There is a person I need to acknowledge here at the beginning, and that is my sister. More than once over these long years of obsessing cinema, she has been the one that has unearthed little gems of movies that I, either by ignorance or simple momentary blindness, have unwittingly passed by. Now I’m tough to recommend to. Meaning that if you are going to try and sell me on a film you think is great, I must state, I am not won over easily. Aside from my sister there has been only one other person that has recommended films to me that I (A) haven’t seen, and (B) were right in their prognostication – which is to say, they weren’t lying and the film was really grand.
And so it was on one of these rich but rare occasions that my sister presented me with a film I hadn’t seen, and that she foretold was right up my alley, as it were. The film was Albert Pyun’s Knights.
The video store we were in that day is long gone now. I was one of the last that still had a liberal mixture of the then new DVDs and the old, faithful, VHS tapes. Now from memory, which isn’t always accurate, my sister had watched the movie prior to this visit and, upon seeing me struggling to find something to watch, picked up the tape and gave me the rundown.
Then as now, the premise, in this man’s opinion, is most alluring.
A Western/Vampire/Cyborg/Kickboxing flick set in a dystopian future – what more can you ask for? Wait – there is more. It’s the screen debut of kickboxing champion Kathy Long, you get to see Kris Kristofferson (Heaven’s Gate/Fire Down Below) , or at least his stuntman, do Kung fu, be blown in half and keep fighting. There’s a deliciously villainous performance from Lance Henriksen (Aliens/The Quick and the Dead), wonderfully unintentionally funny moments with Pyun’s Red Skull, Scott Paulin (The Right Stuff). This film was touted to be a sequel to Pyun’s other post-apocalyptic success CYBORG and even stars it’s villain in the person of Vincent Klyn (Point Break) – the hits just keep on coming.
To summarize, the story follows the journey of an orphan girl named Nea, growing up in a world where 1000 years of nuclear war has knocked society back to the stone age – and then come those Vampire Cyborgs. Feeding off the blood of the living and seeking to become ‘real boys’, they follow the plans handed down from the Master Builder. They also command human soldiers who have betrayed (the scene in which this plot point is tackled has a sweet little cameo from Tim ‘Jack Deth’ Thomerson) their race and help the Cyborgs harvest blood.
Into the chaos comes Gabriel (Kristofferson), a Cyborg terminator if you will, sent to end the brutal reign of his kin. He’s in town with a year to kill, literally, and to destroy the likes of Job (Henriksen), Simon (Paulin) and David (My Guest) (The Cyborgian Wild Bunch) with the aid of some rusty machetes and devastating martial arts manoeuvres like the Mont Blanc offensive along with the Crimean and Valhalla attacks.
Having been charged to take out the City of Taos and gather the blood of 10,000 souls to make them all powerful, the evil cyborgs might have pulled it off to if it weren’t for Kathy and Kris. Our heroes ultimately save the day and we are left with, what feels like, the beautiful promise of more to come (sequel). Sadly it never did. And though Nea finds her long lost brother who is captured by the elusive Master Builder, who we are then told via Nea’s voice-over that they chase across time and space till they catch up and kick some ass in Cyborg City – the movie is over, and all I want to do is watch it again.
I love the movies of Albert Pyun. From the seminal The Sword and the Sorcerer to his Captain America to Cyborg and Nemesis, Pyun is a filmmaker of such passion and diversity in his choices that you can only sit and let your mind dance in the splendor of his visions. But – Knights, I have to say is my favorite. To that end I have long wanted to do a little write-up on it and thought it a perfect fit for my ‘Remembering’ series here for PTS.
As always I have a guest who was a part of the film, and in the case of Knights it is martial arts action legend Gary Daniels who is here to share is tales from days of old – when Pyun’s Knights were bold . . .
Ladies and Gentlemen . . . Gary Daniels
KH: Firstly Gary, thank you for giving us your time, you’re a busy man and we appreciate it?
GD: Cheers Kent. Knights happened 26 years ago so I haven’t thought about it for a long time. But since you brought it up, little memories are coming back.
KH: How did the role in Knights come to you?
GD: Knights came very early in my career, I had just arrived in LA, signed with my first manager, Hiley Elkins (who represented James Coburn and Lou Gossett Jnr). Hiley got me an interview with Albert Pyun for a role which I think was originally written for a woman. I didn’t have to audition, just had a chat with Albert and fortunately I got the role.
KH: The locations used gave the film grand scope – what were they like to film in?
GD: Yes we shot in Moab, Utah. It was a small town with only one main road, kind of isolated but the surrounding countryside was beautiful and had some amazing landscapes that really enhanced the movie. Albert always had a very artistic eye and a clear vision for his films.
KH: You’ve played a diverse group of characters in your career – but what was it like playing a vampire/cyborg?
GD: Well as i mentioned this film came very early in my career so it was kind of a blessing for me to play a cyborg that didn’t have such a wide range of emotions, lol. Basically he was a robot that could fight. It was a good film for me to get my feet wet working on location with some great people and beginning to learn my trade.
KH: This film for me had echoes of another post-apocalyptic film you did; Fist of the North Star. Do you think there are parallels?
GD: For me personally I do not see any parallels between ‘Knights’ and ‘Fist of the North Star’. In FOTNS I was the lead so it was a much more demanding job and there was more pressure on me to carry the film. Also with FOTNS there was a source material that we needed to honor. ‘Knights’ was shot on location and 99% of FOTNS was shot on a sound stage. As a lead actor your relationship with the director and fight choreographer is much more in depth than when you are playing a lesser role, so I actually learnt a lot more from the FOTNS experience.
KH: As with Fist, on Knights you worked alongside some big names like Kris Kristofferson, Lance Henriksen – not forgetting five time world champion Kathy Long?
GD: Yes we had some great actors. Kathy and I got along great and would go to the gym together to work out, she was a very tough lady but also a very sincere person. On days off we would go on long hikes exploring the beautiful surrounding areas. At weekends the cast and crew would get together for barbecues and Kris Kristofferson would play guitar and sing so we were all treated to a private concert. My room in the honey wagon (changing room/trailer) was connected to Lance Henriksen’s so we would slide back the dividing wall and chat for hours. He was such a nice guy and gave me loads of advice. I was about to go and shoot ‘City Hunter’ with Jackie Chan so he gave me loads of advice on playing a villain. He had just received an offer to reprise his role as the android Bishop in the ‘Aliens’ sequel so he was in a good place at that time. As well as these great actors it was on ‘Knights that i got to meet and work with Burton Richardson who was the fight choreographer, a good guy and a talented, knowledgeable martial artist – also the stunt coordinator Bobby Brown whom I have been fortunate enough to work with several times since. He specializes in high falls and was once a high diver so can add tumbling to his falls, an incredibly talented man.
KH: Knights has gone on to become one of Albert Pyun’s more notable works among many in his prolific career, what it like working with him?
GD: Albert Pyun is one of the nicest, most easy going directors I have ever worked with, he has that Hawaiian island laid back attitude. I personally owed him a huge debt of gratitude as when I was on my way to Moab my plane had stopped for a layover in Salt Lake City and I was paged by the airport PA system. My manager was calling to say that Golden Harvest had called and wanted me in work on ‘City Hunter’ with Jackie Chan but they needed me in Tokyo to board the ship we shot on at a date where I was still scheduled to be in Moab on ‘Knights’. When I arrived in Moab I told Albert about the call and the situation and knowing who Jackie was he actually graciously rearranged the shooting schedule so I could finish my work on ‘Knights’ in time for me to get to Tokyo before the ship/cruise liner left. Not many directors would do that for a new actor so I will be eternally grateful to Albert for his kindness.
KH: Can you share with us any interesting tales from the shoot?
GD: One story from that shoot I remember other than the one above was . . . One day Kathy and I were driving to set and she accidentally ran over a rattlesnake in the road, a pretty big one I might add. Kathy was driving and she stopped the car, we looked back and saw the snake writhing around in the road. Kathy got out the car, walked back to the snake, picked it up and carried it to the side of the road so no other cars would hit it. That is the kind lady she is.
KH: What do you think are the ingredients for a cult classic?
GD: I don’t think that when you are making a film that you are planning on making a ‘cult classic’, it is really up to the audience and the fans that make that a reality. While shooting I think everyone just does the best work they can but some films just touch a nerve with certain audiences. They are not always the biggest budgets with the biggest stars but usually there is something original and unique that appeals to people.
KH: Before we finish, have you the desire to return to the post-apocalyptic actioner if gifted the opportunity?
GD: I would happily return to the post-apocalyptic genre, as always decisions are mostly based on the script and the character I am offered (and sometimes the money, lol). I was offered a lot of films early in my career that I would love to revisit as after almost 30 years in this business I feel I am a much more seasoned actor now and I have a lot more life experience to bring to my roles. The post-apocalyptic genre allows such a great scope for creativity as the future is unwritten so the only limit is your imagination.
Big thanks again to my Guest, the awesome Mr. Daniels for his time. Please do, however you can, seek out Knights – you won’t be disappointed I promise. And if you are not familiar with the cinema of Albert Pyun (https://www.albertpyun.net/), there’s no time like the present to start checking out his movies. The glorious thing is, despite struggling in a battle against dementia, Albert continues to keep his cameras rolling. C’mon! That’s gotta inspire.
Gary Daniels has performed in over 70 films since his start as an extra in an episode of the 1980s television series Miami Vice. He is best known for playing Kenshiro in the live-action version of Fist of the North Star. He is also known for his roles in the Jackie Chan film City Hunter, and as Bryan Fury in the 2009 live-action film Tekken, based upon the popular fighting game series. He was also seen in the Sylvester Stallone film The Expendables as Lawrence “The Brit” Sparks, an ally of the villain James Munroe.
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