Saturday, May 26, 2012

Film Review: CYBORG (1989, Albert Pyun)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 86 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Deborah Richter (HILL STREET BLUES, SQUARE DANCE), Vincent Klyn (POINT BREAK, DOUBLE DRAGON), Alex Daniels (David Hasselhoff's stunt double), Dayle Haddon (NORTH DALLAS FORTY, BULLETS OVER BROADWAY). Written by Kitty Chalmers (DECEIT, JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH '89). Produced by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus.
Tagline: "He's the First Hero of the 21st Century...And He's Our Only Hope."
 Best one-liner: "First there was the collapse of civilization: anarchy, genocide, starvation. Then when it seemed things couldn't get any worse, we got the plague. The Living Death, quickly closing its fist over the entire planet. Then we heard the rumors: that the last scientists were working on a cure that would end the plague and restore the world. Restore it? Why? I like the death! I like the misery! I like this world!"

I just noticed that this is the 800th all-time post on Junta Juleil's Culture Shock.  And who better to honor with it than a trio of three hall-o-famers:  Menahem Golan, Yoram Globus, and Jean-Claude Van Damme?

CYBORG.  Where do you want me to start?  Is it post-apocalyptic sci-fi?  Is it a homoerotic martial arts epic?  Does it hold deeply religious subtext?  Is it a remake of Sergio Leone's ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST?  I tell you:  it is all of these things and more.

In 1989, world-famous auteur Albert Pyun was supposed to make MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE 2 and SPIDER-MAN simultaneously for Cannon in a cinematic coup that would have eclipsed popular concurrent productions like THE THREE MUSKETEERS/THE FOUR MUSKETEERS and SUPERMAN/SUPERMAN II.  However, terrible financial losses from the failure of the absurdly expensive MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE 1 prevented these films from ever reaching sweet, sweet fruition.  But we already built the sets– shit!  No matter, say Golan and Globus:  ladies and germs, I give you CYBORG.

Before we get started, there are a few things you should know.  It was originally rated 'X' for violence, but underwent some edits to secure an 'R.'  Almost every character is, inexplicably, named after one or more guitars.  "Gibson Rickenbacker."  "Fender Tremolo."  "Marshall Strat."  "Les."  Et cetera.  Also, there was not just one, but two separate men who worked on this film who went by the nickname "Rock," one of whom lost an eye when Van Damme poked him with a prop knife by accident.  It was settled in court for $487,500.   So there's a lot going on here, on and off camera.  But let's get into the film proper– how 'bout a wild sprint through the insanity that is CYBORG? 

CYBORG is all about fur collars and disco shirts and the tasteful use of dummies plummeting to their doom

and a sweepingly ambitious synth soundtrack by Kevin Bassinson and the elegant swooshing of gargantuan capes in the midst of gang violence


...and knife-sharpening.  Actually, I don't think I've ever seen a film with quite so much knife-sharpening.

Seems that's just about the only activity that anybody can get it up for in the post-apocalyptic tri-state area.

 There's about fourteen guys sharpening knives in this scene.

I think that there might be more actual minutes of the film devoted to knife-sharpening than to cyborgs.

But let's meet our main characters.  Whoa– what's this?!–


That's right– the first time we meet Van Damme's character, it's his leg, entering stage left.  Does that mean that Golan and Globus thought that Van Damme's leg was more iconic and recognizable than his face?
...Don't answer that.  Anyway, here's Van Damme.

His peasant shirt appears to have been made from spandex and the remnants of disco balls, which must be common items in the postapocalyptic landscape, what with all the abandoned discotheques and all.  And, believe me, Van Damme would have an encyclopedic knowledge of those abandoned discotheques.
Anyway, he's fighting the ultimate evil, Fender Tremelo, pictured below, wearing the actual, metallic version of Bennett's chainmail sweater in COMMANDO.

More on Mr. Tremolo (played by the incomparable Vincent Klyn) in a minute, but for the time being, let's get back to Gibson Rickenbacker– I mean Jean-Claude Van Damme.


So Van Damme wanders the land, eking out a living and kicking the bad people where it counts, sometimes even with a modified boot blade, which seems like something straight out of 1990: BRONX WARRIORS.

His wife and children were killed years ago by the aforesaid Mr. Tremolo, back when Van Damme wore a wig.  The full glory of said wig is pictured below.

Here's another picture of Van Damme in a wig, just because you asked nicely.   That's his wife on the left, there.

 After this personal tragedy, he has nothing really to live for, save for kicking, knife-sharpening, and staring earnestly at people and objects.

There really is quite a bit of silent, sentimental staring.  Perhaps Albert Pyun thought that Van Damme's rapid-fire leg-blasting would carry more heft if it were broken up a bit by some earnest gazes.  But it works!  It makes the leg-blasting all the more emotionally resonant, when it finally occurs.  And while I do not believe that you will find the word "leg-blasting" in any legitimate dictionary, I have included a picture of the activity below, for your personal reference.

With so much leg-blasting to be done, and with such a cruel villain on the loose, he's decided to help humanity at large by running interference for a cyborg woman, who's a far more uncanny special effect than the makers could have possibly intended.

Don't worry about her too much, though, because she only has about 15 minutes of screen time.

Annnyway, Jean-Claude being a potential savior of the human race with real-life initials "J.C." brought a smile to my lips, particularly when I noticed this subliminal message that appears briefly in the midst of a brawl as J.C.V.D. lands a blow:

Before I ask "Is J.C.V.D. God?," I know what you're about to say, and it's difficult to disagree with you.  Sean, aren't you the same guy who read a deeper theosophical meaning into a King Cobra Malt Liquor Ad, Objectivism into Stallone's COBRA, existential insights into John Carpenter's music album, and the mysteries of the universe into a Rutger Hauer beer commercial?  And I would have to answer: yes, as a matter of fact, I am that guy.  So I apologize.  I stand corrected.  I am guilty as charged, for reading too deeply into the completely fabricated 'connection' between Jean-Claude Van Damme and the Biblical Jes–




Well, there you go.  All that I can say, is that I bet you can't remember the part in the Bible when Jesus kickboxed his way off the cross.

Anyway, because I'm telepathic, I can already tell that your next question is:  "But what about the splits?  It seems like the crucifixion would have been an excellent time for a split."  I'm here to reassure you, you need not worry.  On the eight day, God Jean-Claude Van Damme said, "Let there be splits."

 And there were splits.  In case you're confused about what's happening there, it's J.C.V.D., lying– er, make that splitting– in wait for post-apocalyptic Dee Snider, like he's a horror-movie villain.  Now what happens immediately thereafter is that the hair metal dude dies, presumably stabbed by J.C.V.D.'s well-sharpened knife.  Well, before you go off dallying in silly euphemisms, allow me to submit the hypothesis that he died on the spot upon spying God's J.C.V.D.'s leather/spandex covered balls.

So now I'd like to speak for a bit on Vincent Klyn's Fender Tremolo, a man who when told to "Go to hell," responds with a hearty "...Been there."  A villain so ridiculously over the top, he delivers monologues on the enjoyment of misery and crucifies his enemies.  A fashion plate whose aesthetic is so fabulous

 he prompted my girlfriend to exclaim at the television, "Look at your shoulderpads, you fierce bitch!"  He even gets a meaty flashback scene (shown multiple times throughout) where he murders Van Damme's family while wearing an inverted cross earring!

 Now, as I was watching the multiple flashbacks, I was struck by the incongruous idea that they resembled very closely, in both content and style, the Bronson/Fonda flashbacks in Sergio Leone's ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST.  The more I thought about it, the more momentum it took on.  Fender and his gang even arrive after massacring innocents in a manner that recalls Frank's gang in Leone's film.

 And the way that Fender and his pale-eyed gaze are photographed throughout the film are incredibly reminiscent of the prior work.

 Even the final duel is remarkably "Leone" in style.

 Er, well, I don't quite remember Hank Fonda's neck muscles ever–

Mm–I can't recall Bronson ever contorting his face like–

 Ooh.  Perhaps I'll quit while I'm ahead.  Don't strain anything, guys!  Four stars.

-Sean Gill


Mike B. said...

Yeah! Please keep the Van Damage coming! I had never noticed the preponderance of knife-sharpening scenes, I'll have to go back and play some kind of root beer drinking game based on that at some point. I wonder what happens more, knife sharpening in Cyborg, or people sleeping and being woken up in Fulci's Conquest? It truly is a verrry weird film for the early Van Damme era, what with those never-explained guitar-based names, and how everyone is on this long journey yet about 3/4 of the film seems to take place in the same abandoned warehouse/parking garage-type place. Great stuff, as always. Any chance of a Hard Target write-up one day? With the Van Damme/Henriksen/Brimley connection, it would seem to be right in your wheelhouse.

Anonymous said...

Good review.

This movie is so awesome in its badness. It's been so long since I've seen this but I love that part where Van Damme's fighting - with the chick - against the gang at the rundown building or whatever. He shoots some guy or kicks him (honestly, I can't remember which) and the guy goes falling down a shaft, but it's so clearly a fucking dummy. You KNOW it's a dummy and they don't even try to hide that fact. But for some strange reason, you don't yell at the screen. You laugh your ass off, instead, and let it pass.

That's what this movie is like: passing gas and laughing it off.

It really is one of Albert Pyun's best movies (which either says a lot or little, depending on your POV). It's got characters with ridiculous names like Fender Tremolo and Gibson Rickenbacker (I wonder if the two of them were old rockstar buddies who had a falling out). It's got a Van Damme "crucifixion". And Vincent Klyn, also known as Warchild, who only lives to get radical, and his fucking sunglasses.

Sean Gill said...


I think the next few weeks here (months?, who knows) are going to be up your alley in terms of continued JCVD coverage– and I did just rewatch HARD TARGET with a forthcoming review in mind. And, ah, people sleeping and waking up in CONQUEST. Gotta love Fulci.

The Bruce,
There's a subtle appreciation that we bad movie fans cultivate for spectacular use of ridiculous dummies. I highly recommend the bad dummy action in THE STONE KILLER, as well.
And as for judging Albert Pyun's 'best' movie– heh, well, I'll reserve judgment until I see Cannon Films' ALIEN FROM L.A., which has been in the "to-see" pile for way too long.

J.D. said...

Ah, Vincent Klyn, second only to Anthony Kiedis for worst line reading in POINT BREAK. I remember loving this film as a kid, watching it on VHS with my buddies and I guess when you're in high school and have little in the way of critical faculties it does the job and delivers the requisite B-action movie goods. But it's no ENTER THE NINJA that's for sure!

I too look forward to your take on HARD TARGET and your thoughts on Brimley's outrrrrrrageous Cajun accent. Incidentally, have you seen the director's cut? It still doesn't improve JCVD's wooden acting but more of Woo's trademark style is intact (thank god) and you can see just how much of it the studio's tried to hack away.

As for Albert Pyun, I am curious to see his unofficial sequel to STREETS OF FIRE only because he got Michael Pare AND Deborah Van Valkenburgh back.

Jack Thursby said...

Good call on the comparisons with Once Upon A Time in America. Now you've pointed it out I can see a bit more where Pyun was going with this.

Still, as much as I want to like it it's fairly dull. I'd be interested in watching Pyun director's cut that he currently flogging. Apparently he original saw it as a "rock opera" - hence all the guitar names!

Sean Gill said...


"Worst line reading in POINT BREAK." Now there's a heated contest! And very few films can come close to the subtle majesties of ENTER THE NINJA.

I have not actually seen the director's cut of HARD TARGET. I heard about the notorious graphic montage when Lance is playing the piano, but as for the other flourishes, I was in the dark!
And holy shit, I was unaware of ROAD TO HELL until I just now looked it up.

Gotta love Pyun. He can kill ya with just a description, too. Just was researching a film called KNIGHTS from '93: "In the future, a kickboxer and a robot lead a revolution against ruling cyborgs. Starring Kris Kristofferson and Lance Henriksen." WHUTTT?!


Thanks for stoppin' by. There's a pretty comprehensive comparison of the director's cut at Direct-to-Video Conoisseur:

and while it's all pretty interesting, I can't say that I really have a burning desire to see it.