Director: Albert Pyun
Writer: Albert Pyun
Cast: Kathy Long, Kris Kristofferson, Lance Henriksen, Gary Daniels, Scott Paulsin, Vincent Klyn
So, your funding just came through and you get to make your movie. Not only that, but you get to film your movie in the highly cinematic Utah regions of Monument Valley and Moab. However, it’s not enough to do a movie in Utah, you need some stars. Your quality screen presence comes in the form of veterans Lance Henriksen and Kris Kristofferson. The acting chops are nice, but you’re filming an action movie, so you need some quality fighters. Answering the bell are kickboxers Gary Daniels and Kathy Long. All this action and drama are nice, but you need some wacky costumes. You get the wacky costumes, plus some horses. Wait, why are people riding horses? Oh, it’s after the apocalypse. Why did the apocalypse happen? Nevermind that, because the cyborgs are running this shit now, and oh, by the way, the cyborgs need to extract human blood to stay alive, so they’re vampire cyborgs. These are the elements that kept Albert Pyun awake at night during the filming of Knights, released in 1993.
Real-life Aikidio/Wing Chun/kickboxing/Kung Fu San Soo dynamo Kathy Long plays Nea, a woman orphaned during her youth after a group of cyborgs led by the treacherous Job (Henriksen) slaughtered her village and her family, save for a younger brother. As the tribe of cyborgs move across the region’s remaining human settlements, their objective is to obtain as much of the red stuff as possible to achieve immortality.
During one such raid years later, the now-adult Nea is shot with an arrow by human mercenaries and left to the cyborg, Simon (Paulsin), a lackey of Job. However, a hooded rider (Kristofferson) appears on the horizon and immediately takes out a group of bandits before settings his sights on Simon. After disposing of the wise-cracking cyborg and then getting Nea to safety, we learn that this savior, Gabriel, is also a cyborg, albeit programmed with an entirely different objective: destroy the other cyborgs within his one year life-cycle. Following training that will show her the cyborgs’ strengths and vulnerabilities, Nea is going to help him do just that.
Tough and rugged ladies of action are few and far between. Those who immediately come to mind include Sigourney Weaver in the Alien franchise and Linda Hamilton in T2. Knowing her experience and capabilities, I want to put Michelle Yeoh in that group too, but her actual look doesn’t necessarily scream “tough chick.” In Knights, though, Kathy Long looks the part of a nomadic kickboxing warrior who’s less dolled-up than dirtied-up. In fact, I don’t know that you could put anyone else in her spot while preserving the same level of plausibility. Karen Sheperd and Kelly Gallant are possibilities but neither has the same essence. Cynthia Rothrock might be a popular choice, but in addition to being more petite, she lacks that visually tough look. So while Rothrock certainly can fuck you up, Long can and will fuck you up.
When the action sequences in Knights get rolling, the sparks literally fly. Pyun adds plenty of smoke and sparks to the various sword-fights and cyborg kills and it’s a welcome touch without it being overstylized to the point of being illogical. While no one fight scene sticks out due to the repetitious but passable choreography, there are plenty of impressive stunt falls and jumps strewn throughout to visually exaggerate the impact of blows received by the combatants. Gary Daniels, as cyborg henchman David, breaks up some of the monotony with excellent kicking displays during his limited but effective screen time.
Beyond the unique action sequences, the two other major visual boons are the shooting location and the costumes. Pyun maximizes just about every frame in using the Utah landscape as a stand-in for the wasteland of his cyborg-dominated universe. Lots of wide shots help to establish the size and scope of this barren existence and the deep oranges and reds are a nice change from the yellows and browns of most other post-apocalyptic action films (I’m looking at you, Cirio). While his location scout should have received a generous bonus for his or her efforts, the costume designer also deserves a nod. Most of the humans are decked out in the requisite rags and fabric scraps, but the cyborg army is decked out in flowy blue and red ensembles that seem almost Moorish in origin.
Even though his best film work came during the 1970s with titles like Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Convoy, and Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Kristofferson is fairly solid as Gabriel, the cyborg with a heart of gold. He acts as the guide through this unique Pyun universe for both Nea and the audience as he back-fills a lot of exposition when not training his prodigy on the finer points of killing cyborgs. The tone of his performance is rather interesting. He’s either: a) purposely mechanical because he’s a cyborg; b) stoic, in order to provide a grizzled and world-weary quality that evokes his experience in Westerns; or c) dry and squinty because he was really annoyed to be filming an Albert Pyun movie in the middle of the fucking desert. Even if it’s option C and Kristofferson wasn’t pleased with the production, it couldn’t be any worse than working on the set of A Star is Born with Barbara Streisand.
Henriksen appears to be having a grand old time playing the villainous Job. While my favorite performance remains his excellent and over-the-top turn as Emil Fouchon in John Woo’s Hard Target, this is as quirky and memorable a role as he’s ever had. What few scenes aren’t accented by him drooling as if he’s been overmedicated before an invasive dental procedure, instead find him doing equally odd things like wearing new-wave sunglasses while kissing a parrot. Making a concerted effort to steal every scene in which he’s involved, Henriksen cut loose and went to a lot of fun and weird places with his character. I can’t say I envy Lance though, because the comically oversized cybernetic hook-arm he drags around for the entire film no doubt gave him terrible hip and lower-back pain. Shit looked uncomfortable.
Despite the occasional pacing and narrative flaws, I rather enjoyed the 90 minutes I spent in this world of drooling, blood-sucking cyborgs parading around the state parks of Utah. Knights is Pyun operating at an 11 on the Pyun scale of campiness: we get a silly plot, zany action sequences, twisted humor, clunky Biblical undertones, and majestic wide-angle shots. It’s a film that knows exactly what it is and just about everyone got the memo on what it wasn’t, so no one overreaches. I’m not the most well-versed of Albert Pyun scholars out there, so I won’t be so presumptive as to say it’s one of his best, but I’d have to think that good or bad, this ranks as one of his most entertaining. Take that as you will.
4 / 7