1 StarAlbert Pyun’s Tales of an Ancient Empire is the biggest cinematic letdown of this young year and I fear it will end up on my worst of list next December. Not familiar with Pyun’s work? I’ll bet you’ve seen at least one of his movies on cable sometime during the last thirty years. Pyun’s biggest hits include Cyborg, Nemesis, and The Sword and the Sorcerer. If those titles don’t ring a bell than surely the names Charlie Sheen, Jean Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal, Rutger Hauer and Christopher Lambert are recognizable. These are just a handful of big names Pyun has worked with in the course of a career spanning three decades. Seemingly every actor ever assembled for a Pyun film makes an appearance in Tales of an Ancient Empire, the reported semi-sequel to The Sword and the Sorcerer.
Truth be told I have eagerly awaited this title since its inception nearly four years ago. I grew up loving the first movie particularly because it featured a three pronged sword and the charming swagger of Lee Horsely. I have a special affinity with Horsely ever since as a child I witnessed the great actor Telly Savalas mistake my father (at a hotel restaurant/bar in Florida) for Horsley. I digress; I guess beating around the bush doesn’t help in hiding the fact that Tales is a monumentally bad movie. I don’t know who the blame falls on, there was rumor of post production tinkering by Lionsgate Studios, but Pyun’s name is on the finished product so he must shoulder some responsibility.
Editing and linear storytelling are thrown out the window early on and for the initial forty-five minutes I had to re-watch scenes to keep track for what was going on and why. In short it was far too much work for a film not titled Tree of Life, I’ve watched Tales twice now and I’m still not entirely clear on the rambling mythology the film and its writer Cynthia Curnan attempt to set-up. However there are ample doses of humor, mixed with horror and comic book elements. All to be undone by one of the biggest cop-out endings I’ve seen in recent years. When the viewer sits down to watch a film, he or she enters into a pact with the filmmaker for ninety minutes or so to be entertained. Tales does not live up to its end of that bargain.
Pyun has an excellent eye for the visually intriguing and his love for the craft is palpable. The thing that makes Tales such a frustrating viewing experience is that the elements of a good movie, or at least a watchable one, are swimming about in this murky haphazard concoction. It’s not Tales‘ fault of arriving on the heels of two infinitely better sword and sorcery B-movies, The Scorpion King 3 and In the Name of the King 2. Yet I can’t shake the comparisons out of my mind and next to those picture the problems with Pyun’s become even more glaring.
It pains me to give such a negative review to a movie that features some of my favorite childhood screen presences. Particularly the almost unrecognizably jacked Sasha Mitchell and Oliver Gruner (read our interview with Oliver Gruner). Unfortunately I can’t recommend Tales to anybody other than those looking to make a drinking game out of the proceedings. Hey you never know, this may one day end up a cult classic. Do yourself a favor and check out Pyun’s other work like the underrated Knights or Mean Guns, better yet re-watch The Sword and the Sorcerer.
Director: Albert Pyun
Stars: Kevin Sorbo, Michael Paré, Melissa Ordway