Directed by: Albert Pyun
Category: Sci-fi Cinema/Cult Classics
Cyborg was one of those films that I saw when it first came out in 1989, but in all honesty haven't seen since then. And I don't remember much. Here's what I do remember about it though:
It was set in a post apocalyptic future.
It starred a relative newcomer.
It had some martial arts.
It was part sci-fi.
It was low-budget.
The lead actor hardly spoke a word.
And that's really all I remember. I think I was 13 when it came out and that says a lot. Too young honestly to appreciate what goes into making a film. And too young to really understand what it was even about. In my young mind all I cared about was the fact that it was set in the future and that it starred some cool new martial arts guy.
Here's the synopsis via IMDB:
Gibson Rickenbacker is a hired fighter living in a plague-ravaged apocalyptic America where a plague has infested most of the United States and the rest of the world. In New York City, Gibson encounters a woman named Pearl Prophet. Pearl reveals to Gibson that she is a cyborg who is carrying vital-information for a group of scientists in Atlanta who are working on a cure to the plague and Pearl hires Gibson to escort her back to Atlanta. But Pearl is kidnapped by “Pirates” a murderous gang led by Fender Tremolo, who wants the cure for themselves and they decide to take Pearl to Atlanta themselves. Gibson, joined by a young woman named Nady Simmons, goes in pursuit of Fender and his gang, as Gibson sets out to rescue Pearl, stop Fender and his gang from reaching Atlanta and defeat Fender who slaughtered Gibson’s family.
After having not seen it for a better part of 20 years I'm happy to report that it's so much better than what I remember. It's no masterpiece, but director Albert Pyun works with what he's given and the end result is a low-budget part sci-fi, part action, part martial arts film with some better quality B movie production value and talent behind the camera. Having been made over 20 years ago (22 to be exact), it's definitely a product of it's time. But it still looks badass with top notch camera work and imagery. If you take it for what it is, then you're going to dig it. It's a genre flick plain and simple. If you go in expecting a film with a big budget, awesome special effects, big name actors and oscar worthy performances, then you will be disappointed. It's a Cannon Films release, which should tell you everything you need to know about the production value if you know anything about the film industry. But I personally loved it.
Now the version I saw was the theatrical cut, which was entertaining enough for me. But from what I've read, it was not the version Pyun had intended to release. He had envisioned more of an opera tone, complete with a rock music score by his longtime composer Tony Riparetti and some other changes. Pyun put his cut of the film before a test screening which didn't go over very well. Cannon Films removed Pyun from the editing process and let Van Damme and Sheldon Lettich re-edit it to a more favorable 1989 era kinda film which is the theatrical cut, or studio version if you want to call it that. So it's not Pyun's version of the film, they even replaced his score with a more electronic score which had it's moments, but didn't seem to work so well overall. But like I said, I enjoyed it. However, director Albert Pyun has put together his "directors cut" from an old VHS workprint recently discovered. I've put my order in and can't wait to get it in the mail soon. I'm curious to see how different it might be and you'll be sure to get my review on that asap.
There are a lot of Albert Pyun haters out there. Who is Albert Pyun? He's a genre director (usually straight to video stuff) who has made over 40 films to date, starting with the sublimely geeky The Sword and the Sorcerer in 1982. I will say this, the guy is no hack. He's a genuinely gifted and talented filmmaker with a passion for the medium and nobody directs a B movie better than Albert Pyun. Cyborg has some really badass imagery in it and is a testament to his talent as a visual artist. I haven't seen everything he's ever done (the guy's made a lot of flicks), so I can't speak for the quality of "all" of his work, but the few I have seen and remember, I remember being pretty damn cool. But there are so many other things that go into making a film, other factors to consider when a movie is made other than who's directing it such as editing, music, casting, budget and production value (all of which contribute to a specific quality). But when it comes to actually filming a scene, Pyun knows what he's doing. He's got skill and it shows. He doesn't always make the best creative decisions, but when he gets it right, we're given some nice B-Movie gems like Cyborg, Nemesis, Captain America and The Sword and the Sorcerer and Radioactive Dreams to name a few. I know it comes off like i'm lovin' on the guy, but the dude is good. Maybe not in every single movie he makes, but he works with what he's given.
Cannon Films (by Israeli producing partners Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus) didn't always have the best track record when it came to producing movies. They were prolific to say the least, with some minor action hits in the 80's (mostly with Chuck Norris), but quality never seemed to be there motive. Spider-Man and Masters of the Universe 2 (two properties they had the rights to for a short time) were set to be made back to back with Albert Pyun directing both before Cannon Pictures went bankrupt and all plans were scrapped for these films. So the sets that were already built for those films were used for Cyborg. That's the kind of thing you have to remember when watching a film like Cyborg. All the behind the scenes crap at play that ultimately leads to the production quality and success of a film. I read Pyun originally wanted Chuck Norris to play the lead in this. I personally think that would have been a brilliant move for so many reasons. First, I think it would have had a bigger audience since at that time not a lot of people knew who Van Damme was. Second, it might have even given Norris the jump he needed in his career since around this time he was coming out with things like Firewalker, Delta Force 2, Missing in Action 3 and Hero and the Terror. I don't know if that's true or if Norris even would have taken the part if it was, I'm just sayin' it woulda been badass.
Alright, so i'm done praising on the film, now onto the bad. Bad acting, bad wigs, bad dialogue, bad dubbing. I mean, I know it's the same actors dubbing there own voices, but it just sounds bad, like they're reading off of cue cards. And the acting, just plain bad. You can kinda forgive Van Damme since he was a newbie and since he had that thick Belgian accent and since he can do a split and a badass roundhouse, but everyone else was laughable starting with Vincent Klyn as Fender and Deborah Richter as Nady. They deliver there lines like (again), they're reading off of cue cards. And who knows, maybe they were? One thing's for sure, the dialogue was terrible.
Some of the fight scenes were cool, but there was just too much slow-mo (a constant in all of Jean Claude Van Damme's early films from the late 80's through the 90's). Another funny thing is that as badass as these bad guys try to be, they can't seem to fight for shit. They stand there and wait to be punched or kicked in slow-mo almost every time when they easily could have gotten in at least 2 or 3 blows during that time. And what was with all that screaming during that final fight scene between Fender and Gibson? It's like constant screaming from Fender like he's having an constant back spasm or something. And was it me, or did it seem like his gang was constantly growing? In the beginning they show a cool wide shot of him walking in slow-mo with his gang. But all throughout the film there seems to be more and more bad guys in his team who just seem to appear outta nowhere!
But hey, that's just me being nit-picky. Because in all honesty, I love this movie. And I haven't even seen the directors cut yet! Cyborg is a cool concept playing on our geek requirements. A robot (or cyborg), post apocalyptic wasteland, action, B movie quality and Jean Claude Van Damme. It's Trash Cinema of the highest quality and thank god Albert Pyun films in anamorphic widescreen. They're not always released and available that way, (ahem, Nemesis anyone?) but at least it's how he shoots it. There are some bad elements for sure, like really bad acting for one, but Pyun's technical skill as a genre director keep it from sinking fast. If you can look past the bad casting choices and bad acting you'll enjoy the hell outta this thing.