have dinner with my friends, and go to bed early.

But lately, there are more and more things going on that I can’t ignore.  There’s a lot of issues that need to be faced – racism, ageism, censorship, a list that would take a dozen more editorials to fully cover – but one that has come to the forefront recently is the issue of harassment of women in comics.

Last month, some ugly, ugly reports came out of New York Comic-Con (NYCC).  Here’s one of the best reports on it.  There was the usual dose of pandering, scantily-clad models and advertising, but the worst was a camera crew for a  public access show that asked deeply inappropriate questions of female attendees – with incidents being reported even after complaints were made to con security.

Any hopes that this was an isolated incident were washed away in the wake of the show, as numerous female comics fans and professionals began coming forward with their own tales of harassment – not just from creeping convention attendees, but from professionals within the industry itself.

There’s this story.  And this story.  And this story. And this story.  This one just came to my attention today. And..well, probably many, many more that I’m unaware of because I’m not actually that good at using Tumblr or other social media.

Even uglier, many of these women who’ve spoken out have been lambasted for doing so, using language I’m not comfortable repeating here.

These tales of harassment are, put bluntly, unacceptable.  The reaction to them is even less acceptable.

Now, as you might have noticed from the headline, I’m a guy.  What qualifies me to talk about harassment?

Well, there’s two things.  First, when I mentioned I wanted to explore this issue on Facebook, a female friend of mine who helped out at NC Comicon (a Durham, NC show based near me that issued a strict non-harassment policy in the wake of NYCC reports) said that she wanted to see a guy talk about this issue.

“Honestly, the sad thing is that men talking about representation in media is more likely to lend it legitimacy, and make the topic a ‘real’ issue to the people otherwise most likely to write it off,” she said.

That’s depressing, though I also saw her point.  I don’t think things should be this way, but if it’s the case, I want to help the cause by acknowledging the problem, and my own culpability.

I think it’s lousy that women who speak out about harassment are often denounced and harassed all the further by coming forward, but I do think it’s important to offer support and understanding.

Secondly…I can’t say that I’ve ever groped a girl or tried to play “casting couch,” but the stories recounted here have reminded me of incidents where I’ve told an off-color joke or gotten in the face some woman I just met at a con with non-stop babbling when really, she just wanted to get away and get on with her show. I’ve only later realized or was told by a well-meaning friend how uncomfortable I was making these women.

Now, I wasn’t trying to be malicious, and I’ve tried to speak out against some of the unrealistic depictions of female sexuality in comics, but there have been times I’ve made women uncomfortable, and those incidents have made me part of the problem.

For that, I’m sorry.

I cop to these mistakes, to mistakes I didn’t realize I made in the past, and I will try to be more mindful of how I might be making other people feel in the future.  And I also want to be more alert of how people around me might be treating others, and am ready to jump in if something untoward might be going on.

That’s the best I know to offer.  It might not be enough, but I hope it’s a start.

I can also pretty much 100% guarantee that I will do or say something hugely inappropriate in the future, possibly even later today.  That’s because I’m human, and part of being human is making mistakes. But another part is taking responsibility for those mistakes, and using them as a guide to your actions in the future.

I’ve tried to imagine how awful a comic book convention would be for me if I was groped, or jeered for being overweight.  I think of all the great times I’ve had at these shows, all the friends I’ve made.  Meeting people who shared my interests, my passion for the art form, even similar career goals in the industry offered me a sense of support and camaraderie that got me through some rough times in my life.

The idea that someone could have that sense of support violated at a place that’s supposed to be about coming together and celebrating the community of comics…that’s hateful to me.  There’s no other word for it.

Forget those gawdawful stereotypes of slack-jawed geeks paralyzed by a pretty girl setting foot into a comic shop.  This is about the sense of entitlement, resentment, objectification and worse that has helped alienate women, who represent 50 PERCENT OF ALL THE HUMAN BEINGS ON EARTH, from becoming part of fandom, or staying in the industry.

How many women have shied away from fandom because of this treatment?  How many who could have contributed something great to the industry chose another path because of how they were treated?  And most importantly – how much guts has it taken for those who have stayed part of fandom and the industry to hang in there in the face of this mistreatment?

(And while it’s necessary for a piece like this, the friend I talked to for this piece also made a note that terms like “female creators” and “female fans” are often used in a way that makes it seem like they are something separate.  “A lot of problems arise from viewing women as secondary versions of what men are in the industry  – ‘female creators’ and ‘female fans’ – so there’s a mental pass to treat them differently than just ‘creators’ and ‘fans,’” she said.

(That’s a whole new series of issues, but though I’ve enjoyed many times when female creators have come together for a book or a panel discussion, it’s important that their presence be viewed as an overcoming of viewing them as “other,” not some strange and exotic novelty.  Of course, it’d be equally nice to see phrases like “black creators” or “Asian creators” just be folded into “creators” as well, but again – another editorial.  End digression.)

The bad news is, this has been going on for decades with too many people turning a blind eye.  The good news is, things can change.  They have before.  And they can again.

I’ve seen great changes in the comic book industry over the past decade.  There are more books for all ages, and better books, than I can remember at any point in my life. Kids are going to cons with their parents, and both generations are fans. I love my dad, but a begrudging, “are you ready to go home yet?” was the best I could have expected growing up (I eventually got him hooked on Concrete).

Countless great works from past decades have come back into print.  Aging creators have been given support and dignity through the likes of the Hero Initiative.  And there is a renaissance of creativity in hard-copy comics and online, along with a renewed interest in original concepts from creators and fans alike.  People are making things more than ever, and showing support for fellow fans and creators like never before.  That is astonishing.  That is the sign of a vibrant and vital community.

But there are still problems – problems that we have to face.  And as much as I wonder how much I’ve been a part of these problems, I also know that there is the power to change.

I don’t know that what I’ve said here has helped. But I do know this: Admitting there is a problem, and not just ignoring it or brushing it under the rug, is the first step toward making things better.

Guys – no matter if you’re a fan or a pro, we’re better than this.  I’m not saying treat women like delicate flowers where you agonize over everything you do or say for the sake of political correctness.  But I am saying to be mindful of their feelings, and to take responsibility for your actions.

And I encourage  readers, from all walks, to share their own stories, whether it’s in our comments or elsewhere.  People will only listen if you speak up.  I applaud the bravery of those who have already come forward, and for those who will speak up in the future.

Comics are an amazing medium, and the community of comics can truly be a great place of friendship and togetherness.

Let’s make it better.

In the Criminal Justice System…an Ode to LAW AND ORDER: SVU

I prefer my TV super-positive.  I have difficulty watching things I know to be violent, dark, depressing, etc.

And yet, I am endlessly sucked in by LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT.

SVU, as it’s commonly known, is currently in its 15th season of busting rapists, pedophiles and miscellaneous, vaguely-sexually-related criminals.  It has hung onto its original cast for a remarkably long time, though it finally seems to be moving on — co-lead Christopher Meloni departed three seasons back (possibly because he realized he had busted every pervert in New York — the state, not the city), while Richard Belzer’s oft-crossed-over Detective Munch recently retired and Dann Florek’s Capt. Cragen from the original L&O (“the mothership”) is following suit.

Ice-T will still likely be around to express disbelief at whatever commonly-known perverse act they’ve encountered this week:

SVU’s run continuously on NBC since 1999, but its greatest contribution to the public consciousness is the reruns on USA, one of the few cable channels I still get.  There are, to my counting, an average of four SVU marathons per week, not counting how a marathon from the earlier part of the day will get rerun in late night.  As John Mulaney points out in the above stand-up act, this provides an excuse for all manner of horrifying violent sex acts to be described at three in the afternoon. Occasionally, USA blanks out some saucier language, but overall, it’s okay because we’re only TOLD about the horrific acts, not SHOWN them, and the bad guys either get caught or shot to death or something.

The network seems vaguely aware of how absurd it is that such a violent, horrifying show is practically their flagship, particularly now that they need to use it to plug more holes in their schedule with MONK and BURN NOTICE having concluded their runs.  Marathons are based around the most random themes possible (the most recent one was “What would B.D. do?” after the exposition-providing shrink played by B.D. Wong), and commercials have taken on a self-referential air, with the announcer pointing out that the most important thing in SVU is to “never crack a smile” or tourists to NYC getting directions from locals who recall locations based on where a dismembered corpse was found in a particular episode.

With USA recently acquiring reruns of MODERN FAMILY, there have been a series of commercials joking about how those shows have plenty in common.  I’m more worried about young viewers who tune in for a mini-marathon about to start and get the end of some episode with a blood-covered stab-victim.  A recent marathon featured all guest stars who went on to be on MODERN FAMILY, which could have resulted in even more confusion.

As you can tell, I’ve been sucked into these marathons.  An episode ends, and another one literally begins right after — they reduce the credits to near-microscopic size during the thrilling finale of each ep, so once you see “EXECUTIVE PRODUCER DICK WOLF” and hear the NBC/Universal tone, you immediately hear a new, “In the criminal justice system, sexually-based offenses are considered especially heinous…”

It’s gotten to where I see a rerun of THE OFFICE or 30 ROCK and hear that tone at the end, I have the Pavlovian reaction of starting to utter, “in the criminal justice system…”

The self-contained nature of each episode makes it easy to get sucked in.  There’s almost always a bizarre, recognizable guest star: Zack Morris from SAVED BY THE BELL!  Jerry Lewis (not playing a rapist, thank god)!  Luke Perry!  Melissa Joan Hart!  Ludacris, who actually did a pretty good job!  It’s enough to get your attention and carry you through to the end of the episode, at which point, as I’ve said, another begins.

Wikipedia episode guides have let me place most of the USA-rerun episodes in a period from seasons 6-12.  That’s a run longer than most “regular” shows, but there’s enough turnover in the writing styles of SVU that this period is particularly notable for the sheer number of gonzo plotlines.

The first season of SVU was an attempt to do a slightly-more-personal version of the “mothership” show, with more inter-office subplots and such.  By season 2, they’d retooled, added Ice-T and glasses-wearing ADA Stephanie March, and made it more of a bizarre, twisty procedural.

There were some crazed eps in that run — I’ll never forget, no matter how hard I try, the one that starts with a Michael Jackson-esque toy shop owner and somehow ends with Cindy Williams from LAVERNE & SHIRLEY faking her granddaughter’s cancer with mercury poisoning — but by those later seasons, there was a distinct sense that the writers were out of ideas, not only for the overall show, but within individual episodes.

While earlier episodes have a weirdly compelling quality as you start to realize just how awful the secrets of the guest stars of the week are (there’s a reason possible killer Chad Lowe is so terrified of mother Margot Kidder!), later episodes have the quality of, “This isn’t shocking enough, so let’s throw in a TWIST!”  This TWIST! factor has the unique quality of causing the episodes to forget what they’re about, sometimes within the first few minutes.

The example I keep using is “Avatar,” from Season 9.  Cold open: A woman is sexually assaulted by her sister/roommate’s finance.  But wait!  It turns out he has a sleep disorder and doesn’t remember doing it!

This plot is then completely forgotten as it turns out the sister is missing, and she had a secret life in a Second Life online community analogue, and then it turns out she was stalked by a convicted kidnapper (Kevin Tighe, Locke’s dad on LOST!) whose victim was never found, and then they figure out where she is when they realize the kidnapper has a cabin in his virtual world, and they can triangulate the location based on the angle of the sun, and you have Det. Benson literally yelling at the community’s webmaster, “A woman’s LIFE IS AT STAKE!  TURN ON THE SUN!”


For good measure, it turns out the original kidnapping victim was still alive and in love with the kidnapper and hiding out at the cabin, so to end the ep on a maximum down note, he sees her again at the end and goes, horrified, “You got OLD.”

Holy God, you cannot believe how disgusted I am with myself for not only watching but remembering this, now that I’ve recapped it.

The show has, during these years, a real tendency to take something vaguely realistic and twist it into…something else.  The infamous crime where a fake cop called in to a fast-food restaurant and convinced the manager to torment an employee was turned into a riveting, skin-crawling drama in the film COMPLIANCE.  A few years before, SVU did an ep on it…which somehow turned into being about Robin Williams as an anti-authority mastermind who puts Det. Benson in a morality-questioning deathtrap.

The original point was somewhat blurred, though Williams did get an Emmy nod out of it.  I Googled.

Aside from procrastination and living alone, why on Earth do I keep getting sucked into SVU episodes?  It’s a question I’ve asked myself many times.

Here’s how I’ve broken it down:

1) There aren’t many other scripted shows on during the day.  Whether it’s morning, noon or late at night, it’s at least something that has a plot.

2) There’s a brisk pace — from the constantly-moving camera during the scenes where one cop after another provides needed exposition to the L&O trademark “CHUNG! CHUNG!” blackout title cards from scene to scene, the show moves.  You rarely have time to get bored before some new lurid detail comes to the surface.

3) And as I’ve said above: Morbid curiosity.  Where is this going to go?  What insane TWIST! will occur next?  And can you randomly figure out which season this episode is from based on such factors as the ADA, the storytelling style, or just the length of Marsika Hargitay’s hair? (It’s shoulder-length Season One, short and butch for most of the middle seasons, then gradually gets longer again starting at about Season 11).

More recently, I’ve found myself increasingly wary of the the show’s “reality,” TWIST!s aside.  The cartoonist Dean Trippe did an excellent comic called “Something Terrible” (you can download it here) that deals with his own sexual assault as a child.  Almost as horrific as the event was that Trippe had, from constant plots on TV shows, been convinced that because of this, he would become like his attacker as an adult, and was afraid to be around children for years as an adult.  He later found out this wasn’t the case.

You’d get a different impression if you watched SVU.  The closest I’d seen to their explaining that victims of childhood sexual abused DON’T grow up to become pedophiles was one episode with Michael Shannon (who’s been the creepy guy in pretty much everything else he’s been in), who’s been afraid of being around his baby son because of that fear, the result of his being molested by his coach as a child…and it’s later explained that the coach was himself molested, and another of the kids DID become a pedo himself as an adult.

It ends with Shannon realizing he is a good person and finally able to let himself be with his son, but how many inaccurate, manipulative stereotypes have been put forth because of that story?

Yes, I need to ween myself off this.

The show has, in its post Meloni/Stabler years, been run by Warren Leight, an L&O veteran who more recently ran the excellent cable dramas IN TREATMENT and LIGHTS OUT.  Leight is an intelligent, cerebral writer, and the episodes under his reign the show has toned down the insane twists to tell relatively straightforward tales of professional men and women who battle human monsters, and the toll it takes on them.

It’s not nearly as much fun.  And immediately after typing that, I realize I’ve just used “fun” to describe a show about rapists and pedophiles.

Still — they had Cybill Shepherd in a story that basically redid the Trayvon Martin case with Paula Deen as the shooter!  And it was played straight!  If you’re going to do some ridiculous mash-up of a distasteful celebrity story and one of the most tragic miscarriages of American justice in recent years, how can you expect people to take it seriously?

(Though to their credit: The brilliant stage actor Raul Esparza is the current ADA, and his dry, irate presence is worth tuning in for, even when he’s in a deathly-contrived take on the Anthony Wiener scandal.)

As with most bits of junk TV, the easiest way to detox is to spend the time wasted watching it doing things that are productive and pro-social.  I might have to resort to that for SVU, particularly with a new year coming up and not much TV on during those winter months.

Still, it’ll take a long time for those words to get out of my head: “In the criminal justice system…”

CHUNG! CHUNG! indeed.

FREE COMIC: “Decaffeinated” with Thomas Boatwright



















My recent giving-up of soda and most sugars has reminded me of this short story I did with artist Thomas Boatwright  for a local anthology of  coffee-themed comics a few years back.

Here’s the tale for free — a little rushed by me at the end (page limit!) but I think it still has some charm and the art is ROCK.

Click on the pages for larger versions.













ADVENTURE TIME: “Grocery Time” Pt.2 is Out!




The conclusion to my ADVENTURE TIME story with artist Brad McGinty, “Grocery Time,” is out in stores this week in ADVENTURE TIME #22!



You can buy an e-copy on ComiXology here.

To answer two possible questions:

1) Yes, Part One ran two months ago in issue #20.  No, I don’t know why it didn’t run on consecutive months.  The story WAS finished when we turned it in, but there are a limited number of pages for backups and it can be very tricky to figure out how to use the space.  I appreciate KaBOOM! letting us do this story and have no ill will over this.

2) No, I probably won’t be doing more AT stories in the future.  KaBOOM! has made it clear they have a large number of writers and artists doing such tales and don’t have room for more material at this time.  I have some more pitches to them being considered by Cartoon Network for approval, but it could be a while before there’s room for any of them.  Again, it was a great opportunity and I have no bad feelings — it’s just how the business works.

Additionally, Brad McGinty ALSO has a story in REGULAR SHOW #6, which is out today.  He is a brilliant, brilliant artist and we’re working on a creator-owned miniseries pitch for another publisher.  At this point, I’m trying to deliver a polished full script for the first issue along with a full miniseries pitch, and Brad’s finishing up a few other projects before doing character designs, so it’s going to be a while before it can even be CONSIDERED for publication.  But I truly hope to get this or another project together, not just for the career boost (no shame in my game), but for the excitement of seeing my weird ideas being brought to con’sid’ra’ble life by Brad’s Brobdingnaggian talents (look it up, I was tired of saying “Herculean”).

A few notes on the story, though this is more of a “What NOT to do” when writing a script.

1) Out of all the pitches I sent KaBOOM!/Cartoon Network, this was the one they took, and once I sat down to write it, I realized I’d hosed myself, as I had to introduce new characters, new settings, a plot with a beginning/middle/end AND an action sequence in a mere seven pages (they gave me eight, bless them).  So is this story rushed, and did I take a few shortcuts?  You bet your bippy I did.

2) So first, it was great fun writing the fight sequence.  Fight/action scenes are just about trying to find unique ways for the characters to act and react, and Brad did a very fun job pitting Billy against the Ham-Pire.  I had fun thinking of things the Ham-Pire could do, but I wish I’d thought of more unique ways for Billy to fight back using the materials of the Grocery Kingdom.

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3) I also feel great, great shame for resorting to the cheapest dues ex machina in the book — the hero finds a MAGICAL REMOTE CONTROL to take over the evil robots.  Now, if you read both parts of the story in one sitting, I did try to establish this back on Pg.3 by introducing the cereal box display, but man, I wish I’d thought of something better to get to the denouement.  I ran this by a number of friends, including a few cartoonist who work on ADVENTURE TIME, and they said to stop worrying, but I NEVER STOP WORRYING.

4) In a random bit, the Royal Tart Toter is a check-out clerk in the Grocery Kingdom, because I keep encountering tragically old, sometimes demented old people as greeters at big-box stores whenever I go there.  Brad wanted a few more clerks for the background, so we went with the Squeez-E-Mart clerk and Choose Goose, who presumably had a slow season in his trading business or needed health insurance.

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5) The last page is PACKED, which is a sure sign of a novice comic book writer.  Kelly Sue DeConnick had a semi-seminar at a comic shop earlier this year where she made a point that you should try to wrap as much as possible up BEFORE the last page, so you have some room.  Given the hole I’d dug myself with this script, there wasn’t a lot of room.  I tried to have a short story type twist for Billy’s quest, but it got MORE cramped by the final-final image…

6) So the story ends with the revelation that it’s a tale being read to Baby Finn and Baby Jake by Joshua the Dog-Dad.  I wanted to do this to give the story a cute moment amidst all the silliness and propose an addition to the show’s mythology — Finn and Jake learned about Billy because Joshua read them stories as kids, and this probably helped inspire them to grow up to be heroes themselves.

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Acknowledging the page was already cramped in the script, I initially wrote this scene as optional, but regular AT comic writer Ryan North said that as the writer, I should  say whether something was in the story or not, and that the scene was good and deserved to be in there.  I still like it, but wish that I’d found a way to give it more room to breathe and sink in.  I did like having a nice, placid moment to end all the craziness of the story.

Brad wanted an extra panel to contain Joshua’s final rant and suggested an exterior shot of the house.  In the episode “Memory of a Memory,” Finn’s childhood home is depicted as a different place, but there’s no exterior shots of it.  We figured that since “Dad’s Dungeon” showed that Joshua had built a dungeon near the Tree Fort and hid a holo-viewer in its attic, perhaps the Dog family had moved there or leased it from previous owner Marceline (that’d be a fun story to tell).  It’s a cheat, but the story does play fast and loose with AT mythology in the interest of including cameos anyway.

So now you know…too much of the story.  Hope you liked it, and hopefully I’ll have a few more comics finished in 2014, with both Brad and others among the Finest Artists Known to Man!

MIAMI CONNECTION: All 230+ Things I Love About this FIlm


Over the past year, few things have brought me as much joy as the re-released 1987 lost martial arts rock classic, MIAMI CONNECTION.

Miami Connection

If you have not watched this masterpiece yet, it is on Netflix Instant for free.  To whet your appetite, here’s the trailer.

I’ve watched this film like a half-dozen times, and clips from it even more.

It just makes me SO HAPPY.

Why?  Because it’s all full of crazy errors and bad acting and writing, but it’s completely sincere.

It’s like if you and your friends just decided to make a kung-fu movie on your own.  It has that joy of hanging out with your friends and trying to tell a nice, straightforward story about being action heroes.

But I feel the awesomeness of this film has to be CONVEYED.  So I’m going to do something insane.

I am going to do is watch the movie again and write down EVERY SINGLE THING I love about this.

It’s going to take a while to finish this post.

1) The opening (“SOMEWHERE IN MIAMI”)  involves biker ninjas stealing a cocaine shipment.  They are biker ninjas because  “a very mobile way for the ninjas to get around during the day” according to commentary.

2) This is actually explained during the song that plays during the opening credits, which has the lyrics “Biker by day, ninja by night, steal all your cocaine, and also your life.”  That is a  very specific subject matter.

3) The coke dealers both wear white Panama hats.

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4) Their coke is hidden inside a case full of Japanese candy, which looks pretty good.

5) The ninjas are somehow sneaking up on them in the middle of Florida.

6) I’m reasonably certain some of the gang members here for the drug dealers will be in a completely different gang in a crowd scene later in the movie.

7) The classic “cut the cocaine packet and taste it to make sure it’s good” bit you see in EVERY DRUG MOVIE.

8) NINJA STAR TO THE NECK!  Like most scenes of violence in the movie, it involves huge amounts of blood and the victim screaming/grabbing at the weapon.

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9) The drug dealer escapes from the ninjas by leaping off a warehouse ledge, and clearly falls on his face as he hits the ground, based on the sound effects.


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12) After multiple drug goons are assassinated, one rushes in with a pipe video-game style, and puts up a surprisingly good fight before getting HIS ARM CHOPPED OFF WITH A SWORD (followed by several seconds of screaming while grabbing at the stump).

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13) One of the drug dealers tries blocking the ninja with a couple pieces of metal, then just gets kicked off-camera with a video game death scream.

14) The biker ninjas all have a dojo somewhere in the middle of Florida.

15) Master biker ninja Yashito (introduced with a thunderclap), explains to them the most important flaw in their plan: They got the cocaine, but “YOU FORGOT THE MONEY!”  The scene then goes to the credits practically mid-sentence.

16) When he’s not being a ninja, Biker Yashito wears an ascot.  As a ninja, he smashes flaming bricks.  THIS IS A MAN.

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17) We meet Dragon Sound, who have keyboards, hexagon drums, red T-shirts with their band’s name, a girl who looks like Pat Benatar,  Tae Kwon Do moves in their act, and most importantly, A LEAD SINGER WHO LOOKS LIKE HALL AND OATES.


18) They’re clearly not playing their own instruments, and THEY DON’T CARE.

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19) Yashito’s “connection” Jeff has an awesome beard, plus a different awesome outfit and awesome earring for almost every scene.

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20) Despite the film’s title, we’re informed it actually takes place in Orlando.

21) Jeff’s gang includes a Kid Rock look alike and several guys who do nothing but mumble.  We’ll get to them later.

22) The first of many, many ADR-dubbed rapid-fire dialogue exchanges.

23) “Good news.  I got a new shipment of coke for you.”  “You got a taste?”  “It’s the best.  You can move a lot of coke in Orlando.”

24) By the film includes characters named John, Jane, Jim, Jack and Jeff.  Try to keep them straight.

25) An awkward, overweight club owner in a white suit tells us this is “Park Avenue, Central Florida’s Hottest Nightclub.”

26) The club owner’s microphone feeds back horribly as he introduces the band Dragon Sound as “a new dimension in rock n’ roll.”

27) Dragon Sound’s hit song “Friends,” the best thing ever.

28) In the first of many instances, the male members of the band are mostly shirtless for their big number.

29) Is there anything happier than Jeri-Curled keyboardist Jim?

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30) The crowd clapping along to the song clearly does not know the beat to the song they’re supposed to be clapping along to.

31) And the lip-syncing is horribly off as well.

32) Star/co-writer/uncredited co-director Grandmaster Y.K. Kim is clearly just playing air guitar, but who cares, he’s having an awesome time!

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33) Yashito and Jeff are horribly perturbed that Jeff’s sister Jane is singing songs about loyalty and friendship with Dragon Sound’s John (see what I mean about keeping it straight?)  Their confusion is expressed with some deeply heartfelt line readings.

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34) Jane has pretty much nothing to do during this number except…attempt…to dance around.

35) At this point, Jane starts trying to clap along to the beat, and Grandmaster Y.K. Kim…sorry, “Mark” notices and tries to clap along a moment later.

36) During Hall and Oates’…sorry “Tom’s” guitar solo, Kim/Mark is in the background air-guitaring and apparently realizes he doesn’t have his guitar strap on, prompting him to stop to put it over his shoulder.

You know what? Bump this noise.  For the rest of this awesomeness recap, he’s just “Grandmaster Y.K. Kim.”  SO SPEAKETH THE ZACK.

37) Yashito and Jeff end the song by toasting with girly drinks filled with fruit, ’cause they are BROS.

38) We then see how our crew attends the University of Central Florida, which clearly allowed them to film there through generous, generous product placement.

39) Jane is in computer class, where her professor goes on about how the university’s team came in fourth in an international programming contest.  Fourth?

40) He then compliments Jane with, “Good circle!  Great!”

41) John attempts to non-verbally flirt with Jane for a good 30 seconds.

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42) John randomly asks the girl he’s dating about her family .  Jane nonchalantly says she has a brother, Jeff, “but there’s just one thing —  I don’t really like him.”  This is elaborated with, “Well, I can’t really explain it — I just don’t like him.”  She further goes into product placement by explaining that “if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be going to this nice school and staying in the nice dorm I’m staying in.”  She gives a rather elaborate reading of her backstory with all the conviction of a shopping list.

43) More ADR-dubbing as Jane explains Jeff is in with “some shady characters” as she takes John to meet him.

Now, this next sequence contains so much awesomeness that recapping will take a while.  So here you can go ahead and watch it first.

44) Jeff is so cold he brings five cars worth of thugs to assault his sister’s boyfriend and DOUBLE-PARKS ACROSS A HANDICAPPED SPOT.

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45) Plus he’s got army fatigues and a SINGLE SHARK TOOTH EARRING.

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46) We have the first, though not last, moment where one of Jeff’s runnin’ crew vaguely insults our heroes with what are barely recognizable as sentences.

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47) John manages to keep this expression for not just this scene, but pretty much the entire film.

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48) In a moment of utter hypocrisy, despite Jane just telling him she doesn’t like her brother, John still introduces himself to Jeff by saying “I’ve heard a lot of good things about you.”

49) Jeff immediately gets pissy and demands…

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50) Jeff provides one of the film’s top five line readings with his spitting-out of “A FRIEND?!”

51) John takes this in stride.  This is actually a completely different screencap than the one before.

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52) Jeff then just randomly punches John, which prompts Jane to unconvincingly flail at Jeff’s chest.

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53) Dragon Sound shows up to save their bro!  A fight…doesn’t ensue!  Though we do get Jeff’s line-reading of “Are these bums your friends?”

54)  Grandmaster Y.K. Kim valiantly struggles to get his lines out, and doesn’t even manage to finish his monologue before Jeff tells his boys to go!

55) Following another ADR-d bit of the band driving away, we then get a completely random cut-away to ANOTHER group that hates Dragon Sound, Club Park Avenue’s previous band!  Boy, this guy is angry!

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56) There’s no real way to convey how the guy’s swearing is utterly random and off-cue, or how a fight scene starts with the club owner, who then has nothing to do for the entire rest of the film.  So let’s just go to the video.

According to co-writer/co-star Joseph Diamond in the commentary, ““Most club owners in Orlando are actually trained in the martial arts.”
I’m not really sure what the bearded dude wants to accomplish, as cursing out the guy who fired you is not the best way to get your job back.  Perhaps he’s just pissed at “Friends for Eternity.”

57) About a full minute of exposition is then dubbed-in by a long pull-back from a shot of a city front and flags reading “BAYSIDE.”

58) Jeff gets into an awesome business suit to hang with Yashito and “The Yahos” at Yashito’s dojo in Miami.  So it’s “Miami Connection” because Yashito is the connect between Miami and Orlando?  Again, let’s not try to make sense of this.

59) This sets up several minutes of Yashito’s biker-ninjas doing ninja-move training in full black ninja PJs in the daytime.  I’m pretty sure they are dying from humidty.

60) Yashito’s all “We need to get rid of that band, so you can control that area,” despite his never having actually interacted with Dragon Sound in any capacity.  Either he is just bummed that Jeff’s sister is dating John, because he and Jeff are such bros, or he is concerned that their pro-friendship, pro-Tae Kwon Do songs are somehow a threat to his ninja movement.  This POV will be reinforced soon.  This is all done with a maximum of over-dubbed dialogue.

61) We have another scene that has very little to do with the rest of the film with Uncle Song, played by the film’s director Richard Park (aka Woo-San Park).  Dragon Sound apparently eats at his place every night, though it’s not really clear if it’s a pizza place or a burger joint or what.  More dubbed-in dialogue vaguely explains they’re eating there just before they make their club gig…

62) …where they play their epic “Against the Ninja.”

This song fascinates me, as they have not confronted any actual ninjas yet.  Is ninja violence a plague of 1980s Central Florida?  Was there a time when you could not walk down the street without getting assaulted by ninjas?  Or is Dragon Sound just racist, and afflicted with a shameful anti-ninja prejudice?

Their chants of “tae kwon, tae kwon/ tae kwon, tae kwon/ tae kwon, tae kwon/TAE KWON DO!” might as well be “WHITE POWER!” if they weren’t a multinational, multiethnic band of martial arts experts/college students/musicians.

This number of course includes smoke bombs and multiple instances of off-beat clapping/lip-syncing , epic air guitar and Grandmaster Y.K. Kim fist-pumping a second after everyone else.

And a truly glorious shot of Jim playing TWO KEYBOARDS AT ONCE like a good ’80s rock star.

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64) This isn’t a direct bit of awesome from the film itself, but I just love this subtitle in the captioning.

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63) There is then an extremely abrupt cut to the former house band guy (whom I’ve found out went on to become a federal prosecutor in real life).  He’s changed from  his suit to some sort of sleeveless T-shirt with a Dexy’s Midnight Runners cap and a bandanna around his neck, and his crew are scoping out Dragon Sound as they leave…and Grandmaster Y.K. Kim can’t quite jump into their convertible.

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64) Much like Jeff, the band leader has brought five cars worth of thugs to block Dragon Sound off in the street.  Who are all these people?  Was his band super-large like 10,000 Maniacs?  Are they his fan club?  Visibly, several of them are the same people who were hanging with Jeff, meaning they belong to multiple gangs.  That is hardcore.

65) John finds new emotions to display.

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66) After nearly a minute of the gang guys yelling indistinctly at Dragon Sound while the band sits there and stares, the band leader comes over to scream at Dragon Sound that because of them, he lost his job and “got my ass kicked!”  I’m pretty sure that last bit was his own fault.

Grandmaster Y.K. Kim responds with his flawless mastery of the English language:

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I’m sure that was the excuse many people had for appearing in this movie, but NEVER APOLOGIZE FOR BEING IN MIAMI CONNECTION.

Dragon Sound very sensibly points out the band leader should just talk to the club owner, but he’s not having that.  FIGHT SCENE!

67) The gang intimidates Dragon Sound by…pouring beer on their car?  Visibly, one of the gang members pours beer on HIMSELF before doing this.  Perhaps the actor felt bad.

I am also sure that this is because the budget for the film was so low that they couldn’t afford to have actual damage inflicted upon the car.

68) We get the first of many classic Jim lines: “This doesn’t look like the welcome wagon!”  You think?

69) At 26:30 into an 86-minute film, we FINALLY get a marital arts fight.  IT IS ON!  Grandmaster Y.K. Kim is kicking ass, literally, with SLOWED-DOWN IMPACT SHOTS and VIDEO-GAME-STYLE ENHANCED YELLING!

70)  Once the gang chases the guys around a corner, they appear to be in a completely different part of the city.  Apparently, Kim was such a beloved figure in Orlando that he was allowed free reign in location filming by the city, according to the commentary.

71) After jump-kicking two gang members at once and landing on his feet in a spin. Grandmaster Y.K. Kim has the most awesome “Did I do that?” expression.

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72) Despite the many technical, writing and acting problems with this film, it must be said that Grandmaster Y.K. Kim does truly know how to throw down.  Confusing direction of this sequence aside, it’s damn good action cinema.

73) JIm lets out a wonderfully high-pitched “YAAA!” as he saves his bandmate.  This is not the last time this voice will provide us with joy.

74) The band leader goes down with literally two kicks, and then we IMMEDIATELY cut to the guys just going home and enjoying life like nothing has happened.

75) Now comes perhaps the greatest acting in the entire film.

The guys are all back at the house they all live at, because in addition to being in a band and practicing martial arts and going to school together, they also live together.  Bygones.

76) Anyway, after high-pitched-ly announcing he’s going to take a shower (with his shirt off and pants unzipped as he struts down the house) , Jim finds out from John that he got a letter, which then turns into like two minutes of keep-away as he demands, in an increasingly high voice, “GIVE ME THE LETTER!”

77) This summons the other bandmates, who like Jim, are also shirtless.  This is one of several sequences where the guys are all hanging out shirtless together.

78) There is also a very dubbed-in, casual line like, “we’ve had enough trouble with that street fight.”  Like, “Hey, that happened.”

In sequences like this, the film achieves an almost Robert Altman-esque effect with its overlapping dialogue, albeit unintentionally.

79) I just love this weirdly framed-shot, where Jim is clearly standing too close to the camera.

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80) And so, Jim reveals his tragic past in this epic monologue.

81) Yes, Jim is looking for his long-lost father.  “I didn’t know you had a father.  I thought we are all orpans.”  That is not a typo.  He also demonstrates an extremely poor understanding of the concept of “orphans.”

82) John is deeply concerned, and develops a new facial expression.

MIAMI CONNECTION [Commercial  -  For Your Consideration  Best Supporting Actor, Maurice Smith  - YouTube

(To further clarify: The main characters are all Tae Kwon Do martial artists who are in a marital-arts-themed band and go to school together and are also orphans, and who are in the crosshairs of a drug dealer, a bitter rival band leader, AND drug-stealing biker ninjas.  It’s important to have a scorecard.)

Co-writer Joseph Diamond (who plays Jack, the band member who pretty much hasn’t said or done anything yet), explained: the band members were all “orpans” in order to “get everyone to feel sorry for us. It’s trying to elicit as many possible emotions on as many different levels as possible.”  He admits they “possibly” went “a little overboard.”

83) And so, Maurice Smith as Jim acts his heart out as he delivers the monologue of a lifetime.  Also, he takes several steps forward to get on his proper lighting mark.

84) In tears, he explains: “My mother was Korean…and my father was Black American.”

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85) I’m not really sure how he came by this terminology, nor what wartime romance his mom and G.I. dad could have had given that this takes place in the 1980s and Jim is supposed to be a college student.  The fact that most of the cast are clearly in their early 30s results in some awkward chronology.

86) Anyway, Jim explains how his mother died and told him to find his father, but…

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That would be logical, yes.

87) For absolutely no reason, this is followed by a sequence of the guys driving their car on the beach.

88) “Friends for Eternity” plays AGAIN.  The filmmakers were right to do this.

89) Here’s our boys homo-erotically frolicking in the surf between bikini babe shots!

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89) There’s some mad-flexing from Hall and Oates look-alike Tom, let’s show that pic again:


89) …and Jim forgets about this dad long enough to check some (clearly non-existent, added in B-roll footage) bikini babes out.

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90) Let’s luxuriate in the utter lack of conviction in such line deliveries as “Baby, I want you” as the guys attempt to hit on women.

91)  Damn, these boys are PIMP!

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92) “They don’t make buns like those down at the bakery.”

93) After showing several women’s rear ends in bikini bottoms, they randomly show a little girl taking a shower in her bathing suit, which is creepy as hell.

94) This sequence just achieves a kind of greatness based on the fact that they obviously just went to the beach, shot footage of as many people and things as they could, and then left most of it in the final cut.  I’m particularly fond of the  guy walking around with a pro-nudist sign for no reason.

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95) Let’s have some comic relief with Tom attempting to scam on bikini babes by following them around and going, “Excuse me madame, may I have a little kiss please?”

96) This is followed by her shoving Tom, causing him to fall onto some other bikini babes, who then kick sand at him for a full 30 seconds.  I’m not sure what Grandmaster Y.K. Kim understands of American courting rituals.  It’s like how Lord Zedd on POWER RANGERS was based on US efforts to come up with a Japanese-style monster and they made this horrific skinless thing — almost as though Kim watched guys hitting on girls at bars and made an even weirder, more obnoxious version of that.

97) The sheer awkwardness of John and Jane’s makeout scene in the waves, seen from like three different angles.

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98) Even better is knowing that the awkwardness came from KathieCollier and Angelo Jannotti (Tom) dating in real life.  Jannotti was apparently sent out for beer during these scenes.

99) We then cut to the gym which Jeff apparently operates out of, where his minions practice by doing things like grappling shirtless on the floor while the Kid Rock look alike (also shirtless) tries to whack them with a pole.

I might be reading something into this movie that isn’t there.

100) Evil Band Leader shows up, now with a bandage around his head, to recruit Jeff to take down Dragon Sound together.  How he knew to contact Jeff is not really explained.

101) We get another instance of Jeff’s goons just babbling semi-coherent insults for about 30 seconds.

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102) Band Leader and his boys all respectfully take off the sunglasses when Jeff enters the room in an all=-black sleeveless outfit.  An intentionally funny joke is that one of the goons winces when he takes off the glasses from his broken nose.

103)  Band Leader offers to join up with Jeff if he gets rid of Dragon Sound.  There’s just one thing:

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104) Band Leader notes that if Jeff gets him his job back, “any money I make is yours.”  A) why would he presume the club owner would hire him back just if Dragon Sound disappears, and B) what’s the point of getting his job back if he’s just going to give away the money?  Does he just hate “Friends for Eternity” that much?

105) Jeff, flat: “It’s that damn band again.”  The scene JUST ENDS.

106) After another establishing shot of the University of Central Florida, just so we know the nice school where this takes place, we get like full five minutes of a Tae Kwon Do exhibition by Dragon Sound on the quad.  Literally, all they do is demonstrate moves for like five minutes.

107) After Grandmaster Y.K. Kim demonstrates a bunch of stances and moves with grunts and enhanced sound effects, he takes down Jack in a match with slo-mo kicks, punches, and whatever this move is:

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108)  John demonstrates another facial expression.

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109) Grandmaster Y.K. Kim then demonstrates various knife-disarmament moves (that will come in handy later — SPOILERS!)  on John, including THE DEADLY FOOT-NOSE GRAB.

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110) Seriously, this ends with multiple shots of breaking boards and a freeze-frame of Grandmaster Y.K. Kim shattering brick.  IT’S JUST THERE TO BE THERE BECAUSE THAT’S HOW THEY WANTS IT.

111) We then get the other great monologue of the film as the guys enjoy refreshing beverages afterwards and talk about life and stuff.

John’s got ideas about how they can be even more of a Tae Kwon Do band!

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112) John’s idea for Jack to do a drum solo (on his hexagon drums, let’s not forget) is poo-pooed by Jack, who has barely uttered two words at this point despite also being the co-writer of the movie.  But he’s finally ready for the most awkward line deliveries in a film filled with them!

See, Jack’s wary because all these people keep wanting to fight them.  He doesn’t want to play at the club because of the other band jumping them, and because of Jeff:

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Regrettably, there are no clips of this from Drafthouse Films on YouTube, so just watch the thing.  I cannot capture the utterly awkward cadence of his dialogue.

113) John tells Jack not to worry about Jeff (again, the whole naming problem in this film) and demonstrates yet another facial expression.

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114) Grandmaster Y.K. Kim points out they need to keep their jobs at the club to pay for school, leading to more awkward, awkward line readings.   But John vows to protect him!

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115) Grandmaster Y.K. Kim’s mentioning of how he came from Korea and how everyone does Tae Kwon Do there leads to Jack’s stunning monologue: Why not have Dragon Sound do a world tour in all the countries they originally came from?  Why not visit the local Tae Kwon Do dojos in Ireland and Israel AND Italy, and teach kids about positive music and kung fu and stuff?

116) Grandmaster Y.K. Kim reaizes that they’re not just black-belt music-playing college student “orpans:”

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Had this movie only gotten a sequel, what we could have seen!

117) There’s then some more awkward exposition to explain that Uncle Song, the restaurant owner we haven’t seen in a while, is having trouble at his restaurant by a gang of thugs who are completely different from the other three gangs of thugs/ninjas we’ve seen so far.

One of them is wearing a belly shirt and the shortest shorts known to man.

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There is so much that I don’t want to read into this movie.

118) The dudes try to skip out on the bill and push Uncle Song around when he tries to get his money, so he kicks their asses while wearing a Mickey and Minnie Mouse apron!

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119) It’s unclear whether Uncle Song got his money, but Dragon Sound shows up, is amazed that Uncle Song beat all those guys by himself, and then get his explanation that Tae Kwon Do comes from “right here” (the heart) and “right here” (the mind).  This is completely ripped off from THE KARATE KID, but there’s no time to dwell on it because Uncle Song disappears from the rest of the movie, and we’re too busy paying attention to the cutaway to Grandmaster Y.K. Kim fake-kicking Jim’s head and doing the toe-nose thing again in concert.

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This only loses awesome points for NOT including a third Dragon Sound music/Tae Kwon Do masterpiece.

120) OH SNAP!  Jeff and the Evil Band Leader left them a note for a rumble made in origami form!

Logically, they could just not show up for the confrontation, but they do…

121) Jane is mildly perturbed by this and goes to Jeff’s gym to confront him, where she’s briefly catcalled by a couple of his goons.  This does not get its own awesome point, because it is not nearly as awesome as the later scene where this happens again.  It does get points for Jeff wearing a shark tooth earring with a suit, and Jane expressing her displeasure at her threatening to murder her boyfriend and all his friends:

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122) Jane is all, “Why don’t you just leave Dragon Sound alone?” and Jeff is all, “Just concentrate on school and nothing else!”  This is one weird-ass relationship.

123) Jane tells Jeff she’ll keep seeing John “because I love him,” a line she delivers with the conviction of “I’d like to get my car washed.”

124) I sort of love Jeff because he’s just so uncomfortable trying to be the creepy drug-dealing gang-leader brother.

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125) Jeff considers John a “second-rate musician” (not entirely inaccurate, but hey — drug dealer!) and threatens Jane by going, “now I want you to go home and think about what I’ve said.”  Yeah.  Jane is all, “And you are terrible!” like Jeff’s just told a bad joke instead of threatening murder.

126)  The actual rumble between the guys takes place in a trainyard where, if you look closely, the trains are for hauling corn syrup.  Jeff has yet another awesome outfit.

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127) An actual vulture caws in the background, because this is a SHOWDOWN.

128) The Evil Band is trying to match Dragon Sound for pure shirtlessness.

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129) I want to point out that John wears a polo shirt to a gang rumble.

130) I also love how Evil Band Leader’s dialogue mostly consists of him yelling some version of “son of a bitch!”

131) For whatever reason, Jim’s not here, and neither is Tom.  I increasingly suspect Angelo Jannotti was only in the film for the songs and his Hall and Oates ‘do.

132)  Jeff does absolutely no fighting, and at one point, I’m pretty sure a shot just consists of the actor whamming his own head into a train wheel to make it look like he was slammed there.

133) It was pointed out to me in a podcast that Dragon Sound spends most of the film either running from or trying not to get into fights.  Indeed, most of this one consists of our boys being chased, then kicking the asses of their attackers once they catch up with them.  Oddly, despite Jack being in the car, I do not see him doing anything during the fight.

134) In the single best one-on-one match, Jeff’s Kid Rock look alike goon tries intimidating Jeff by doing some sort of M.C. Hammer shuffle.

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135) This is so weird it actually provokes a new facial expression from John…

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136) …who then takes out Kid Rock with a roundhouse kick to the gut.

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137) OH SNAP!  The cops show up and everyone flees!  What’s amazing about this is that they are played by REAL cops, who were so excited by being in the movie that one of them accidentally pointed his gun in the direction of his partner.

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138) There’s also this line, which a friend pointed out doesn’t offer any solutions:

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And where will they go exactly?  Another town to menace people with their ninjitsu?

139) Now comes the sequence that earns the film its R rating — Yashito and his boys all go out to a biker bar for a long, long montage set to a song called “Tough Guys.”  You probably won’t be surprised to find out that what happened was the production went to a real biker bar, had a great time, and shot tons and tons of footage that they mostly left in the movie.

140) This also explains why there are constant shots of bikers with missing teeth, large-breasted biker babes flashing the camera, and at least one instance s of mooning.

141) Man, this whole sequence makes the bad guy lifestyle look awesome.  Biker by day, ninja by night…robbing cocaine dealers, hanging out with your boys drinking brewskies and having girls flash you…you just don’t get that with songs about being friends for eternity.

142) Yashito gives Jeff some sugar, ’cause they’re bros.

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143) After another ADR-d bit about how Jeff needs to get rid of Dragon Sound, we see he’s wearing an “Outward Bound Colorado” cap.

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Clearly, their program did not have the desired effect on Jeff’s morals.

144) Among the most random bits is a guy demonstrating shoving a nail up his nose and taking it out again.  Good for him!

145) We then get several minutes of Grandmaster Y.K. Kim just walking around and chatting with various band members, to remind us that he’s the leader even though he’s a head shorter than everyone else.

This is what is called a “save the cat” scene, where a character is made to seem more likable/heroic by doing something like saving a cat.  In this case, Grandmaster Y.K. Kim asks John about his homework and tells him he needs to get some sleep,

146) Then he checks out Tom’s new music for “the keyboard part” to their new song (presumably about Tae Kwon Do) and is somehow able to recognize it as really good by just sight-reading the sheet music in about two seconds.  And poor ol’ Jim is just asleep.

147)  The dudes are just hanging around the kitchen with no shirts, like you do,.  For some reason, there is a pineapple in the middle of the kitchen table.  There is some vague discussion about their all writing the Defense Department about Jim’s father, and Grandmaster Y.K. Kim starts randomly popping grapes into the other guys’ mouths, which in the commentary he says he did because they needed Vitamin C.  GRANDMASTER Y.K. KIM LOOKS OUT FOR YOU.

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148) There is yet another completely gratuitous plug for the University of Central Florida with our heroes walking across campus in their UFC shirts, and briefly stopping to shake hands with some students.  Hmm, how do you think they were allowed to film on campus?

149) But OH SNAP!  Jeff’s runnin’ crew is in the parking lot watching Dragon Sound as we hear Grandmaster Y.K. Kim say, “Pizza!”

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150) They appear to drive all of two feet to the pizza place before Jeff’s goons grab Tom while he’s parking the car.  No one in the entire packed parking lot or restaurant that’s RIGHT THERE appear to see or hear anything.  But he does get to get off the dubbed-in line, “Mark’s gonna get yoooouuuuuuuu!”

This is probably my racism speaking, but given Grandmaster Y.K. Kim’s incredibly poor English and that it’s established his character immigrated from Korea, why is his name “Mark?”  Is “Mark” a common name in Korea?  The world may never know.

151)  Tom is tossed in a closet with an over-ADR-d thud, and has somehow lost his shirt between being taken out of the trunk and taken into the house.

152) We don’t actually get to see Dragon Sound find out Tom is missing.  Instead, we have Jane go look for him at Jeff’s gym…after about a minute of Jeff’s goons incomprehensibly babbling weird zingers at each other.

I feel genuinely sorry for whoever had to close-caption this.

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I think they might be trying to breakdance.

153) Anyway, Jane shows up, asks if Tom’s there, and one of the goons just goes…

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This scene gets extra points for Jane’s zebra-print outfit.

154) So Jane walks to an off-camera room, then turns and walks out, all while the guys just throw out random lines like, “salami.”

I don’t know why I love this scene so much.  It’s like, they thought the guys were hilarious, just turned the camera on them, and left it all in.

Plus, it’s got Kid Rock, some random fat guy, and a dude wearing what appears to be leather pants and a Pink Floyd cap.

155) But we get to see where Tom is — he’s been CRUCIFIED!

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156) Jeff is so evil HE DRINKS COORS LIGHT.

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157) In another apparent case of “Leave it in!”, this kidnapping actually looks like a party, with all these guys drinking beer and making out with chicks.  Even Evil Band Leader has a honey, and a “Kill ’em All” shirt.

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158) There is no scene where Dragon Sound is informed of Tom’s location or is given a ransom note or whatever, but somehow they know where he is and just show up to face the men determined to murder them for A) dating one guy’s sister; B) taking a job offered them by someone else and C) possibly singing songs with anti-ninja lyrics.

159) Evil Band Leader goes, “Son a of bitches are running late!  They don’t get here soon, I’d just as soon blow that son of a bitch out of the sky!”  I love how he’s somehow able to work “son of a bitch” into every single thing he says, like one of those Texans on that episode of SEINFELD.  I bet he orders drive-through with those words as well.

160) Dragon Sound picks up weapons to use against the bad dudes…and Jim gets a plastic pipe.  I find that sort of adorably in-character.

161) I love that the logic of these fight scenes plays like a 1980s-era arcade game.  Hey, here’s a random setting — the street, a train yard, in this case a construction site (possibly the same one from the opening), and a bunch of goons!  Use the setting to kick evil’s ass!  Pick up some weapons to help you!

162) At this point, Dragon Sound just starts straight-up MURDERING the bad dudes.  I’m pretty sure that’s a Tae Kwon DON’T.  OH SNAP NO HE DI’IN!

Grandmaster Y.K.Kim hits a dude in the throat with a pipe, which slices it open with an actual blood spurt.

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163) The scene’s too dark for a good screencap, but John knocks out this dude with a pipe or sword or something and then does that classic ninja/samurai thing where he spins it and strikes a pose.

164) Grandmaster Y.K. Kim kicks a bad dude into a plastic trashcan, which breaks it in half!  BECAUSE HE IS SO BAD.

165) This fat dude in grey sweats picks up  a heavy thing to throw at Grandmaster Y.K. Kim, who knocks it out of his hands!  So he picks up ANOTHER heavy thing, and this time Grandmaster Y.K. Kim knocks him onto his back and steps on the heavy thing AND CRUSHES THE GUY TO DEATH.

This is all pretty baller, but man, things have gotten violent!  Increase the peace.

I just love how gang dudes are dropping in from out of nowhere to get their asses kicked.  It’s just like an arcade game, but with less story!

166) John kicks ass in what we can now see is a half-shirt!

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167) Evil Band Leader stops by a trash can, at which point Jim pops out and cold-cocks him with a plastic pipe and a “YAAAAHHHH!”  Making this even better, he’s wearing an Adidas shirt.

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168) Evil Band Leader actually gets the upper hand on Jim (and we see he’s wearing khaki pants) but Grandmaster Y,K. Kim knocks him out or something.  Thank goodness.  Wailing on Jim is like hitting a small child.

169) But wait!  Jeff enters the game and kicks both Jim and John’s asses…my god, this is confusing…and now confronts Grandmaster Y.K. Kim with TWO SPIKED STICKS.

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170) The amazing thing is that they don’t so much fight as wave weapons at each other, then Jeff heads to higher ground and just sort of slips off a ledge with a sound not unlike that of a STREET FIGHTER villain getting TKO’d.

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Man, Jeff was ROBBED.  But there’s an UNUSUAL HIDDEN SECRET that gives him a second chance!  We’ll get to it later.

By the way, is Evil Band Leader dead?  Because it looked like he was just knocked down.  Perhaps he had a concussion from the previous kickings of his ass.

171) Anyway, Yashito and his ninjas are just meditating or whatever, when some boys come in with bad news:  “Boss!  We got a big problem now!”  This is delivered with only a slightly better grasp of English than Grandmaster Y.K. Kim’s.

172) “Your brother Jeff is dead!”

Look at how bummed Yashito is.  This is the best acting in the entire movie that isn’t Jim’s.

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173) Yashito vows that his boys will avenge Jeff’s death! (in a clearly dubbed-in line)

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(By the way, they mention “Jeff’s gangs” (not a typo) are here.”  Maybe the Band Leader was part of them?  Why do I care about this?

174) This results in ANOTHER ninja-training montage, as they pose and do moves and go over pommel-horses and stuff to prep for throwing down on Dragon Sound.  I love the sheer number of montages in this movie.

175) Yashito has a flashback to Jeff, because they were BROS.  He loved Jeff!

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In a way, their villainous friendship serves as a dark mirror to the pure goodness of Dragon Sound, but that perhaps gives the screenplay too much credit.

Now comes THE BEST SCENE IN THE ENTIRE FILM.  Here it is in advance, because the audio is desperately needed for this.

176)  Jim goes out to get the mail, with no shirt and his pants unzipped  (making-of info explains this mailbox was specially installed for the film, good to know!) and spends nearly a full minute just opening up the mailbox and going through the mail.

177) But it’s so worth it for what he finds…HIS FATHER!

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There is no use attempting to recap the sheer joy and glass-shattering high-pitched-ness of this.  I sympathize, I have a high voice as well.  But it just adds such a weird, man-child quality to this scene and this character.

178) Dragon Sound runs outside, obviously attracted by the high-pitched noise.  None of them except Grandmaster Y.K. Kim are wearing a shirt.  Grandmaster Y.K. Kim lets out an “OH MY GOD!” almost, but not quite as good as Jim’s.

179) Anyway, with Jim’s father coming in on a plane the next evening, Grandmaster Y.K. Kim proposes the band pool its savings of $310 to get Jim a tailored suit from “Best Suit Store.”  I used to shop there!

An inflation calculator reveals that $310 in 1987 is $638.96 in 2013.  You can actually get a pretty good suit for all that.  I mean, we’re not talking Brooks Brothers, but something that could pass pretty well at a party.  It is only on this viewing of the film that I have heard Jim’s high-pitched “I’m gonna buy a suit!”  He is almost as excited about this as meeting his dad.

180) Jim is then lifted up onto the shoulders of his shirtless (and in one case, towel-clad) friends as triumphant music plays.  This might be the single most homoerotic cinematic image of all time.

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181) Despite many, many other necessary scenes of exposition being cut out of the final film, we do see the guys getting Jim his suit.  This is actually kind of sweet, though.

182) They come home to discover Jane’s there, and is sorry she hasn’t been around, but is totally cool with Jeff’s death.  We have previously seen no reaction whatsoever from her for this tragedy that took place all of five minutes of screen time ago.

183) John is overwhelmed with emotions by this.

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184) Jane apologizes for “being gone so long” in a vaguely grandmotherly tone.  She also compliments Jim on finding his father.  I suppose the other band members told her about this while she was waiting for John to get back, but I like to pretend that people over in the next county heard him.

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185) John’s like “I feel bad, but we had to do it, we had no choice.”  There was an awful lot of straight-up murder in that fight for “no choice.”  Also, Jeff was bleeding from the head.  I guess I am too pro-Jeff to be objective about this.

186) I like how everyone mentions over and over again that Jim found his father, even as John and Jane have another horrible kiss.

187) So then they just head on over to the airport to meet Jim’s father, and I’m not sure why they even bothered stopping by the house.  Possibly to show the others what kind of suit their savings bought?

188)  But the biker ninjas are now after them, driving in their ninja pajamas in broad daylight!  Wouldn’t someone notice?  And wouldn’t those hoods adversely affect their peripheral vision?

I also wonder if Evil Band Leader is now a ninja, co-opted by Yashito’s boys.  Sometimes I wish I could stop thinking.

189) They head off our boys, which prompts this brilliantly nonchalant bit of exasperation from John:

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It’s delivered like you’d say, “Oh, a detour.”

190) John’s response is all, “Come on, leave us alone!  We have to catch a plane!”  Like he’s shooing a fly.  This line is also clearly dubbed-in.

191) But the ninjas know, you can’t get away with slicin’ a BRO.

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192) Massively bad editing ensues as the guys jump off an embankment and into what is clearly a large park several miles from the previous shot, pursued by ninjas!


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194) Jim’s nearly 30-second-long scream is met by several returned screams by Grandmaster Y.K. Kim!

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195) Seriously, he screams “JIM!” like six times.

196) There’s this shot I can’t quite screen-grab the way I want where Grandmaster Y.K. Kim is coddling Jim’s body, and in the background John just jump-kicks away a ninja sneaking up on them.

197) John kicks away another ninja while Grandmaster Y.K. Kim drags Jim to “safety” through the filthiest-looking swamp water ever (the commentary confirms it was like that in real life).  I’m pretty sure that this would not only infect his grievous chest wound with parasites, but also ruin his brand-new $310 suit, which makes me indignant.

198) Grandmaster Y.K. Kim says “Jim” like eight more times while dragging Jim through the swamp.

199) Meanwhile, John’s emotional arc takes a strange climax, as he flees into the swamp, pursued by the ninjas who just shanked his bro.

You know what this means?  BERZERKER RAGE.

Sweet lord, the screencaps here are UNBELIEVABLE.

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200) Grandmaster Y.K. Kim gets in on the action by pinning a dude in a tree and stabbing him through…the back of his chest, I’d imagine, but the way the dude’s head shoots up made me imagine something more…untoward.  What is wrong with me?

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201) Slo-mo shot of Grandmaster Y.K. Kim’s BATTLE POSE.

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In some ways, I find this tragic.  Perhaps in a Sam Peckinpah-like twist, Dragon Sound has now been infected with the violence of the ninja.

201) I can’t get a decent screenshot, but John is at this point straight-up CHASING a ninja through the swamps with his sword!

202) He gets slashed in the back by another ninja, but just turns around and stabs the dude, and gets like 10 full seconds of blood in his face.

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203) At this point, everything descends into a paroxysm of violence as John rips off his shirt and he and Grandmaster Y.K. Kim just run around massacring ninjas.

204) WAR POSE!

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209) In a strange warping of space and time, one of the surviving ninjas manages to get all the way back from Orlando to Yashito’s Miami dojo to tell him “everybody’s dead.”  Yashito’s reaction is to just decapitate him and laugh.

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I can’t really parse the logic of this, but I do like that the ninja is cut off in mid-scream as he’s decapitated.

210) Somehow, Yashito then magically appears in the park/swamp/whatever with the guys.  Like, a second later, and he’s there.  Googling turns up that it is 320 miles from Miami to Orlando.  What route did he take?  Where is his dojo located?  How long were the dudes wandering in the swamp?

211) Yashito is clearly played by different actor as he confronts Grandmaster Y.K. Kim in a swordfight that has an awful lot of them not fighting each other.

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Here’s the awesome part — according to the commentary, because the actor who played Yashito was no longer available, they just got the actor who played Jeff!  So in a way, JEFF IS BACK FOR REVENGE.

212) There are also visible grass and dirt stains on Yashito/Jeff (Jeffshito?)’s white ninja outfit.  This is why Storm Shadow always had a hard time in G.I. JOE.

213) Seemingly defeated, Yashito-Jeff grabs a hidden knife from his boot and tries to prison-shank Grandmaster Y.K. Kim…only for him to turn around and do the knife-disarming move from the earlier exhibition and stab Yashito-Jeff with his own knife!


214) Yashito-Jeff is clearly still breathing after being “killed,” though he slooowwwly collapses.  That’s not very real-looking blood, though.  He could come back!

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215)  There is a pretty excellent few seconds that’s just a few slow-motion shots of the guys running around.  Good padding!

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This ends with Grandmaster Y.K. Kim just randomly shouting “COME ON!” in slow motion.  I love that.

216) Despite Jim being forgotten the last few minutes, he’s actually still ALIVE, and they’re taking him to the hospital (John is driving, with no shirt and covered with blood).  Why couldn’t they call an ambulance, or explain all the dead ninjas to the police?  Well, that earlier fight at the trainyard did suggest they were more interested in staying out of gang violence.

217) Jim STILL cannot shut up about his father.

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218) This hospital establishing shot has more info than needed.

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219)  Jim’s dad quite possibly left his family because he could not deal with his son being older than he was.

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220) The doctor says Jim is going to be okay!  And he’s leaving him in Jim’s father’s care.  Yes, the father who hadn’t even seen his son until now, or since he was 9.  That monologue earlier was a little confusing.

221) Jim’s dad thanks Grandmaster Y.K. Kim for saving Jim’s life, and swears he’ll make up for lost time with his son.  Grandmaster Y.K. Kim addresses Jim’s dad as “Mr. Brown.”  Wouldn’t that make Jim “Jim Brown?”


…yeah, I can see it.

223) Grandmaster Y.K. Kim gets one more great moment of bad English with , “Jim is like my brudder.  I would…anything for him.”

224)  Jim’s okay!  And he gets to say the word “father” in a high voice one more time!

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225) “Jim, you are truly blessed to have such wonderful friends.  they really care about you.   And I want you to know that now…I really care too.”  PHRASING.

226) Jack, in his Dragon Sound shirt, gets to put a button on the film’s plot…

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227) And John gets in one last face.

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Hey, where’s Tom/Hall and Oates?

228) Classic ’80s ending: “Let’s all go home” and FREEZE FRAME.

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230) The closing credits feature the song “Tae Kwon Do Family.”

231) 25 years later, Grandmaster Y.K. Kim still can’t speak English very well…

232) …and still isn’t really playing the guitar.

BONUS: The original “dark” ending where Jim DOES die, and then they see a plane touching down at the airport, and John goes, “Oh no, Jim’s father is on that plane” in the flattest voice imaginable, and HOW WOULD HE EVEN KNOW THAT?

Dear god, more than 8,000 words over six days.  This was an epic.

If you’ve gotten through all this: Please buy MIAMI CONNECTION on DVD or Blu-Ray and support the fine efforts of Drafthouse Films in rediscovering such masterpieces as this.

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