I am sure you’ve all seen at least one Albert Pyun film in your life, he has a lot of them and I know during my youth they were all over the video store shelves. His career has been built on those direct-to-video/DVD films and there’s nothing wrong with that. His films are actually far more entertaining for the most part than a majority of the ‘direct to’ films. I wouldn’t call a lot of his filmography great or awfully good but the effort is there and they end up being quite watchable. Let’s take a look at the works of Pyun …
Pyun has a made a lot of films and for me personally picking his best was a no brainer. That honour goes to MEAN GUNS; this Christopher Lambert and Ice T picture is pretty bad-ass. The story is simple; gangster boss Ice-T has a list of 100 assassin types who have each done wrong. He invites them all to a prison, unarms them and tells them they will play a game. The aim is to be one of three survivors, who will share in $10 million dollars. Guns, ammo and baseballs are thrown to the assassins and it’s all out war.
Great premise no? It kind of reminded me of the recent film THE TOURNAMENT and I am sure this was an influence on that. The film is visually delightful, I think it is Pyun’s most stunning on that level which is saying something because he has an incredible eye for visuals (see how great TALES OF AN ANCIENT EMPIRE looks). The widescreen version of the film really reveals how amazing the look is, it is so rich and these visuals really tell the story. That element was easily my favourite part of the film and what won me over, next to the star Christopher Lambert as Lou of course. Lambert is one of my all time favourite actors, and he is just great here. He is the strongest of the cast, and his character is perhaps the most complex next to Marcus played by Michael Halsey (Pyun regular). Both men do great work, and especially together, Lambert had the cooler role, which is why I guess his character stuck out more and was quite memorable. Most of the cast did fairly solid work, perhaps the one that didn’t work for me was Ice-T but I think he just played the role in the wrong spirit.
This type of film may look weak on paper but I do think that Pyun really elevated the material, and crafted a really entertaining and engaging film. As I said it looks stunning, it is well directed, acted and is a strong action/thriller. It is even more special being able to see it the way Pyun intended, seeing his original visual realized is great. This is a strong film and certainly well above average for the genre. If you haven’t seen it, I’d highly recommend getting a hold of it.
Unfortunately there are many films that could fall into this category. I am sure you were all expecting me to choose Pyun’s CAPTAIN AMERICA but you know what? As bad as that film is (aside from the excellent 'psych Hail Hitler' scene), it is entertaining and a bit of a guilty pleasure. It was a low budget affair and Captain America wasn’t really anything like the character of the comics, but it is better than the unreleased FANTASTIC FOUR film.
The film I decided to pick as his worst is TICKER, this film was rather terrible and honestly it took me 5 goes to get through the entire film, I kept falling asleep. If a film puts an insomniac asleep you know it can’t be good. I was actually interested to check this out, because the cast included Tom Sizemore, Steven Seagal, Jaime Pressly and Dennis Hopper. All four of those actors slept walked through this film, and Hopper especially looked as if he was there for one day’s worth for some pocket money.
The story was weak, about a detective (Sizemore) who gets wrapped up with a group of terrorists (led by Hopper with the worst Irish accent ever), and he must get the help of the bomb squad led by Frank Glass (Seagal). That is the gist of it, going into more detail would just pain me, there is a plot with Jaime Pressly’s character that is pretty awful and the motivations are so unconvincing.
This film was shot in 12 days, Hopper was there for 1 and Seagal there for 6. This was a rush job, a rush job of the Edward D. Wood Jr. kind, nothing really made sense and everyone in the film looked like they’d rather be somewhere else. I didn’t even feel there was a sense of effort here, which is why I found this to be an uninspired bore. There was nothing entertaining about it, and I am sure I could have just slept instead of watching this mess.
Pyun first and foremost is a visual director; this is his main trademark. He definitely tries to make his films unique on that level and really succeeds most of the time, some of the visuals will definitely stay with audiences. There is also this hint of an art house approach with some scenes in his films, they sometimes work and sometimes don’t but I applaud the effort in doing so. Pyun also likes to shoot his films with anamorphic and wide-angle lenses, and if you watch the widescreen version of MEAN GUNS you can really see how he takes advantage of that and really cleverly frames shots.
His main collaborators include/included George Mooradian as his cinematographer, Anthony Riparetti as composer and actors who frequently get cast are Michael Halsey, Norbert Weisser, Thom Matthews, Vincent Klyn, Nicholas Guest, Tim Thomerson, Jahi J.J. Zuri. Ice-T, Christopher Lambert, Ralf Moeller and Sasha Mitchell have been in more than one Pyun film as well. A character by the name of ‘Brick Bardo’ has also appeared in a number of Pyun’s films played by several different actors.
This actually wasn’t an easy pick; there are several films that could be included. But I decided to go with one I recently watched called KICKBOXER 2: THE ROAD BACK. I love the original KICKBOXER, and I was really hesitant to see the sequels, especially after I read the synopsis for this one. It made no sense to me that they killed off the Sloan brothers and introduced a third brother that was never mentioned before.
My tune soon changed after I saw that none other than David S. Goyer wrote the film, and the script really covers the issues I had. They didn’t just ignore the first film, and they had a reason as to why the other two brothers were killed. Once Sasha Mitchell really stepped in, I was quite engaged with his character. This guy is so charismatic and likeable; I became invested in his story. They also brought back Tong Po, to fulfil some revenge and it was an okay excuse. Add in some other bad guys with Peter Boyle and Shang Tsung himself Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa and you have yourself a nice set of players.
It is just a really enjoyable film; they made it work even though it shouldn’t have. Sasha Mitchell is the main reason it does work, he carries the film well and he’s actually pretty good as an actor here. I best remembered him from the TV series ‘Step By Step’ where he played the airhead. None of that here as he’s quite grounded and I felt there was a good connection between actor and director. As I understand it due to issues between Pyun and Van Damme, Van Damme refused to do this sequel with him so changes had to be made. They were at least respectful to Van Damme and his character, which is a nice way to go about it.
I’d say this is worth checking out and I am glad I did. For something that really shouldn’t have worked, it pulled it off and I have to give it credit for that.
As far as I can tell, Pyun is working on a number of things. Recently he released the widescreen version of MEAN GUNS, and is working on his edit of NEMESIS. A lot of his films got edited and where out of his hands, so I can’t blame the guy for working on bringing his visions into the mix now.
He has also been working on ROAD TO HELL, and the film should begin screenings soon. Sounds like an interesting film, and I am honestly eager to check it out. On his Official Facebook Page, I found this statement about the film: just saw the entire Road to Hell film all put together. It's an experience for sure. Lots of emotion and brilliantly edited by Daniel Ray Gutierrez who has created an amazing and audacious cinematic film. It's by far the most inventive and best acted film I've ever made. I had tears at the end in realizing how its all paid off in such style and creativity. Totally original with the echoes of another audacious effort. It will go into final post sound work now. But we'll likely screen it next week with a temp mix track.
Sounds like he is keeping busy, and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next!
Albert Pyun seems like a great guy to me, someone who has had to work hard to make films. It is unfortunate he has had to deal with fast shoots, low budgets and studio interference, but the man has prevailed through all of that. I have to commend him for sticking to his guns and continuing to director films despite the difficulties. His films are pretty entertaining, and no matter the quality, there is usually something to enjoy. I grew up watching his films, and they without a doubt played a hand in my love for action films. Thank you for everything Mr. Pyun, it has been much appreciated!
Is there a director you hope to see Dissected? Feel free to send Marcey your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org