This week, Albert Pyun's classic movie Cyborg is getting reissued, in a fancy director's cut. And people are finally seeing the bloody, demented film Pyun set out to make. Is it finally time for some Pyun appreciation?
We talked to the director of Cyborg, Alien From L.A., the original Captain America, and countless other cult movies, about his career making films on the cheap. One thing comes up again and again: you never quite know what bizarre obstacles fate will throw in the path of a low-budget movie-maker.
So first the exciting news — Pyun has salvaged a VHS copy of his "director's cut" of Cyborg, the movie he made in 1988 with Jean-Claude Van Damme. And Pyun is selling DVDs of this director's cut, which contains all of the crazy violence and insanity that the studio insisted on cutting to be sure of getting an "R" rating for the film. From what Pyun told DreadCentral, it sounds like both the studio and Van Damme started meddling with the editing of the film, and they also replaced the hard rock soundtrack with something less hard-hitting. So the new version promises to be a bit of a revelation.
Via DreadCentral, here are the first few minutes of Cyborg: The Director's Cut:
Click to view
Maybe a restored cut of Cyborg will be the catalyst that starts people re-evaluating the opus of Albert Pyun, one of trash cinema's godfathers? We can only hope.
Pyun has been making films for nearly 30 years — his first (and most successful) movie, The Sword and the Sorcerer, came out in 1982. He actually got his start working for Akira Kurosawa's director of cinematography, Takao Saito, as a cameraman. We asked him what he learned about movie making from Kurosawa and Saito, and he says:
Mainly about the use of composition and color to tell the story of the emotional subtext in each scene. I really try to use he frame and space within a scene to add a layer to the story. Although this has led to some pretty epic fails - lol. But I personally love movies that tell their story in this way.
And yes, this interview was conducted via email. Hence the "LOL."
The Sword and the Sorcerer was a pretty big hit for Pyun and still has an 80 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It's gotten a huge cult following, and Harry Knowles at Ain't It Cool News raves about it here, calling Lee Horsley's Prince Talon "the fantasy equivalent of Han Solo - that George Lucas and Ron Howard desperately wanted to make Val Kilmer in Willow, but just couldn't fucking do."
After that, Pyun made Radioactive Dreams, the first of many post-apocalyptic films. Radioactive Dreams is unusual in that the two main characters are Humphrey Bogart wannabes named Philip and Marlowe, who've been trapped in a fallout shelter for 15 years with nothing but Bogart films. And the film ends with them doing a weird 1930s dance number flanked by tons of dancing mutants.
We asked Pyun why he loves doing post-apocalyptic films so much. Is it just because they're cheap to make, or is it because he enjoys something about showing people surviving after the end of civilization? He responds:
Yes, it is cheap to shoot is one reason and it allows the opportunity to experiment. I also think its a way of creating an entire universe from your imagination — maybe not always a good thing with me? I think everyone's imagination is always fired up about tales of survival and how they would do under such dire circumstances. It's a morbid curiosity. They get to experience it without living it.
His movie Alien From L.A. stars supermodel Kathy Ireland as a woman who stumbles into a weird subterranean civilization — the movie's sets are actually pretty lavish and there are long scenes of catfights between women who are prisoners of a tiny gangster wearing Kabuki makeup, played by the Oompa Loompa himself, Deep Roy. Emailing with us, Pyun described this movie as "drug-induced," but when we asked him for details, all he would say is: "As I said earlier, I like worlds where I can build it entirely from my imagination. Working with Kathy was great. She's an incredibly nice low key person. not a hint of ego or vanity. A real trooper in harsh conditions and long hours." Regardless, Alien from L.A. might be the only Pyun movie to get MST3K-ed. A taste of that is on the left.
The late 1980s saw the beginning of Pyun's flirtation with superhero films. He was signed up to make two movies in 1988 that fell through — a Spider-Man film, and a sequel to He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. The rights to both projects fell through at the last minute, due to legal wrangling too complicated to go into. So Pyun had to use the sets and costumes from both Spider-Man and Masters of the Universe 2 to make a different movie, which turned out to be Cyborg. We asked him what bits of the Spider-Man and He-Man universes people should look for in Cyborg, and Pyun says:
I think its mainly in the costumes and some of the urban exterior sets. Cyborg was really created as a device to help recoup some of the prep money spent.
And then there's Pyun's Captain America, a film that's up there with Roger Corman's Fantastic Four and the made-for-TV version of Nick Fury starring David Hasselhoff as a memorial to the days when Marvel Comics' films were cheap.
It's actually not as bad a movie as people make it out to be — there are a few great scenes, like when the President throws himself off a building rather than surrender to terrorists. And it stars Matt Salinger, the son of famous literary recluse J.D. Salinger! So that's got to count for something.
We asked Pyun what advice he would give to Joe Johnston, the director of the new Captain America film, and he says:
Have a good budget, and make sure it's in the bank before you start.
By all accounts, the film was only a short way into filming when the investors suddenly yanked away its $40 million budget. Marvel Comics fronted $3 million to finish the movie, but most of the scripted sequences were never shot and a number of new, cheaper sequences were filmed in a hurry.
The 1990s saw Pyun making a slew of smaller action movies, includking Kickboxer 2: The Road Back, Kickboxer 4: The Agressor, and Bloodmatch.
But there were some weirder gems in there, too — like Dollman, the story of a tiny alien who comes to Earth and becomes a superhero. And Arcade, the movie written by David S. Goyer in which a video game takes over your brain, and you must play — or die. (Or maybe both.)
And there were also a ton of cyborg movies, following in the wake of Cyborg. Like 1992's Nemesis, in which Olivier Gruner is a part-machine, part-man police officer in a dystopian future. (There were a whopping three Nemesis sequels as well.) And Omega Doom, in which Rutger Hauer is a cyborg warrior in a post-apocalyptic world ruled by gangsta robots. And Knights, in which, as IMDB puts it, "a kickboxer and a robot lead a revolution against ruling cyborgs." And Heatseeker, in which "a kickboxing champion is forced to fight cyborgs in a tournament when the company kidnaps his fiancee."
We asked him a few questions about cyborgs:
You've featured actors as diverse as Rutger Hauer, Lance Henriksen and Kris Kristofferson as androids or cyborgs... who's your favorite cyborg/android actor?
Deborah Shelton in Nemesis was pretty cool. She pulled that off well. Scott Paulin created a unique Cyborg in Knights. A kinda whiny arrogant one.
What do you think is important to remember in playing a character who's part or all robot?
Letting the creature's programmed objective come through.
Why do cyborgs love to kick-box?
They need to stretch their joints?
A lot of people have praised the original Nemesis as one of your best films, for its deeper exploration of a cyborg's loss of humanity. Why do you think so many people single out that movie for praise, and do you think it manages to explore the themes of your cyborg works more fully than your other cyborg films?
Well, I hate to say it, but I had a decent budget and schedule on Nemesis, and the producer Ash Shah was really supportive of letting [me] run wild.
Occasionally, Pyun has gotten slightly more experimental and stripped-down with his low-budget movie-making. Like 1992's Deceit, which was reportedly filmed in a single weekend and mostly takes place in a single room, where two fugitive aliens try to convince an Earth woman to have sex with them. And 2005's Infection, where the whole thing is shot, found footage-style, with a surveillance camera in a police car's dashboard, and is a single, unedited 70-minute shot. We asked Pyun what appeals to him about doing films this way, and he says:
It usually comes from a notion of "what would it be like to...". I've always been a fan of avant garde filmmaking like the Andy Warhol films and Bergman and Godard. It's the ideas and concepts that are exciting to try.
More recently, Pyun has finally made a quasi-sequel to his first sword-and-sorcery film, called Tales of an Ancient Empire. Starring Kevin Sorbo as an obnoxious, wisecracking adventurer who hits on his own half-sister. Pyun tells us he wanted Tales to be "more character oriented, and less of the typical plot of saving the world... Just wanted to try something a bit experimental within a rather stiff genre. More like a mini-series like Rome, less like a big action adventure like Clash of the Titans (plus I had a very tiny budget)."
And now Pyun is making his first ever 3D movie, a vampire movie "using a sort of Moulin Rouge musical style." We asked him what appeals to him about working in 3D, and he says:
Just to see what can be done with the immersive quality. I really want to experiment with the form, like how sick can I make the audience. Can I induce migraines (I know many of my 2D movies have done that already — LOL).
You have to admire someone who has that degree of self-deprecation, and yet obviously still has a great love for the adventure of movie-making.
So is it finally time for Albert Pyun, after 30 years and over 40 cult movies, to get some love? We think so.