1991 / Director. Albert Pyun. Movie # 11
The late 80s and early 90s were dominated by martial arts movies with Bloodsport and Kickboxer leading the pack. Albert Pyun was in on the action with films like Heatseeker, Kickboxer 2 and Cyborg... and this film, BLOODMATCH. The story is built on a great premise and the movie had so much potential. Sadly it missed it's mark ever so slightly and was delivered in a bland and uninspired way. Having said that, it's nowhere near as bad as so many of the fight flicks of the time. Pyun regular Thom Mathews plays Brick Bardo (a famous name within the Pyuniverse) the brother of a kickboxing competitor who was killed during a criminally orchestrated match fixing scheme. To avenge his brother's death he enlists the help of a femme fatale and kidnaps all of the fighters involved. They are drugged, taped to chairs and forced to fight Bardo to the death - all of them witness to each other's fight. It's a great concept and an original spin on the regular revenge fight movie, which makes it all the more disappointing that it never takes flight. Firstly for such a brutal concept, it's mostly talk. There is hardly any action at all until the 45 minute mark and once the kickboxing ramps up, it still feels timid. It's literally a dark film too with the background shrouded in a constant blackness. Small glimpses of light show us that the movie was shot in an arena, however with the shadowed backdrop, it could have been filmed anywhere - and perhaps it was. Maybe that was Albert's trickery and if so, then a backflip of kudos. BLOODMATCH was released the same year as KICKBOXER 2, which I consider to be one of the best martial arts films of the 90s. I wonder which movie actually came first and what the backstory is. Both have such drastically different direction and aesthetics. If I can get Albert to shed some light on this then I'll report back to you. BLOODMATCH is certainly not the worst of it's kind but it meanders somewhere in the middle. Just the slightest bit of zing would have lifted it.
In some territory's the film is called BLOODCHAMP.
1987 / Director. Albert Pyun. Movie # 5
Whenever Albert Pyun's talents are brought into question I draw attention to movies like DOWN TWISTED. Right through the 80s and 90s he made a whole heap of zingers and this one was a whole lot of fun. In some territories the film is know as THE TREASURE OF SAN LUCAS, which is an equally apt title. It's about a regular girl who lives a quiet life. One night while on the way to the library she finds herself caught up in series of criminal dealings when she is mistaken for her roommate who was supposed to deliver a locker key to dangerous smugglers. Tied up on a yacht with a businessman who was also caught up in the mix-up, they jump ship and swim to shore. Now stuck somewhere in South America with crooks on their trail they must find a way to safety and prove themselves innocent. Nothing is what it seems and the story takes all kinds of twists and turns, keeping the viewer on their toes. This is a whole lot of fun and watching it reminds me a lot of ROMANCING THE STONE. It's a quality movie and hugely overlooked. In fact its never received any kind of DVD release and finding it on VHS is near impossible. Such a shame too because it deserves to be remembered alongside some of the more prominent comedy-action-adventures of the 80s. Pyun's control is showcased with fantastic action sequences, inventive cinematography and his knack for a killer soundtrack. DOWN TWISTED also features Courteney Cox in her film debut. If you pay any attention to Albert's career you find that he's been responsible for a lot of successful Hollywood careers. He obviously has an eye for talent.
If you live in Melbourne then keep your eyes peeled for upcoming screenings of Albert's films. DOWN TWISTED will definitely be on the lineup!
2006 / Director. Albert Pyun. Movie #46
My patience is really tested by films like COOL AIR and even my dogged devotion to Albert Pyun cannot compel me to heap praise on this horrible movie. The story is a loose adaptation of an HP Lovecraft short story about a struggling writer who seeks accommodation and accepts a room in a large hillside house. No sooner than he moves in he begins to smell an obnoxious odour coming from a secret and forbidden room upstairs. The room belongs to a bed-ridden doctor who keeps the temperature at sub-zero temperatures, keeping his flesh from decomposing. The story itself is a good one and while I haven't read Lovecraft's story, I know that it's aesthetically and thematically different to this adaptation. One of the qualities that draws me to Albert's work is his strong visual style. He has created some amazing worlds and where his often lacks substance in story, he compensates with vivid and appealing designs. COOL AIR is the complete lack of all of that. The story should lend itself to a gothic, classic retelling but instead it has been filmed inside a bare, ugly modern mansion. There is almost nothing appealing to the eye and the compositions are bland, boring and uninspiring. I have no idea what Albert shot the film with but it looks a lot like a regular mini-dv camcorder. The only way to adapt a story like this is to have a good production value. A soundstage would lend itself brilliantly. It's pretty shonky. The performances are decent enough, however, with little substance to work with the actors come off a lot worse than they should. The original short story is told though narration, which would work well in writing but this movie emulates that aspect and becomes really grading. Oddly COOL AIR was made between two quality Pyun films. I get the sense that Albert was keen to fill in time and this proved a simple, inexpensive and straight forward shoot. If it were a student film I might be impressed but it's no. Its the product of a movie veteran. It ranks right down the bottom with some of his worst movies but considering that i love so much of Albert's work, I can easily over look this one. To be honest I am surprised that Lionsgate even released it on dvd... especially when they're release came early this year - some 7 years after it was made.
1998 / Director. Albert Pyun. Movie # 32
Albert Pyun told me that POSTMORTEM was amongst the films he's most proud of because it was one of his few exercises in mainstream filmmaking. It proved to people that he wasn't just a B-movie director and he was capable of breaking free of that mould. It is by far his most accessible film and possibly one of his more controlled and restrained. Charlie Sheen stars as a retired American forensic detective living in Scotland. He lives in a remote house isolated from people, struggling to escape the demons of his previous case. Shortly after a tabloid TV program attempts to muckrake him he receives an obituary via fax of a girl who's still alive. The next day she is found dead in his yard and he is arrested for her murder. As the bodies pile up he is dropped as a suspect and asked to lend his expertise on the case. POSTMORTEM plays out very nicely. It's an understated film and underrated. During the mid to late 90s after a decade of bankable titles and before he made his big comeback on television, Sheen hit a slump and pumped out a string of direct to video releases. Movies like BAD DAY ON THE BLOCK, NO CODE OF CONDUCT, LETTERS FROM DEATH ROW and of course POSTMORTEM. No surprises when I say that I actually like those films and POSTMORTEM is easily the best. It has a decent script, a good story and solid performances. Notable actors such as Gary Lewis, Stephen McCole and Ivana Miličević lend extra confidence and combined with a dreary Scottish atmosphere and good cinematography it strikes a chord. It feels very much like an instalment of PRIME SUSPECT and could be easily mistaken for one. When it comes to Albert Pyun's films I prefer him working in a cultish B-movie realm but a film such as this goes a long way in subduing his critics. It is slightly overlong with an inflated end-scene but that's about as far as I'd want to go with criticisms. I have seen POSTMORTEM a few times and it's strength far outweighs it's negatives.
Terrible American trailer. Does the film NO justice!
1995 / Director. Albert Pyun. Movie #22
HEATSEEKER is classic Pyun. Having made several martial arts films including KICKBOXER 2, KICKBOXER 4 and BLOODMATCH Albert Pyun returned to the genre that he seems at ease with the most. He's also no stranger to sci-fi and in HEATSEEKER he combined both. Set in the not too distant future half of Earth is populated with cyborg technology. Bio-enhancements are the new steroids and giant corporations dominate the world. The world's largest corporation, Sianon Corp, holds an international martial arts tournament on a remote island where cybertronic companies compete to showcase their most enhanced cyborg technology. As a drawcard Sianon invites the worlds best human fighter to participate. When he declines the corporation kidnaps his girlfriend and forces him into the competition. Pitted against opponents of super human strength it's a brutal contest of muscle vs machine. Despite being made in '95 HEATSEEKER feels like a classic 80s action movie, which is to it's credit. The film is tight and moves along quickly. There isn't a lot of mucking around or overblown melodrama. Pyun handles the action really well with the camera being used creatively. Of course having that 80's feel means that the fight sequences are packed with those cheesy sound fx. Each point of contact is compounded with wonderful biffo noises, as though someone whacked an electronic drum kit. I love this stuff. It takes me back to good times when movies were raw and action was sweaty. The VFX are nicely done and the moments of flesh being torn open to reveal metal are just awesome. If you loved KICKBOXER or BLOODSPORT then you will get a kick out of HEATSEEKER. Throw in some CYBORG and UNIVERSAL SOLDIER and you've got a nostalgic and forgotten gem.
If the movie had starred a bigger name like Jean Claude Vanne Damm or Steven Segal then it's reception and longevity would have been secured. The only way I was able to get my hands on the film was by way of German import and I've got to say... it's never looked better!
1989 / Director. Albert Pyun (credit removed) Movie #8
& Rusty Lemorande
With respect to Albert Pyun, it's important that I acknowledge the fact that he voluntarily removed his name from this movie. This is another example of studio interference completely wrecking a film and it is yet again another moment in Albert's career when he was never given the respect he deserved. JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH was not the original working title and Albert had made the film as a sequel to his popular ALIEN FROM LA. Before he was able to complete it Cannon Films snatched the project from his grasp and spliced it together with a similarly themed film, which was being directed by Rusty Lemorande. What WERE two individual, fully envisioned & highly conceptual adventure movies ended up being mashed together and morphed into a steaming heap of shit. There is absolutely no coherent or tangible storyline whatsoever. It begins in Hawaii where a British woman finds herself stuck in a cave with two brothers and their little sister. Trapped when a volcanic eruption seals the cave entrance they are forced to move deeper into the twisted subterranean caverns. Eventually they fall into a gateway which leads them to Atlantis, the setting from ALIEN FROM LA. Suddenly the older brother and younger sister are absent from the rest of the movie. They simply cease to exist and the two remaining characters are unexpectedly set aside to make way for a new storyline about Atlantis planning a full scale attack on the surface world. Watching JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH made me angry. Not only had CANNON wronged two deserving filmmakers but they had also demonstrated an absolute contempt and disrespect for the audience. Weird dream sequences attempt to make use of extracted footage with weird monsters, trolls and goblins appearing from nowhere, contributing NOTHING to the story. Emo Phillips even appears for all of 30 seconds, which was a HUGE mind-fuck for me... I love the guy but seriously - WTF? The bulk of the footage used was taken from Albert's film and for what it's worth it looks great. He recaptured the same post-punk, grungy wasteland that made the first movie awesome and the subterranean characters are wonderful. I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to see Albert's intended sequel in it's entirety because he clearly had a vision. I can only imagine the heartbreak of having a project you've laboured over being ripped from underneath you and bastardised beyond recognition. Albert was right to disown the film, but out of respect for his craft and the work he put into it I feel that it's important to include it in this retrospective series.
1988 / Director. Albert Pyun Movie #6
When I watch Albert Pyun's ALIEN FROM LA my eyes light up like a giddy school boy at Christmas time. Yet again, this is the stuff of my childhood. Movies like this fuel my passion for cinema. Taking queues from Jules Verne, the story redefines the legend of Atlantis. An archaeologist believes that thousands of years ago an alien civilisation landed on Earth and their space craft served as a floating city until it sank when the seas erupted from beneath. The city was lost but the inhabitants survived. When the archaeologist falls into bottomless pit while on expedition in Africa, his daughter follows in search of him. She too falls into the hole and finds herself in a weird and incredible subterranean civilisation. The initial set-up is really hokey but once we find ourselves in this fantastical undiscovered world it becomes such a wonderful ride. Visually this is about as good as Albert gets. The underworld landscapes and architecture are wonderfully conceived and the colours are vibrant and surreal. The movie plays like Wizard of Oz meets Mad Max... The music is forced at times but with such a bizarre otherworldly aesthetic it adds to the charm. The clarity of the picture on the DVD I watched was fantastic. The movie's never looked so fresh... unfortunately the DVD was modified for a 4:3 presentation and so much of the film's charisma was lost. I would LOVE (love love love) to see ALIEN FROM LA in a widescreen presentation. If I can get my hands on that, I will screen the movie for you... for free. If you love movies from the 80s like The Neverending Story or Big Trouble in Little China then you have to check this out... It's essential 80s viewing. One year and two movies later Albert returned and made a sequel, which was plainly titled JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH. I will get to that shortly. What a double feature it would make!
2010 / Director. Albert Pyun. Movie #47
Of all of Albert Pyun's films, BULLETFACE is the most challenging. It's also unlike anything he's made previously and aside from a few trademarks you wouldn't pin it as "Pyun". Right from the get go this is one fucked up movie. A DEA agent (Dara) finds herself arrested and locked up in sort of penal colony in Mexico. Regular gang rape and beatings are just part of the seedy and corrupt happenings in this place and we soon learn that the prison officials are harvesting prisoner organs... as if this isn't fucked up enough her brother is murdered on the outside by a drug lord who is cooking up a new drug from the spinal fluid of living humans. The addicts of this new drug include law enforcement and in a deal to help bring down this drug lord, Dara is let out for 60 hours to exact a bloody revenge. BULLETFACE really is unlike anything else. It was a gutsy story for Albert to take on and I guess with his new found independence at the time, it was a risk worth taking. The film was shot on a DV Varicam and it takes some time adjusting to the style - but before long it becomes clear that Albert has control and he uses the DV format as though it were film. The framing and angles are top-notch and he resists the hand-held look (thank God) wherever possible. The editing is also impressive and a lot more experimental than Pyun usually allows. It is an ugly and unforgiving film with some truly abhorrent stuff put on screen, but all of it is essential to telling this story. If you're a fan of subversive film making then this might be worth a look to you. Having watched it once I have been feeling compelled to see it again. I did have a few issues with it, however, including an over abundance of title cards through out the film. It became irritating that for almost every change of scene, a title appeared to tell us the location. These weren't necessary and my irritation distracted me a fair bit. Having said that, the film otherwise flows well. I haven't hit the message boards and forums yet but I imagine a whole lot of back-lash surrounding BULLETFACE. Its going to upset a lot of people and it's going to be misunderstood. If you see it I think it deserves to be processed before forming a conclusion. Let it stew in your mind for a while... it's still mulling around in mine.
Note: Albert has recorded a commentary for the film but I haven't had a chance to check it out. When I do I will report back with some further insight.
2001 / Director. Albert Pyun. Movie #35
The reason Albert Pyun cops such a bad rap is because the studios would often take away his films and recut them. This is why the last several films of his career have been entirely independent. Wherever he's been able to Pyun has put together director's cuts of these titles. Cyborg and Captain America have been two of his more prominent ones and one of my personal favourites is TICKER. This is probably his most extreme alternative cut in terms of being significantly different to the version released by Nu Image and Artesian Entertainment. After taking the film away from Albert Nu Image changed the setting from Chicago to San Francisco and used a shit load of archive footage from other films to pad it out. I recall watching the home video version and it was pretty awful... ie another typical direct-to-video piece of fluff. Nu Image recut Albert's film to capitalise on Steven Seagal's name. This was at a time when Seagal's career was transitioning from A grade Hollywood to D grade gutter trash. The Nu Image cut perpetuated that transition buy making it a Segal vehicle but if they had let Albert's vision become realised the film would have been a respectable addition to his catalogue. With an impressive cast also including Tom Sizemore, Dennis Hopper and Ice-T, TICKER is a well constructed action-thriller about an IRA terrorist playing games with an elite bomb squad. This version sees Seagal stepping back into a co-starring role rather than the lead and it plays out in a far more subtle and engaging way. Pyun's knack for action is strong and his new cut is well edited and makes more sense. All of the performances are decent... Hopper, as usual, is shit at accents and his Irish tongue is atrocious. Nevertheless his onscreen presence is affective and considering that he only worked on the film for one day, what Pyun has achieved with him is a testament to his skill. Albert's cut does suffer from a weird and irrelevant opening credit sequence and finishes on a rather tacky end scene but just about everything in between works for me. The only problem with these unsolicited director's cuts is that Albert is forced to use footage from wherever he can get it. There's a hell of a lot of work-print and temp-footage, which make the film look like a 3rd or 4th generation VHS dub. Pyun has made the most of it, though, even if there are some moments lacking audio... but these things can't be helped. If only he was given the opportunity to release his director's cuts with an official budget. Maybe then the world would come to understand the man's talent some more and he would receive the respect he so deserves.
1986 / Director. Albert Pyun. Movie #3
As I work my way through the comprehensive career of Albert Pyun it is his earlier films that excite me the most. Fresh on the scene and full of energy his movies packed vibrance. His follow up to the impressive post apocalyptic classic RADIOACTIVE DREAMS was the equally dazzling DANGEROUSLY CLOSE. Combining retro pop hits from the 80s with an arresting and vivid aesthetic it tells the story of a vigilante society roaming the hallways of an elite college who take it upon themselves to weed out the unworthy students... the disadvantaged, the minorities, the ethnics and everyone else they consider to be undesirable. At first their methods are annoyingly troublesome but their hatred soon boils over into a vicious, dangerous and violent campaign of eradication. Pyun handled the material impressively and his gift for strong, visceral filmmaking is unmistakable. His use of colours and cinematography is truly awesome. His use of location and surrounding elements also conjures up thoughts of some of the great music video directors of that era... Russell Mulcahy comes to mind. The mid to late 80s were full of high school themed movies, from satirical comedies like HEATHERS... to schlocky b-movies like CLASS OF NUKE'EM HIGH and poignant teen angst classics like THE BREAKFAST CLUB. With this underrated and largely forgotten film Albert Pyun has contributed to the genre with an impressively dark and pertinent thriller. Up there with his best.
2013 / Director. Albert Pyun. Movie #50
Today I was lucky enough to have been invited to watch a test screening of Albert Pyun's ROAD TO HELL. It is a spiritual sequel to Walter Hill's awesome rock 'n roll fable, Streets Of Fire. Michael
2007 / Director. Albert Pyun. Movie #47
I am determine to work my way through every Albert Pyun film and the next one in my Pyun retrospect series is LEFT FOR DEAD. This is Albert's stab at a spaghetti western and of his post 2000 films, I think it's his best looking one. It's a very stylish movie and reaffirms that despite his notorious reputation for making bad films, he most certainly knows how to point a camera. I've always considered him to be a seasoned pro at directing action. Even in his truly bad movies, his sense of style comes through. The story is good, too, but is let down by some sub-par acting. Most of the cast are non-English speaking actors and they're never able to connect with the dialogue... not that the dialogue is great. It tells the story of a lone gun-woman on the trail of a rapist. She tracks him to an abandoned mining town, which has a sinister history. She runs into a posse of prostitutes who are hunting for the same man. Also walking the streets around them is the vengeful ghost of a murdered preacher. It's a western story unlike any other and its originality is what binds this intriguing film together. It might test many people's patience but I guess I approached it with an Albert Pyun frame of mind. It was his first time shooting in HD and he shot the whole thing in 7 days on location in Argentina. It's quite an achievement. He has also made use of the landscape really well. The buildings have an otherworldly feel about them and the movie was colour corrected in post production. I am a sucker for these types of artificial aspects. The strange setting and post production adjustments make Left For Dead a surreal and alternative addition to the western genre... with a hint of horror thrown in for good measure. I am always generous with Albert Pyun films and I like to think that I understand his vision on a deeper level... therefore I rate this one well. Better acting would have made it wonderful.
1993 / Director. Albert Pyun. Movie #17
Returning to my ongoing Albert Pyun retrospective, today's feature is ARCADE. Conceived and produced by Charles Band this movie is a low budget shot at the early 90s fad of virtual reality CGI adventures. Taking cues from Tron and Lawnmower Man (with a hint of The labyrinth), Arcade tells the story of a new pre-release computer game with an evil agenda. Teenagers are invited to the game's launch where they are given modified take-home versions. Once they connect with the game they are zapped into a virtual world of deadly tunnels, treacherous microchip deserts and giant computerised dragons. They find themselves trapped and their only way to escape is to complete all 9 levels and defeating the maniacal central program, Arcade. This is a super fun movie and it showcases most of the reasons why I love Albert Pyun. He has a knack for style that few people give him credit for. His flare for lighting, cameral angles and framing is under-appreciated. The lame 90s CGI is, of course, amusing but it's also charming and for most gen-Xers it's a nice piece of nostalgia. The movie suffered various production issues including the entire virtual reality world being re-designed in post. Glimpses of the original VFX can be seen on the VideoZone feature on the dvd. If it weren't for the swearing Arcade would be a fantastic flick for kids... but these teenage characters are potty mouthed and given that Pyun originally considered it a horror film, its target audience was for older teens. Legendary Hollywood writer David S Goyer (Dark Knight, Blade, Man of Steel etc) penned this one and his writing lends the movie an added hook. Its the second time Pyun and Goyer have teamed up following Kickboxer 2 and their brief collaboration was fairly solid for the type of films they were making. I highly recommend ARCADE so long as you can suspend your disbelief and watch it with a nostalgic frame of mind. Seeing a young Seth Green act like a douchey teenage dick is also of great amusement. I will be screening this movie very soon alongside Doctor Mordrid and so if you're in Melbourne I invite you to come along for a night of B-Movie magic. Stay tuned!
2010 / Director. Albert Pyun. Movie #49
The 1982 film The Sword and the Sorcerer ended with the promise of a sequel. 28 years later, it arrived. It's no secret that I am a fan of Albert Pyun's work and I grant him a lot of consideration, however, Tales of an Ancient Empire is a dud. To call it a sequel is a massive stretch. It bares no relation that I can see aside from Lee Horsely reprising his role (presumedly) as Talon for all but 5 minutes of the movie. He is referred to as "The Stranger" and so it's a huge assumption that this is supposed to be Talon. The movie stars Kevin Sorbo and Michael Pare and tells the story of a kingdom overrun by a Vampire queen. The movie begins with a tedious 15 minute opening credit sequence, which sabotages the rest of it. It's a convoluted tale of family lineage and heroics and it's very scattered. The performances are sub-par and inconsistent and the intricacies of who's related to who are not fleshed out enough to make it coherent for the viewer. It's a huge shame because for the most part the film looks great. Pyun's visual style is strong and the production value is good. For an estimated $1M he has produced a polished looking film. If only it had been a fair continuation of The Sword and the Sorcerer as promised, then some of its misgivings could have been forgiven. I am stumped as to why Albert abandoned the established storyline that had become so loved by fans for over twenty years. Surely he owed them more than this and using the same title, which he had boldly promised is a real slap in the face.... and has he done it again? Tales From An Ancient Empire finishes with a familiar promise of yet another sequel, Red Moon. Is it 30 years away? Will it abandon this story? It remains to be seen.
1982 / Director. Albert Pyun. Movie #1
Continuing my ongoing Albert Pyun retrospective, I have recently revisited his first and most successful film, The Sword and the Sorcerer. It tells the story of a mercenary warrior, Talon, who discovers his royal heritage while helping a princess defeat an evil sorcerer tyrant. It's a simple S&S story, made well and shot nicely. It's an impressive debut from Pyun and he clearly understands the cliches and syrupy nature of the genre and so with a tongue planted firmly in his cheek, he made a fantasy movie that feels classic. Watching it I was reminded of some of the older Hurcules films and Jason and the Argonauts. At the time of its release it was surrounded by an avalanche of likeminded films such as Beastmaster, Conan the Barbarian, Excalibur, Dragonslayer, Krull and a heap more. Sword & Sorcery was an unquenchable flavour at the time and had Albert's film not been churned up in the fold, I have no doubt it would have fared even better. Thankfully audiences are smart and time has been kind to The Sword and the Sorcerer. It has appreciated over the years and its use of practical effect and fantastic make up has given it a longevity. Despite a few brief moments of graphic violence and women's jubblies, I would suggest it's a great film for tweenage boys. I think it stands up well. The film ends with a title card, which reads "Watch for Talon's next adventure Tales of the Ancient Empire coming soon". Cut to 28 years later.