Interview: Kathee Collier Lucas (Miami Connection)

Editor's Note: Contributing writer Josh Bravo has a special connection with VDA favorite Miami Connection. The cast still live and once filmed their cult classic just a few miles from his Florida home! Josh was able to interview the film's leading lady, Kathee Lucas (nee Collier) exclusively for VDA! The following is a must-read if you love MC as I do. Kathee provided some funny, fascinating stories from the set:

JB: I feel I should start out by congratulating you for being part of something that has had so much recent success. 

KL: Thank you very much.

JB: I think a lot of people unfairly label the film a movie that is "so bad it's good". I never really liked that term. If it's good, it's good. Even if it doesn't have the best production value or the best acting. If it entertains you, it's done its job and can't really be bad. I would rather go with "It's so crazy it works". Miami Connection is so crazy that it works. 

KL: I like that. I don't think that most people realize what goes into making a film. Just a regular person without any knowledge of how to make a film can't really appreciate what Y.K. Kim pulled off. 

JB: Okay, let's go back to the beginning. Did you grow up in Florida? 

KL: I didn't. I grew up in a suburb of Chicago - Golf, Illinois. I moved here with my mom and dad in 1978. So I guess I grew up a little bit there and a little bit in Florida, that is, assuming I've grown up. (laughs) 

JB: Speaking of growing up, when did acting or even making music become something that you wanted to peruse? 

KL: I'm sure that after seeing the movie you've figured out that acting was never something I had a desire to do - not my strong point! I've been singing and playing the guitar since I was about 12 and I'm still doing it. 

JB: That's interesting. How did you go from having zero interest in acting to ending up as the female lead in this movie? 

KL: Angelo Jannotti (he character Tom in the movie) and I learned about the movie from Angelo's sister. She took photos for Y.K. Kim's book. She told us that Y.K. Kim was making a movie and needed music. Being the young dreamers that we were, we jumped at a possible opportunity to write music for a movie. So we set up a meeting with Y.K. Kim to let him hear some of our recorded music. When we walked into the martial arts school, we were not prepared for what happened next. All of sudden I was being looked at, up and down, and being asked to dance around. It was hilarious. There were like 5 guys sitting around a table with the script for the movie - written completely in Korean I might add - considering us for roles in this movie. I was freaking out. 

Next thing I knew, my name was Jane and I was to report to the UCF campus the following morning to start shooting the film. Craziest thing ever. But I did it, not even knowing the degree of craziness I would experience for the next 6 weeks. Oh, and I also had to color my hair to match the character playing my brother. I had just had my hair highlighted blonde and they needed for me to be brunette, even though the guy playing my brother was bald and wearing a hairpiece. Funny stuff! 

JB: Yeah, wearing a hairpiece and just being agro the whole time. That's a good description of him. But that's insane, seems like such a quick process. Were you guys even paid? 

KL: No, we were not. They did feed us during the filming though. I still lived with my mom and dad at the time and I was between bands so I was able to do it anyway for the experience, you know. 
JB: Yeah, of course. You said the script was completely in Korean. How did Y.K. convey the story to you? What did he say it was even about? 

KL: Y.K. and the director would tell us what to say seconds before we had to say it, and they had strong accents. 

JB: Oh, wow. So, you literally had no idea what was going on until right before the cameras rolled. 

KL: Exactly.

JB: You know, watching the movie, it feels like everybody knows each other. As if this was a movie made by a group of friends. Did everyone get along on set or was everyone a little disconnected? Especially with how quick it was moving 

KL: Most everyone were students of Y.K. I think Angelo and I were the only non-students, but everyone was super friendly.

JB: I did read that Y.K. Kim brought in a director (Richard Park) to help with the shoot. Was it a mixture of both of them giving direction? Or mostly Y.K.? 

KL: I don't think Richard Park spoke much English. I think he would relay his direction through Y.K. if I remember correctly. Did you know that Richard Park played the part of the restaurant owner? 

JB: I actually didn't! He kicked a lot of ass in that restaurant fight scene. 

KL: He sure did! 

JB: Were you on set for any of the fight scenes? 

KL: I was there for just about all of it. I did things from getting lunch for everyone to applying make-up on the actors to having all of the bikers sign release forms. 

JB: So, actress, singer, production assistant, make up - you did it all. 

KL: I'm telling you, it was crazy!

JB: Obviously, Y.K. knows what he's doing when it comes to martial arts. Watching them orchestrate these sequences had to be exciting. I mean, they're definitely some of the best parts of the film. 

KL: He sure does. I think that a lot of serious time was spent on the fight scenes. I was oblivious to it, more interested in what to wear for my next "close up." 

JB: (laughing) Going total actress mode. Did anybody ever just completely lose it on set? Whether about the story or how run-and-gun everything was? 

KL: I can't really remember any blow-ups. I slightly remember Richard Park being pretty stressed out though. Seems like we were being chased by the police a lot too. And there was a matter of who owned the rights to Angelo's and my music.

JB: Wow, really? Being chased by the police for what? Shooting without permits? 

KL: Yep, and towing a car behind a van on the beach. And I think we drove the car on the pier in Daytona. 

JB: And yet, the movie had a lot of money behind it. This wasn't like a student film. Didn't Y.K. always intend the film to go to theaters? 

KL: Yes, he did. I believe he thought it was going to be a huge success.

JB: At any point during production, did you ever think to yourself, "Oh my god, this is going to be horrible"?

KL: At every point. 

JB: I'm sure everyone did. Did you ever think about quitting? Especially when they had you running around and doing so many jobs for free? 

KL: No, never. It was so exciting for some reason. And they were all like a family that I felt part of. The only negative memory that comes to mind is when we were told that if we didn't sign the rights of our music over we would be replaced. After all the work we had done, we didn't want that so we signed it over on a bar napkin at Park Avenue on Easter Morning. Since then we got the rights to our two songs back, which cost me some money.  

JB: Speaking of the music, it's a huge part of the film. The songs are incredibly appropriate for the time. How was that process? It had to be a blast performing on stage. 

KL: It was a blast. Angelo and I were given words and phrases that had to be incorporated into the two songs we were to write. So we wrote "Against the Ninja" and "Friends". Y.K. approved the songs, we recorded them and then performed to the tracks onstage. Nobody in Dragon Sound could actually play or sing except me and Angelo. 

JB: Yeah, you could tell. How many times did that club allow you to perform on stage? 

KL: We did the whole thing in one day.

JB: Sounds about right (laughing) It's funny because we live in a time where anything antiquated really has a spot in our culture, especially music. So when this soundtrack was released it was like these songs were tailor-made for today. I had it on repeat for weeks. Did you ever record any other songs that Y.K. didn't approve? 

KL: No, just the two. It was so funny too because we couldn't get many volunteers to show up to be the audience on Easter morning at Park Avenue. So they had to just keep moving about 12 people around to make the club look full. Hilarious. 


JB: The ironic thing is you would be able to fill that club today, no problem 

KL: It's funny to me that you think so. My kids make fun of my performance.

JB: Okay, so the shoot lasts 6 weeks. The film wraps, what happened next? I know there was a premiere. Did you attend it? 

KL: Indeed I did. Along with friends and family. It was amazing to me that I was in a real movie in theaters. Nothing like seeing yourself on the big screen.

JB: I bet. It had to be a lot of fun but what I can only assume wasn't fun was reading the reviews. 

KL: It was expected. I felt worse for Y.K. than myself. I knew it was pretty much a joke, but Y.K. had high hopes and had invested his life savings. The worst thing that happened to me was I got to be in a movie that played in theaters, an experience not had by many.

JB: I've only met Y.K. Kim once but there was just something very avuncular about him. Incredibly humble. I can't even imagine what it was like when everyone reviled the film 

KL: I hadn't kept in touch with anyone so I never really got to see how Y.K. reacted to it all. He is really an amazing man that tried to do something incredible. I hope he is well and happy about the outcome.

Y.K. Kim and co-star Maurice Smith at a recent screening event.
JB: You mentioned that all the bad reviews were a bit expected. At anytime during filming, did anyone tell Y.K. that the movie might not be what he expected? Or was everyone just going along with it? 

KL: Everyone went along with it out of respect. I remember Y.K. asking us if his English was understandable and it really wasn't but everyone seemed afraid to tell him that. He ended up having to redo a lot of his lines. Nobody wanted to hurt his feelings. 

JB: Yeah, understandable. It has to be incredibly tough to tell someone that the vision they have isn't really going to pan out the way they hope. Outside of the premiere, did you go see the film again? It had a small theatrical run here. 

KL: No, I didn't but I can't remember why I didn't...

JB: Maybe it was in and out of theaters too soon. Did everyone get copies of the film? On VHS? 

KL: I didn't get one until years later. I called Y.K.'s school and asked for one and they sent me one. 

JB: Do you still have it now? 

KL: I sure do! 

JB: Don't ever get rid of that! Maybe it has some scenes that didn't make the current cut. 

KL: There was a scene on the Osteen bridge that didn't make it into the movie. There was gonna be someone falling off the bridge but they decided it was too dangerous. 

JB: (laughing) Too dangerous for a movie featuring samurai sword fights. 

JB: So this is where things get crazy! It's 25 years later, when did you hear the words Miami Connection again? 

KL: My friend from high school called me telling me that Angelo was trying to reach me because Miami Connection was being re-released. I didn't believe it but found the information about Drafthouse Films purchasing the film. I was shocked.

JB: Were you cognizant that the film was selling out midnight screenings and suddenly had a following? I mean, I can't even imagine how that feels. To not only be apart of this cult film but so many years later. I mean, it had to be so long since you even thought about the movie 

KL: You're so right. Never in a million years could I imagine this could happen. It was all over the Internet. And I read everything there was to read. It was so exciting. I heard a half hour podcast about the movie - amazing and hilarious.

JB: You can buy your songs on vinyl! You can get Dragon Sound shirts! All you're missing is action figures. 

KL: I know, crazy! I saw the action figures but I didn't see one of Jane.

JB: They need to change that! Did you see the Orlando Weekly the day of the screening? On the front page, RISE OF THE DRAGON SOUND in giant pink lettering. That had to feel like an episode of the Twilight Zone. 

KL: I didn't see that. Wish I had a copy. I saw the interviews with the other actors. They couldn't find me so I missed out.

JB: Have you watched the movie recently? 

KL: I've watched many clips online but I haven't sat down to watch the whole thing recently. My husband isn't a fan because my ex is in the film. I wish he could be a better sport about it.

JB: Well, it's streaming on Netflix now, which has to be so bizarre that you can watch yourself on there. 

KL: The whole thing is bizarre.

JB: You know, it's really something to be proud of. It's impossible to make a cult film. And this movie is so many things but the best way I would describe it is "tragically beautiful". It's made an indelible impression on me and everyone else who has seen it. I've seen a lot of movies but the screening of Miami Connection was the most fun I've ever had watching a movie 

KL: Its absolutely amazing to hear you say that. I wish I had gotten more involved in the re-release festivities. I just didn't realize what a big deal it turned out to be.

JB: I mean, the good thing is it's cemented itself in pop culture. You're now in that echelon of cult movies that people just eat up. It will always be on those lists of movies to watch with a bunch of friends. Miami Connection will be around for a long, long time 

KL: I have to say, I really do enjoy telling people that I was in the movie. I don't know anyone who can say that.

JB: I feel like there should be some sort of moral to this whole escapade. Like, to young actors, even if the movie you're in seems like a trainwreck, it could be the next Miami Connection!

KL: Yep, you never know what can happen.

JB: Imagine if you quit? Or didn't take the job. I think the whole experience paid off. Even if it took 20 years. 

KL: It was definitely worth it. I wouldn't change a thing!

JB: What do your kids think about the movie? 

KL: My daughter sings circles around me and she's only 13. Check her out on Youtube. My kids thinks it's hilarious that I was in a movie. When they heard "Against the Ninja" for the first time they couldn't stop singing it! 

JB: I know I have to let you go but before I do, if the opportunity presented itself to come back for Miami Connection Part II... 

KL: I won't hold my breath! (laughing)

The cast today!
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Trainwreck Cinema - Episode 3 -  "Miami Connection"

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