Sunday, July 6, 2014

Nemesis (Albert Pyun, 1992)

I can’t even say how many times I’ve watched Nemesis since I first discovered it on tape, and like with many other movies it’s been an interesting road from that crappy fullscreen, low resolution version to the glorious HD version in correct ratio that premiere just a few weeks ago. I’ve been a fan of director Albert Pyun as long as I can remember, and I tried so many times in the dawn of the Internet to find him, to mail him, to talk to him. I guess I was a little stalker at the time! I didn’t succeed, until he showed up and became a fan favorite on Facebook and since then - and some years before that - people have slowly started to recognize his talents. But I was the first one to appreciate him for real, in a non-ironic way. Don’t forget that.

Nemesis is an oddity, it’s actually quite far away from the typical DTV adventures, mostly by being superior in every way possible to them all. Pyun is brave enough to continue his interesting mix of arty farty with mainstream action and creates something as unique as a Cyborg Noir with a big dash of John Woo. But before it was cool. It tells the story of Alex Rain (Olivier Gruner - sporting no less than 4 % body fat at the time!), a former LA cop who was shot to pieces and now is a half-machine surviving by smuggling data. The government finds him again and forces him, with the help of a bomb in his body, to make one last mission into hostile territory - but Alex finds out there’s more sinister plans going on behind his back…

Yeah, add a little bit of RoboCop, Terminator, Escape from New York and… Johnny Mnemonic (before it was made!) and you have Nemesis. But it’s not just a copycat film, a rip-off, even if a couple of scenes might be a little similar to its more famous counterparts. Pyun creates a very mysterious atmosphere, almost a poetic stance on the cyborg genre with some interesting gender bender qualities. Even Alex, being the macho hero he is, manages to come out as a good man, a soft-spoken, sensitive person - even if he’s half-cyborg. Many of the character names are switched, which means men have female names and the opposite - or just using very vague or unisex-themed names. The women are strong, sometimes crazy, and in the middle of it is a lengthy scene of soon-to-be-star Thomas Jane doing a completely nude scene. What’s not to love with this film?

But the action is what makes this film stand out. The action scenes are so vivid, so creative, so fucking crazy it’s amazing to watch. Using a lof steadicam and twisted angles, slow-mo and gorgeous wide shots of the mayhem, this is still stands out as one of the best in the genre. It’s so unique and cool that some of the sequences and ideas has been “stolen” by big Hollywood films, and even if Nemesis itself takes some inspiration from Hong Kong’s heroic bloodshed genre, it manages to take on the genre by itself and never ever becomes boring to watch.

Nemesis is a movie that has to be seen to be believed. And that’s by the new blu-ray from Platinum Cult Edition, a distribution company based in Germany, is so welcome! For the first time we get to see Nemesis in it’s original ratio and in a very fine HD transfer. Also included is the Japanese edit, probably ripped from a laserdisc and low resolution version of the very obscure new cut, with added digital effects - I haven’t seen any of them yet, but the box also includes HD versions of Nemesis 2, 3 and 4! I’ve only had time to watch part 2 yet, and it looks very good!

It’s wonderful to live in a time where movies like this gets the royal treatment from it’s distributor and Platinum Cult Edition have done a marvelous job together with Albert Pyun himself to give these films a new life. They REALLY deserve it! You can buy the box here, it’s worth every dime!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Captain America: The THAI DVD!

Ah, how Albert Pyun's CAPTAIN AMERICA continues to go around the world. Check out the Avengerized artwork!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Kickboxer 4: The Aggressor (1994)

Albert Pyun is back in the director's chair in Kickboxer 4: The Aggressor, which also introduces Tong Po (this time played by Van Damme regular Kamel Krifa) back into the Kickboxer-saga. This means several things - It was probably shot very, very fast, it features at least one of Pyun's "own" actors, this time Nicolas Guest and, as usual, an interesting musical score by Tony Riparetti. For us "pyunboys" this is good stuff, we want it to be this way. It's like meeting old friends once again, it's safe and we know what we're getting.

It has a good start, a typical Pyunginning. A voice-over, someone recollecting the past, it's dark and edgy compared to part 3 and in a nice montage from the first two movies we learn how David Sloan (good ol' Sasha!) now is in prison after being wrongfully accused of killing a drug lord (well, he DID killed a drug lord and tried to take the body from Mexico to the US, so maybe he's guilty anyway...). Now he gets a chance to get out with helping the cops to go undercover and once and for all take down Tong Po - who also happens to have kidnapped his wife! David must now enter an illegal tournament and kick some ass once again!

Pyun really tries hard with his meager budget to go back to the seriousness of the old movies and he almost succeeds! The first part is damn fine, with a good performance from Sasha Mitchell and some short but effective burst of violence. Tong Po is this time even more over-the-top (and with a less effective make-up), a comic book villain played with a sense of humour. Here another of Pyun's trademarks shows up: the quirky, off-beat comedy - which is an odd thing in a movie like this, but when the budget is so low and the shooting schedule probably was shorter than a normal working week, it just adds some odd charm to the story. The scene where Tong Po tries to play sitar is both fun and unexpected.

My biggest problem with Kickboxer 4 is the last half hour. I'm pretty sure it just wasn't time to choreograph and shoot a better fight, but even with Pyun's standard it's pretty weak - and sloppily made. After some slow-moving pre-fights in the main arena, the end fight is basically David and Tong Po stumbling around in the garden (and on a dinner-set long table) in a very not-so-impressive "fight". It just doesn't seemed to had been time for much rehearsals...  I'm a big fan of Pyun and very forgiving because I know under which circumstances he worked, but I know he can do better than this! The rest of the film is packed with stylish cinematography, some imaginative directing and a decent cast.

But what makes it interesting for us pyunboys is the atmosphere. The editing, the music, the noir-ish voice-over in the beginning. That special, almost surrealistic and poetic form of filmmaking that Pyun is unique for. I doubt others will see it, but we who have lived with the guy for our whole lives can smell it, sense it. That's what makes even a very generic kickboxing-film like this interesting.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Kickboxer 2: The Road Back (1991)

Of course it didn't take long until there was a sequel out to the highly successful Jean-Claude Van Damme classic Kickboxer, but this time without JCVD and with a new director doing his job, the one and only Albert Pyun. Like all good exploitation sequels a new character is introduced, the unknown brother (well, he's never mentioned in the first movie) David Sloan, played with charming charisma by Sasha Mitchell. He's not Van Damme, but isn't bad at all. I entered this viewing experience with some hesitation. I love and respect Albert Pyun, I've been a fan of his work since my teens, but I never really heard any good stuff about Kickboxer 2: The Road Back. That's of course a fact about most movies from the "Pyuniverse", but as usual that's just a sign of the stupidity of mankind. Pyun is awesome and will always be awesome, no matter the budget. I might one of the few that absolutely adore Heatseeker for example. Where's the special edition, restored blu-ray release of that one?

Anyway. In Kickboxer 2 the last of the Sloan brothers continues his family's legacy by working at kickboxing club/gym he owns. One day the greedy Justin Maciah enters the gym and offers David to be a kickboxing superstar. He, of course, says no and instead his friend and student Brian (Vince Murdocco) signs up for fame and money - but it's all very sinister, because behind Maciah is the EVIL Thai (most Thai's in kickboxing-movie is very evil it seems) businessman Sangha, played by the awesome and cool Japanese actor Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (remember, in the US all Asians look the same!) and he wants to set up David against... Tong Po! Yeah, the ultra-mean bastard from the first movie (who also - we learn - killed the two other Sloan brothers since last time we saw him). Lucky for David, Xian (Dennis Chan) shows up very unexpected and learns him to be THE BEST KICKBOXER IN THE WORLD!!! Something like that.

Kickboxer 2 probably had a smaller budget than the first one and everything is shot in and around the gym and the arena, so don't expect jungles and explosions here. But this is also a good time to point out that Albert Pyun is THE best director to handle a sudden loss of budget, few locations and short of time to shoot the friggin' thing. He just knows that what the audience need is a lot of stylish camera work and better and bloodier fights. And he delivers. Everything is very similar to the first movie, but without the exotic locations, and even if it starts of quite slow it soon builds up to be a damn fine sequel - with the same amount of cheesy soft rock hits that populated the first film. The fights is brutal. Lots of slow-mo, feet crashing into faces, blood spurting all over the floor and the heaviest use of swollen make-up since Raging Bull.

Most people would never consider a movie like this a good movie, but hey... it delivers what you expect it to deliver. It's quick and dirty entertainment, made with talent and style and less money than what you probably earn during a year. I like it that way. Little money often boosts the creativity of the filmmakers and Pyun is one of those who always finds a solution. His movies has been fucked with his whole career, from the studios to the critics and audiences - but they sell and he's continuing to quirky stuff that no one else would do. This film belongs to the less quirky stuff, far from oddities like Hong Kong '97 and Radioactive Dreams, but is fine piece of silly action.

Kickboxer 2: The Road Back has so much cheese you can build a moon of it. Quote me if you want. I'll stand by my words.

Saturday, March 19, 2011


I was THRILLED to get my Cyborg Director's Edition, which I will no think of as SLINGER, in the mail.  Director Albert Pyun was signing each copy sold and I was thrilled to see a "how would you like it signed" box on the order form.
Now, anyone that knows me can attest to my rather wordy nature. Hell, you are reading this, so you know. If you ever need a thousand plus words on an Italian Adam and Eve exploitation film, I'm your guy...  So here is what I requested--and received!!

"From the edges of THE PYUNIVERSE...straight to a PYUNIVERSAL SOLDIER...THE SLINGERS SHALL RISE!!"  - Signed by Albert Pyun.
Yes, there is a happy nerd typing this right now.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Sunday, November 14, 2010

An Interview with Albert Pyun

I got an email from an Albert Pyun fan today, and I'm pleased to put his interview with the man up online for all to read!  Thanks very much to Marco Freitas, B.A. in Film-Columbia College, Hollywood, film buff and genre supporter!  Take it away Marco and Albert!

1-Were you a film buff while being raised in Hawaii?
Oh yes. I would try to see everything especially foreign films and a lot of Asian cinema which was popular in Hawaii.

Let us know some of your earliest cinematic childhood memories 

I remember a Japanese studio called Toho built a spectacular cinema that was designed to look and feel like a temple. It was always magical to see films there. And I remember seeing Dr. No and From Russia With Love as a double bill really had an impact on me as a child. When I was older, 2001:A Space Odyssey and A Fistful of Dollars had strong impressions on me for their visuals an original creative sensibilities. I think my film making style is greatly influenced by seeing Godard, Bunuel, Leone and Bergman growing up. I loved their films. Each time it was so exciting to see how they would push the edges of cinema.
2-Can you tell what were the most important lessons you´ve got from Akira Kurosawa?

Preparation and total focus. The artistry I learned from his cinematographer Takao Saito (RAN, DODESKADEN, DREAMS). He taught about using composition and color to tell story, and reveal characters.

How did you become a protegé of legendary star Toshiro Mifune?

He saw a short film I had done and knew it was difficult for an Asian in Hollywood at that time. So he really supported my dream to become a feature filmmaker.

3-Please Talk about your sword-and-sandal influences (the Italian films of the subgenre peplum?) and sword-and-sorcery influences before conceiving SWORD AND THE SORCERER.
I was not influenced at all by the sword and sandal films. I really didn't care for them or the Sinbad type fantasy that was being made. It was really Richard Lester's The Three Musketeers and John Milius' The Wind and the Lion that were my biggest influences with The Sword and the Sorcerer.
3-The two lead characters in RADIOACTIVE DREAMS act like they don´t belong in the futurist era they live. Your films are mostly set in different ages and/or there a parallel there with your own person?

I guess there is, yes. I've always felt out of step and time with the film world but never more than now! The film world has changed so much since I started making films. So I do feel a bit out of place now. A bit of a relic.
The reason I select different ages or civilizations is I'm drawn to creating an entire world from my imagination. Always have been. Not the world as it is but as it might be.

4-Your movies have a very distinctive visual sense and atmosphere. A great cinematographer (George Moradian) was your DP in many projects. Can you tell us about your working partnership and the creating of the LOOK in some of your movies together?

The collaboration with George was certainly very productive and exciting. George and I see the world with the same eyes. We both share the same belief that storytelling in film is visual. George is an absolutely fearless and aggressive cinematographer. He actually came in and shot a few days on Tales of an Ancient Empire. He and I are dangerous together!
When creating a look, I look in the script for underlying meaning and themes that I can bring out visually. 

5-RAVENHAWK, CYBORG, OMEGA DOOM, KNIGHTS and parts of the NEMESIS movies look like ´Spaghetti Westerns not set in the Old West´. Please tell us your western cinema influences.

Yes those were all influenced by Leone's operatic and theatrical stylization. My recent film, Left for Dead, is particularly that style of grand theater.
6-MEAN GUNS has a very ´Chinese Action Movie´ feel, with all the kinetic camerawork and intense shootout scenes. BLOODMATCH, KICKBOXER 2 and 4 are martial arts features. What Hong Kong filmmakers you ´emulate´ the most?

I think King Hu was a big influence as was Tsui Hark. I love their films. And Raymond's Chow ideas.
7-There are many tales of tampering from producers/distributors;money men in your movies and TICKER is supposed to have been heavily cut. What is the real scoop there?
At the last minute our budget was cut by 50%. Not the budget for stars but the budget for the movie shoot. So we had to cut the schedule and lost most of the larger action scenes. I heard our budget was cut with the idea that I would falter and Nu Image could come in take over and throw in a bunch of shots from their other movies. It was a very bitter experience.
8-Since you came close to directing a movie of SPIDER-MAN (in the 80s, to be financed by israeli cousins, Golan-Globus), did you like the films made by Sam Raimi?
Yes, I do. particularly The Quick and the Dead.
9-Film Director John Stockwell first got his first chance working behind-the-scenes writing DANGEROUSLY CLOSE, helmed by you. How was your experience working with him back in 1985?

Well, John's a very smart and talented artist. I enjoyed working with him because he's very aggressive with creative ideas and really courageous in what he'll try. He's also dedicated and an extremely hard worker, which I admire.
10-Norbert Weisser, Thom Mathews, Nicholas Guest, Scott Paulin and Vince Klyn are some of the actors that have worked with you in various occasions. Tell us about working with your ´Stock Company´

First what I love is the talent and presence they bring to any role their undertake. I like Norbert (15 movies with Pyun) for his honesty and fearlessness, Scott (6 movies) for his intellect and creative point of view, Thom (11 movies with the helmer) for his humor and flexibility, Nicholas (9 movies) for his professionalism and wry humor, Vince (11) for his raw physicality. My films have to be shot so fast I rely on their own ability to prepare themselves.

 11-How could you describe in a few words your experience in the 80s working with Cannon (CYBORG, ALIEN FROM L.A., JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, CAPTAIN AMERICA, DOWN TWISTED?
Well, it was wild. My first experience in a sort of "studio" situation. So it was exciting because they had to fill a big pipeline with movie after movie. Once the financial problems hit, it wasn't fun but incredibly sad.

12-STREETS OF FIRE and SWORD AND THE SORCERER are films with fans scattered all over the planet. You have just made two semi-sequels to both. Considering the years that have passed since both were first released, do you think audiences of today could still be interested in seeing them?

I hope so!  There was a magic to those films in the 80's that today's audience isn't that aware of. So the experiences will be fresh and fun.