Today I have a wonderful opportunity to talk to American film director Albert Pyun, who mixed martial arts with science fiction and shot a lot of cyborg movies like Cyborg, Heatseeker, Nemesis etc.
Albert Pyun was born on May 19, 1953 and began making movies using his father’s 8mm camera when he was 10 years old in Honolulu, Hawaii. His first efforts revolved around “spy movies” escalating to 16mm action and surf films. With his fellow Kailua High School student, producer Tom Karnowski, the pair would end up making dozens of shorts together. While still in high school Pyun begin working as a free intern at production companies around Honolulu like Sensorium (Denny Kull) and Tip Davis Films based in Manoa, Hawaii. While at HPC, Pyun also became the company’s negative cutter, editor, sound editor and worked on shoots as a grip, electrician and boom operator. He learned editing under the tuleage of Thomas Moore, an award winning commercial film editor.
Budomate: Mr. Pyun, in contrast to other interviews I want to focuse on martial arts movies you have done. In 1989 you released the Cyborg movie with young and rising star Jean-Claude Van Damme. Was it easy to work with him and did he bring some good ideas in fighting scenes or it was on experienced stunt coordinator Tom Elliott?
Albert Pyun: It was really everyone. Tom Elliot, JCVD, Me. A collaborative effort. I would set up the situation and ask Jean-Claude what would be his best move for it, Tom would then refine the hit and aftermath. I generally set up a fight to fit the style I was going for.
Budomate: There is a lot of rumours that you are going to remake the Cyborg, is that true? If it will happen who you will choose for a lead role and who you will pick as a fighting choreographer to make the new version looks more dynamic?
Albert Pyun: Well, we’re making a loose prequel to cyborg establishing how the world of Cyborg came to be. We cast Xavier Declie to play Gibs. Again, I’ll determine a style and feel for the action, then work with the stunt coordinator and fighters to incorporate their ideas to improve or achieve. We hope to use a few MMA fighters like Wanderlei Silva and Forrest Griffin to add a more vicious, less ballet like fighting. Grittier.
Xavier Declie got 3 Black Belts and continue the extensive Martial Art training with his Shaolin Monk Grand Master Shin Dae Woung. He has won an outstanding amount of titles in the Martial Art arena in weapons, forms, sparring and Judo championships. He left USA for the internal training of Shaolin Kung Fu. Returning to the USA he is Hollywood’s doctor of personal training to the Stars and Entertainment and Music Moguls. Recently married to actress Rebecca Ferratti, he is going back to the entertainment world. He worked on Conan TV series, Nemesis 3 and Alice in Wonderland.
Budomate: In 1991 you worked on Kickboxer 2 with Sasha Mitchell and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, how much time film took to shoot and was it harder or easier to shoot good action sequences in comparison with Cyborg?
Albert Pyun: It’s much tougher within the ring to stage action/fights. We had the choreographer from Raging Bull and he and I would basically “script the fight” then he would work with the actors. We really didn’t use stunt doubles except for some specific shots.
Budomate: Do you happy with Michel Qissi as Tong Po? On my opinion the make up was terrible in comparison with first Kickboxer.
Albert Pyun: I was very happy with Michel. A good guy and nice person. Lots of good creative ideas and hardworking. I believe the make up was better in Kick 2. It was done as a favor by the great Academy Award Winner Greg Cannon.
Budomate: Kickboxer 2 was full of great martial artists like Matthias Hues, Vince Murdocco, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Dale Jacoby. Did you cast them by yourself or you just was given a list of actors woth work with? Did you know them all before? “Godfather of grappling” Gene LeBell played a referee, do you remember him and what can you tell about him?
Albert Pyun: I cast them myself but of course, I had discussions with many people about it like Benny Urquidez and others. Gene was a character. Very easy going and funny. But he was kind of scary as well because he’s such a skilled grappler.
Budomate: You worked on Kickboxer 2 and 4, why did you miss the 3rd part and does it stand out against your movies?
Albert Pyun: I was on another film and was a little burnt out on pure martial arts at that point.
Budomate: Same year you worked on Bloodmatch with famous Benny Urquidez, who served as a fight choreographer and actor, do you remember any interesting fighting moment on the sets? Benny is a martial arts legend, why do you think he did not become an actin star like many others?
Albert Pyun: I think Benny was just so humble and not very ambitious. You have to have a certain ego about yourself to press to become a star. He didn’t have that and that was his charm. Very knowledgable and professional though.
Budomate: During 1992-1996 you filmed cyborg franchise named Nemesis, what do cyborgs mean to you and was it just a fashion of those times?
Albert Pyun: It wasn’t Cyborgs per se, but the world that might be with them. I liked the whole cyberpunk world.
Budomate: In 1995 you worked with other 2 great martial artists Keith Cooke and Gary Daniels in Heatseeker, another cyborg action movie. On my opinion this is your best martial arts movie, what can you say about that?
Albert Pyun: Thanks, it was a very fast shoot – aren’t they all? — 11 days and a lot of fights to stage!
Budomate: During 20 years you made almost 50 movies, which one is more close to your heart and why?
Albert Pyun: I love Mean Guns because it was pretty close to the movie I had in my mind. Brainsmasher…a love story was very satisfying as well. And then probably Down Twisted and Crazy Six, maybe Omega Doom which were also close to the movies I set out to make. That’s how I judge. Is the movie close to what I wanted to make.
Budomate: In the beginning you were supported by Toshirô Mifune and succeeded in getting hired as a trainee of the great Akira Kurosawa, can you tell more about that and did it changed your vision?
Albert Pyun: Well, it was a little disorienting initially as I spoke no Japanese. But I learned my visual style from Kurosawa’s great DP Takao Saito. And learned al ot about professionalism and stamina and discipline from the crews.
Budomate: I have heard you rarely controlled the final edition of your films, how did you change that today?
Albert Pyun: I self finance or have the films financed by investors I know and trust.
Budomate: My traditional question: which 3 martial arts movies you can call a classic?
Albert Pyun: Well – for me, it was Enter the Dragon, 18 Bronze Men and the Lone Wolf with baby cart movies.
Budomate: Thanks a lot for your time, really admire your works!
Albert Pyun: Thank you. Very kind of you and much appreciated. I have Road to Hell coming out soon which is very good as well as our Lovecraft adaptation, COOL AIR. both are almost finished in post. We’re about to begin shooting Cyborg: Rise of the Slingers and Red Moon. There’s also a Mean Guns 2 in there somewhere -lol. I’ve been incredibly lucky to be able to make films regularly since I was ten years old. I think every week since I was ten i’ve been in some phase of making a film. I’m grateful for that.
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