It was recently revealed that one of the most persistent names in genre film over the last thirty years is very ill. Albert Pyun, a name both beloved and very contentious in b-movie circles, recently announced that his health has been on decline due to Multiple Sclerosis. Affecting over 2 million people worldwide it causes lesions on the brain and spinal cord which can lead to cognitive issues as well as a number of other neurological problems. To say this news has had a profound effect on me would be an understatement. Albert opened up to his fans on Facebook showing no ego in his self-deprecating posts that he engaged with his fans, he would talk directly to commenters, share reviews he’d find online, and really seemed to revel in being able to have this level of interaction with his fans. He even agreed to appear on my podcast to talk about his life in film, a great honor. Albert Pyun may have his detractors but I would argue he is unique amongst his contemporaries as a man of great ambition and creativity, not to mention he can boast a staying power few others could achieve.
I was in my early teens when I along with my friends Luke and Tom developed a perhaps unhealthy fascination with Jean Claude Van Damme. Kickboxer and Bloodsport were on frequent rotation in my house, never growing tired of seeing that wacky Belgian bellow his dramatic lines as he punched and kicked his way to victory. Though JCVD was a recent love of mine, I had another long-standing love that originated from when I was a kid: robots. As a kid in the 80’s I loved the wide proliferation of robots in entertainment, I loved the Cylons in Battlestar Galactica, Tweakie in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, and the mighty Dai-X from the Japanese marionette sci-fi show Star Fleet (originally called X-Bomber in Japan). Then Robocop came out when I was about 8 years old and though obviously years from being able to see it, I became fascinated by cyborgs, be they robots with human parts like Robocop or robots that had skin and flesh to make them look like humans such as The Terminator. So my love of cyborgs and robots and Jean Claude Van Damme were of course going to lead me to, where else, Albert Pyun’s aptly-named Cyborg. And I loved it.
My interview with Albert Pyun from November 2012
Set in a post-apocalyptic future Van Damme was a “Slinger”, a hired gun by the name of GIbson Rickenbacker who finds himself helping get a cyborg known as Pearl Prophet to a group of humans who need the information she holds in her memory to save humanity. Standing in their way is an evil gang led by Fender Tremolo (Albert has a knack for interesting character names!) who have flourished in this devastated world and don’t want Pearl Prophet to reach her goal. No spoilers but you probably won’t be all that surprised about how the story goes, but there are some points in there that feel particularly unique, that I can’t imagine anybody other than Albert coming up with them. There are messianic overtones, a particularly sad and gruesome backstory for a couple of the characters, and some really novel action scenes. What makes this movie more interesting still was that it began life as a sequel to the Masters of the Universe where Dolph Lundgren played toy delivery system He-Man.
The Cannon Group, run by at one time by the legendary Golan and Globus were extremely open to allowing their filmmakers to run wild with their imagination. This was the 80’s which was imbued with a wonderful “anything goes” mentality that led to creating many classic genre film beloved to this day. Unfortunately Cannon’s liberal policies did not translate to profit like they had hoped and Masters of the Universe was not the hit it was expected. Cannon ended up having to sell some intellectual properties they had acquired such as Spider-Man. Masters of the Universe 2 had already begun pre-production and was abandoned. Albert saw those two projects that he had been set to direct go up in smoke but he seized an opportunity, taking the sets and assets Cannon had already started to build for Masters 2 and pitching Slinger, later to be known as Cyborg. It was obvious there that this was a man who was not afraid to let his creative juices flow and to make the best of what he had to produce some unique genre entertainment.
Albert had debuted as a director with the Conan the Barbarian-esque The Sword and the Sorcerer and it showed Albert’s knack for coming up with something distinctive to make his movie stand out, in this case an enormous three-bladed sword that could fire the two additional blades as deadly projectiles. His genre film works went on to include sci-fi rock opera Vicious Lips and the extremely novel Radioactive Dreams that starred John Stockwell and Michael “American Ninja” Dudikoff as young men who have spent 15 years in a bunker surrounded by old 40’s detective novels who emerge into an apocalyptic wasteland and become detectives in a world full of mutants and misfits. These apocalyptic settings would be the trademark Pyun films that I grew up loving as he continued to produce movies based in sandy wastelands filled with deadly cyborgs. Nemesis followed and had 3 sequels, Omega Doom starred Rutger Hauer as a cyborg in a sci-fi tribute to Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, and Lance Henriksen and Kris Kristofferson starred in cybernetic martial arts extravaganza (and my personal favorite) Knights. Despite all of these films having similar settings they all stand apart as their own movies with different quirks and themes, not mere rehashes of what went before. Whether tackling martial arts movies, thrillers and straight action films Albert has always looked to make more than just your standard b-movie, seeking out original music in order to give his film an extra flavor and to try and build an interesting world for his characters to inhabit. Albert has had a chance to work with a wide variety of performers such as Andrew Dice Clay and Teri Hatcher on Brainsmasher… A Love Story, model Kathy Ireland, Christopher Lambert, Ice-T and Snooop Dog, and pre-douchebag meltdown Charlie Sheen. Albert was also able to work with a who’s who of genre film stalwarts like Tim Thomerson, Gary Daniels, Sasha Mitchell, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Brion Janes, Michael Qissi, Scott Paulin, Andrew Divoff, Michael Paré, John de Lancie…… EVERYBODY!
While many of his contemporaries have come and gone, Albert has been in the film business in one capacity or another for much of his adult life and has consistently directed films for over three decades out of his love for cinema. There are those who have compared Albert to Ed Wood and I absolutely disagree with that except for one thing, Ed Wood was in love with the very idea of cinema and making films and that is a passion that Albert Pyun shares. Often his movies would be misunderstood and meddled with by the studios that didn’t get his sense of humor or quirky ideas after he had completed the films but his spirit and his desire to be creative even on meagre budgets shines through. He’s even self-deprecating enough to know that he’s no Ridley Scott or Michael Mann and one of the joys of reading Albert talk about his career is acknowledging that he’s a b-movie director, that he’s not filled with hubris and pretension. He knows he wasn’t making The Godfather or Bladerunner, but he has a remarkable gratitude for the career he’s been able to have. Perhaps that’s part of why I consider him a hero, someone who just keeps on doing what he wants to do and doesn’t let the naysayers, small budgets and those that don’t understand get in the way. The fact that he shot Road to Hell in 2008 and then struggled for the next four years to get it finished and screened is testament to his tenacity and passion for what he does. Quite fittingly when that film screened at the Polygrind Festival in Las Vegas he was presented with a lifetime achievement award. Whether he believed he deserved it or not, he has left a lasting impression with his fans with a diverse and creative catalog of movies. He is an important name for many of us that grew up during the golden years of VHS and Albert continues to inspire, just look at the likes of Steven Kostanski’s Manborg as proof that his body of work has inspired the young filmmakers of today.
When I got to interview the man himself I was so incredibly nervous to speak to someone who had made such an impression on me as a young man but he proved to be very affable and extremely generous with his time. It was so obvious to me why this man is so well liked and has had such career longevity. When Albert agreed to talk to me it came at a time when I was going through great upheaval in my life and I was on Cloud Nine the whole way through as he put up with my terrible interview skills and gave up nearly 90 minutes of his time. Albert has shown great openness and appreciation for his fans and is truly a class act. I’d also like to thank his partner Cynthia for putting up with my annoying emails and silly questions. Albert has sworn not to disappear and I wish good health and happiness to him, Cynthia and their beautiful dogs Chiba and Nobu. Thank you Albert.