Bad Movie Superstar: Albert Pyun

Opinions on director Albert Pyun are varied. The Independent Film Channel says that “(he has) carved out a unique niche as a director of low-budget, high-concept genre films starring actors past their prime”, while others call him the new Ed Wood and his frankly gushing IMDB bio (by ‘anonymous’) likens him to Jean-Luc Goddard and Sergio Leone while mourning the butchering of his unique vision by studios and producers.

For me, none of these descriptions quite fits the bill – well, apart from the bit about actors past their prime – and the best comparison to be drawn is actually with B-movie legend Roger Corman. Like Corman before him, Pyun does not have the power to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear, but does know how to bash out a sow’s ear purse for even less than the little he can sell it for, while simultaneously making a second purse from the same ear on the other side of the lot.

Sword

Beginning his career in his native Hawai’i, Pyun interned with Akira Kurosawa’s cinematographer in Japan before making his directorial debut with The Sword and the Sorcerer, arguably his best movie (although still not very good). His IMDB filmography shows the recurring themes of martial arts and cyborgs (as in 1989’s Cyborg, with Jean Claude Van Damme), but he has also worked in fantasy, contemporary action (Blast, Hong Kong 97) and even the superhero genre (with 1990s Captain America). Brainsmasher… A Love Story is a rare digression into comedy, with Andrew Dice Clay’s bouncer battling some dubious Shaolin monks over a rare flower.

And how bad is he?

Well, here’s the thing. I am convinced that Albert Pyun knows how to make a good film, he just can’t seem to actually do it. Maybe the IMDB reviewer is right and he really is an avant garde genius whose work is routinely butchered by producers, but having seen Nemesis and Mean Guns, I don’t buy it; not completely, anyway. Every so often, he puts a shot together really nicely, but he always seems to manage to screw it up; if not by the end of the shot then in the next one. 

Blast
It’s the ‘with Rutger Hauer’ credit that makes it art.

Pyun has something of a stable of regular actors, including fellow son of Hawai’i Mark Dacascos, Rutger Hauer and Tim ‘Trancers’ Thomerson, who also has a long and fruitful collaboration with of another doyen of the Corman school, Charles Band, under his belt. His film-making trademarks include the money-saving ‘shoot offscreen’ technique (requiring neither expensive GSW effects nor any retakes for fluffed timings) and heavy use of coloured filters.

Also cyborgs; lots of cyborgs.  He uses a particularly notable number of cyborgs for a man who has claimed to have no interest in cyborgs.

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