The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Mean Guns (1997) (Revisited)

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My original Mean Guns post came on May 15, 2007, about ten days after post number 1. At that time, I didn't really know who Albert Pyun was. This thing was still meant to celebrate all the B movies my buddies and I enjoyed, so I focused more on actors like Christopher Lambert. I happened to catch Mean Guns on TV, because it had Lambert, was less than impressed, and there's the review I wrote. This was before I had software on my computer to capture images, so the original two I got from somewhere-- I can't remember now. If you're out there and you're pissed I hotlinked your images, well, chill out, and remember, they're not yours either. Anyway, Mr. Pyun asked me recently to give his film another chance, so that's what we're doing with by revisiting it here.

Mean Guns is about a group of killers, snitches, etc. that have been gathered in a prison for what they think is a party. It's not. A major crime organization, aptly titled The Syndicate, has brought everyone that's ever wronged them together, and the last three standing get a share of a $10 million prize. The rest-- well, I'm sure you can figure that out. What follows is a deadly free-for-all followed by an equally deadly game of cat and mouse, as the remaining players form alliances, betray each other, and ultimately, kill each other off.

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Okay, let me start with what I liked about Mean Guns. A lot of the characters were great. Michael Halsey was great, Lambert was great, Ice-T was great, all the way down to Pyun mainstays Yuji Okumoto, Thom Mathews, and Tina Coté. The action was solid and the film's premise was intriguing. I believe I said in my initial review that after the first 45 minutes, it's much better, and upon a second viewing, I'd amend that slightly, because there are pockets of action before that, but then it kind of grinds to a halt, and when it picks up again, it never quite regains that frenetic pace it had when Ice-T's men first dump the guns out to the 100 or so gangsters. Also, Mean Guns had some great Western and Hong Kong cinema elements, and I liked the off-beat nature of the violence (other than when the kid was involved, which I'm about to get to). So there was a lot here I dug.

All right, here's what didn't work for me. First and foremost, having the kid there was really weird, especially when she witnesses Tina Coté's death, which would've been played for laughs otherwise. I mentioned in the first post the sped up film in spots, especially with Ice-T staring at Lambert, didn't look right. The dynamic between Okumoto and Mathews felt forced and too derivative, like it was trying too hard to be Travolta and Jackson in Pulp Fiction. On top of that, the conflict between the two when Coté arrives seems really inorganic. Okumoto barely has a chance to get to know her before he's ready to forsake his friendship with Mathews for her. Had she been paired with them from the start, and that scene where she fights a guy in the kitchen been removed (which didn't work for me), the conflict would've looked a lot better. Finally, the almost 2 hour runtime may have been the biggest issue I had. In part, we had elements like Lambert's past that I felt were superfluous-- why not just have Lambert be a crazy guy, and leave it at that, especially if that means getting rid of the kid aspect. Then we also fell into a trap of excitement by repetition. Gunfight after gunfight with no distinguishing qualities. Don't get me wrong, a lot of them were great, they just lost their punch after a while.

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That leaves me I guess with the what do I think might have improved it. As I said above, the idea is perfect. A deadly game conducted inside of a prison before it's opened is great. I almost think more could've been done with that. There were some gunfights in the kitchen, but that was it. Also, we never really had a sense of the space. We'd see a character in one place, and the immediate scene after they'd appear in a totally different location. When I think of a prison, I think of a virtual island, but also an environment that can be completely controlled by an individual or a group of individuals, almost in the way that the island in The Tempest was controlled by Prospero's magic. All we had, though, was a lot of what looked like a high school, only with armed guards outside, and with Ice-T watching everything on security cameras. It would've been interesting to see Ice-T, or someone else in the film, play with the space some, open and close cells, sound alarms, set off sprinklers, find some riot gear, hose someone down with a fire extinguisher, anything like that-- in that Hong Kong cinema vein, where the set is a dynamic part of the action.

Another thing I thought about as I watched it, is why didn't a character hide out while everyone killed each other? Like a grizzled vet, a Lance Henriksen type who we see from time to time in thirty second shots, playing solitaire or reading Nietzsche in a janitor's closet or something, while the sounds of gunshots and violence rang out around him. Then, after enough of the players have killed themselves off, he pops in and gums up the works for the other characters who think they're close to the prize.

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When I wrote the initial review, three years ago, I made a few jokes, as I often do, one of which said something to the effect of "the sped up film looked like a car commercial, which was probably what this director did before this." I would say Mr. Pyun would have been within his rights to hit me with a "you're a fat kid living in his parent's basement" crack, or even to not even waste his time with my little review blog. He didn't do that though; he instead commented in another post about how he liked being in the Hall of Fame, and joked about how I made it through some of his films like Cyborg and Omega Doom. It's possible in the Mean Guns review he knew I was kidding about the car commercial crack, but in a later post, someone commented that they "didn't like Pyun's work", and he didn't respond at all to it, instead posting a comment telling us what happened with Urban Menace. As a result of all of this, I now make it a priority to look at his work and get the word out there about him. It's an age old saying, you catch more flies with honey, but for smaller production companies and lesser named directors, you could learn something from Pyun's use of blogs like this. Instead of wanting to shout down every negative review and pick a fight with every "fat kid in his parents' basement", use us to your benefit, get us excited about your future projects. I can say he's also taught me a bit about catching more flies with honey...

All right, time to wrap up this second Mean Guns review. Albert Pyun announced on his Facebook page that he's looking to remake this film, setting it on the BP Deep Water Horizon oil rig. I think that could be really great. As far as this Mean Guns' availability, I got it on Netflix Watch Instantly, but Hulu has it as well. The problem with both is it's pan-and-scan. I believe the version I saw on TV was too, but I could be wrong about that. Netflix no longer has it available on DVD to rent though. There's a lot to recommend here, especially with Lambert and Ice-T (though I still don't like Ice-T's fight scenes), but it is 110 minutes long. As I said above, that's my main issue with it, because early on as I was watching it again, I was like "geez Poirier, what movie were you watching, this is pretty sweet", but it loses some steam, and never quite gets it back-- at least in my opinion. By all means, get in and comment on this and say what you think too.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119642/And for news on Albert Pyun's upcoming projects: http://www.pyun.com/, or you can check him out on Facebook at Albert Pyun Movies.

12 comments:

  1. Hi DTV,

    Thanks for the second look. I really enjoyed your analysis as its like seeing the movie from a different point of view. What separates your reviews from others is they are from a knowledgeable base and don't try to be clever at the expense of the movie you're reviewing. While cleverness and wit certainly makes reviews entertaining, its the depth of analysis that is really appreciated -- not that the films I make have more than a millimeter of depth. But I feel I learn something from your reviews which is helpful going forward. Many reviews I read become about the reviewer and not the movie. I really treasure your insight into these crazy films I make.

    I find your comments about the strengths and weak points of Mean Guns very helpful going forward with the remake. Thanks so much for taking the time to revisit.

    I know how difficult reviewing can be as I tried, on basis of a few good reviews, to watch Scott Pilgrim tonght and just couldn't get through it. I appreciated its artistry in telling its tale and much of its humor but the story and characters were hard to get involved with. So I only made it 60 minutes. There was a lot to enjoy but it was tough to hang with. It certainly shows how there's different audiences out there with widely varied taste.

    I'm taking a beating with this Thai version of Tales that was released last month. The US version is the real film but I'm learning a lot even from the slings and arrows hurled my way. So the US version will benefit from this premature release.

    Albert Pyun

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  2. Actually I appreciated this movie for it's running time it really didn't bother me, the whole daughter thing has to go though. I liked Mathews/Okumoto's relationship. I also liked the soundtrack.

    Speaking of Thom Mathews, IIalways wanted to ask Albert about Bloodmatch. Cause I love that movie except for the ending which was so abrupt. I always wanted to know what you had in mind with that.

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  3. Hi Kenner,

    We shoot Bloodmatch in 4 days mainly due to Menahem Golan's company needed a film to generate quick cashflow. We shot it immediately after Kickboxer 2 wrapped and so we still had the ring set up in the Irvine Center.

    The abruptness was more a product of we exhausted our shooting days, film stock and entire budget - I believe around $100k for everything.

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  4. I really appreciate all of your kind words and compliments, so thank you for that. Over the three years-plus I've been writing this blog, I've tried to not be that guy who just says "this was horrible!" just for the sake of saying it, but at the same time, I try not to write reviews that go on too long or become self-indulgent. I want to get to the point, say what I liked and didn't like and why, but also say what might have made it better, not so much because I think I'm so great or talented, but rather to show where I'm coming from as far as why something didn't work for me-- that I've actually thought about it before committing it to the post. I'm really glad that you appreciate my approach, it means a lot.

    As far as depth goes, for me, depth is about sincerity. The world would be a boring place if everyone was trying to be Ozu, and the truth is, if I want Ozu, I'll just watch one of his films. But there's a place for Cyborg too, and when I want Cyborg, I like that I have that option. The fact that you're here commenting at all makes the question of your sincerity beyond doubt, and I think that's depth; but the fact too that you're trying new things, being innovative, when maybe the resources aren't there and it would be easy to not stay creative, we as an audience appreciate those things. We like that we can look at your movies and try to guess on what you might have been going for, and then say one way or the other whether we thought it worked-- and like you said about Scott Pilgrim, it's all relative, but because you're willing to see that instead of get defensive, it adds to our experience as well. Again, it's more depth. You're comments on Bloodmatch are another example.

    Thank you again for the support and taking the time to comment here. I hope everything goes well with Tales, I know we're all looking forward to it. I'll be checking on Facebook and www.pyun.com for updates. Good luck, and all the best

    --Matt

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  5. That is so cool that Albert Pyun has commented on your site! I would love to know what was it like to film Captain America.

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  6. He gets into it a little bit here in this IFC Interview. The question comes up on the second page.

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  7. Wow! This is a detriment to Pyun's talent. I mean 4 days to make a movie as well made as Bloodmatch is a tall order. I mean such explains some of the acting (i'm guess one takes) but the fight sequences were perfect, especially the one among the gangs. I gotta say much respect.

    I guess that explains why there is so much vagueness towards wheter Mathews is a cyborg, a brother of said guy or the actual kickboxer. 4 days. Wow that's impressive. You nailed down a film noir atmosphere and those fight sequences were impressive.

    Kickboxer 2 I did notice the vegas sets, as well as the city shots from such. I mean just from a technical standpoint (aburpt ending aside) it's truly impressive.

    I do want to say, that after the sequel to the Sword and Sorcerer sequel, that we'd love to see a martial arts movie again, some of your best work (Cyborg, Kickboxer 2,Nemesis, Kickboxer 4 and Bloodmatch) is in fact martial arts.

    Back to Mean Guns, one thing I liked is how you turned what is usually a drab environment into actually atmospheric, as the prison has sort of a dark charm. Another thing is the music score in all your films, I particularly liked Cyborg, Kickboxer 4, Bloodmatch and especially Mean Guns score, it adds a stylism to the approach.

    Another thing I like about Pyun's martial arts movies is that he often mixes it with a film noir style. All of his heroes tend to be burned out in someway (Exception is Kickboxer 2, which was quickly rectified in Kickboxer 4) and all of them recall the Noir heroes, of course being that you often combine such with futuristic developments often makes for a Max Headroom like feel. I gotta say this is what I most appreciate about your films.

    Anyway, just wanted to show my appreciation.


    I still think that Mean Guns inspired Battle Royale.

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  8. http://www.pyun.com/blog/cyborg-legacy-update-nov-9/

    http://www.pyun.com/blog/cyborg-legacy-storyline-developing/

    Those are from www.pyun.com about a new Cyborg in development.

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  9. Hi Kenner,

    Thanks for the very kind comments about Bloodmatch. I must really give credit to the martial artists and actors who performed the fights. On a breakneck shooting schedule its very difficult to get right and coverage to protect are generally not available due to time. So its really a tribute to these artists that they pulled off those fights with very little rehearsal and shoot time. I know they'd be very happy to hear how your appreciate their work. And it is THEIR work you're seeing.

    I intend on getting back to post apocalyptic movies with martial arts next year.

    I do try, as in the case of the Mean Guns locatio,n to try to give a different look or feel to each set. The look and compositions are very important to me as part of the storytelliing.

    I also really try not to be predictable when it comes to my genre movies. I like to spin the genre around a bit, to attempt something creative and new.

    my recent films reflect this more abstract approach as in Left For Dead, Bulletface and Road to Hell. Even Tales is not what the audience expects and is, I think, very inventive in the telling.

    Thanks to everyone for their very kind support and love o DTV movies. Its really nice to see these efforts live on with fans and cult movie lovers.

    Albert Pyun
    www.pyun.com
    Albert Pyun Movies / facebook

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  10. I must admit I don't think I have seen any more of Mr. Pyun's movies than Cyborg, though I have picked up Nemesis and Kickboxer 2 in recent days and will make sure I get to them shortly.

    I am very happy to hear you are going to be making more martial arts PA movies! I am also very keen to check out Left for Dead and especially Road to Hell - Michael Pare is awesome!

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  11. I think it goes without saying that we thank you for doing what you do, and we're happy to back your new projects and celebrate and give new life to the older ones.

    I think you'll like Nemsis better than Kickboxer 2, but both are very necessary for your site.

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  12. I had the pleasure to interview Mr. Pyun for Brazilian, Portuguese, French, American and Spanish midia and he proved to be a very humble and straightforward person, certainly more down-to-earth than folks in the film industry with a tenth of his experience and cult following...along with his partner, Cynthia Curnan-another genuine fan of Genre Cinema-, he is, what I´d call, an ´Hollywood Survivor´ and, if anyone reading this thinks he is ´not here to stay´, should have his/her head checked.

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