Winter of Discontent has brought me into contact with the works of some notorious and nefarious directors. Ruggero Deodato, Bo Arne Vibenius, Jess Franco and the just plain heinous Joe D’Amato.
Then I heard tell of Albert Pyun. A laugh out loud funny and yet somehow queasily worrying article on The Inferior 4 pegged him as “the new Ed Wood”. This, apparently, is a man who served his apprenticeship working with Kurosawa, Mifune and cinematographer Takao Saito in Japan, and then hooked up with Golan-Globus to make the Kathy Ireland vehicle ‘Alien from LA’. Which is kind of like taking a creative writing course with Neal Stephenson, William Gibson and Iain Banks then publishing a short story on a Guy N. Smith fan fiction site. A man who, astoundingly, had a box office hit in 1989 with the Jean-Claude van Damme starrer ‘Cyborg’ and rode the crest of this mainstream success with the ill-fated ‘Captain America’ (a film he made for essentially nothing after the financing fell through) and then went to work for Full Moon Productions on ‘Dollman’ just two years later. This is kind of like making something for Merchant Ivory then, 24 months down the line, calling “action” on an ‘Anthropophagus’ remake for Platinum Dunes. Except that the Platinum Dunes gig would stand a better chance of seeing the inside of a movie theatre.
Anyway, the 200 odd words of the above paragraph were (a) a brief introduction to the work of Albert Pyun and (b) an attempt to avoid writing about ‘Bulletface’, a film that I’d heard all manner of controversial and challenging things about but which turned out to be just plain depressing.
Here’s a synopsis: DEA agent Dara Marren (Victoria Maurette) is playing both ends against the middle to try to keep her gang-related brother Bruno (Michael Esparza) out of trouble. When a bit of human trafficking goes tits up and Bruno is injured by a rival gang member during a shoot-out at the US/Mexican border, Dara is hauled up in court. Plea bargaining so that Bruno gets sent back to the States, Dara accepts a 25 year sentence in a Mexican prison where violence and rape are a daily occurrence. In the meantime, Bruno’s safety proves short-lived and a bullet negates his sister’s act of self-sacrifice.
During a transfer from the prison to hospital, Dara’s former DEA buddy Ned Walker (Steven Bauer) intercedes to smuggle Dara back into America where she has a single weekend to track down her brother’s killers and take revenge before surrendering herself back into captivity.
All of which sounds very dramatic and promising. Unfortunately, just that plot synopsis was dependent on two excruciating viewings and a couple of online reviews. Randall Fontana’s script subjects narrative coherence, exposition and characterization to the same kind of undignified humiliation that Dara endures in prison. Pyun interminably hits the freeze frame button and overlays moody close-ups with character names and still manages to render huge tranches of the film’s scant 78-minute running time incomprehensible.
Maurette’s performance is okay, Bauer’s too, but everyone else runs the gamut from wooden to stilted. In addition to the freeze frames, Pyun throws in all manner of wonky camera work, jerky editing and split screen montages without demonstrating the most basic understanding of how and why these techniques should be used. ‘Bulletface’ comes across as the work of a film school drop out desperately trying to be Tarantino, not that of a man in his mid-50s who once had features released theatrically.
Worse, Pyun punctuates virtually stage of Dara’s trail of revenge with flashbacks to the prison gang rapes. He not only uses an incredibly unconvincing body double – someone with the physique of a Playboy model where Maurette’s figure is more compact and athletic – but manages to eroticize these scenes even as he’s emphasizing the brutality. Classy, Albert, reeeeal classy.
With the plot little more than a mish-mash of unthought-out ideas, the sexual content venal and the revenge element singularly lacking in catharsis, ‘Bulletface’ is a drab, pedestrian and derivative piece of work.
It would take a braver, stupider or more masochist reviewer than me to stage an Albert Pyun retrospective.