Weinberg Reviews TALES OF AN ANCIENT EMPIRE

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Weinberg Reviews TALES OF AN ANCIENT EMPIRE

Here's the story of how I waited for 29 years to see a sequel ... that turned out to be one of the worst films I've ever seen.

As a very young movie freak, I was madly in love with a tongue-in-cheek, gore-laden sword and sandals action-fest called The Sword and the Sorcerer. My friends and I probably watched it a half-dozen times over the course of a few years, and one of the most delicious things about the flick arrived just before the end credits:

"Talon will return in Tales of the Ancient Empire." (Talon was the cocky, swaggering mega-hero, as played by Lee Horsley.)

The years dragged by, and whenever I revisited (or discussed) The Sword and the Sorcerer, that promised sequel always bugged me like a loose tooth. Of course I gave up on seeing "Tales of the Ancient Empire" many years ago -- and now I wish it had never arrived. Yes, after almost three full decades of waiting, director Albert Pyun has returned with a semi-sequel that simply has to be seen to be believed, and I do not mean that as a compliment.

The first film was a goofy, low-budget action romp, to be sure, but it was a real movie; a three-act, pulpy story that you could follow and appreciate and maybe pick a few cool characters from. Hardly high art, but S&S remains a rather highly-regarded cult flick, all things considered. This "sorta" follow-up is ... it's a failing grade in filmmaking 101, frankly, Pick any component of filmmaking you like: screenwriting, acting, music, editing, costumes ... and you'll find better examples of cinematic professionalism in the deleted scenes of Uwe Boll's worst movie. And that's not hyperbole.

You'd only know it by making it to the 60-minute point of the film, but Tales of an Ancient Empire is about a princess who must track down her estranged father so that together they can rid a kingdom of a vampire scourge. That sounds pretty simple and straightforward, right? Nope. In order to piece that meager narrative together I had to struggle through:

1. A 12-minute opening credits sequence that offers more narrated nonsense than a lecture in clown college.

2. Dime-store vampiresses who hiss and stare and bug their eyes out while divulging huge chunks of cleavage. (Did the casting call for this flick request complete amateurs?)

3. A narrative structure that, truth be told, isn't even near to being finished. What should be a simple little story is perpetually undone by some of the shoddiest editing tricks I've ever seen. To cover for the scenes that are missing, Pyun simply offers up some hand-drawn artwork or, even more hilariously, a lady's head staring right at the audience and explaining what's happening in scenes that the director never got around to shooting.

4. Cruelly overlong monologues, speeches and pissy diatribes from unprepared actors who would have been better served delivering mono-syllabic grunts and perhaps some florid hand gestures.

5, Some of the worst work you'll ever see from the likes of Michael Pare, Kevin Sorbo, Ralf Moeller, and Olivier Gruner -- and that's really saying something.

6. Scene after scene of actors standing in front of clunky green-screen backgrounds, spitting out nonsensical dialogue in one static take at a time.

Straight and to the point, Tales of an Ancient Empire is the sort of movie that makes you reconsider Uwe Boll's status as the reigning king of movie crap. Mr. Pyun has spent his years between The Sword and the Sorcerer and Tales of an Ancient Empire churning out some of the broadest, clunkiest, and most cable-ready junk piles -- but his most recent effort is really something else. A film that capably "MSTies" its own self, but grows wearisome and grating once the chuckles subside, Tales of an Ancient Empire is one of the most amateurish movies I've ever seen on the big screen.

As a guy who's seen more than his share of the Pyun ouevre, I can't say I'm surprised that Tales of an Ancient Empire is a bad film; I am, however, kind of shocked at how overwhelmingly cheap, stupid and uninteresting the thing is. I've often said that bad film should be covered in film school, as their lessons are often a lot more evident than the assets located in "quality" movies, and if that's the case, Tales of an Ancient Empire should get a semester all its own. This is a staggeringly inept film.

The film screened at Alamo Drafthouse in Austin. It was released on Region 2 DVD in Sweden last year, but that edition appears to be currently out of print.

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More about Tales of an Ancient Empire

SwarezJuly 19, 2011 5:06 AM

Goddamnit!

albert pyunJuly 19, 2011 9:26 AM

Hi Scott - whoa...thanks for the review. Really. The point of the screening was to get a sense of where the film was at and clearly we have a lot of work yet to do. It's been a real struggle to even get the film to this point so, yeah, there's a lot of funky stuff in it because of the number (clearly unsuccessful) cheats I've had to resort to.

I will focus on the areas you listed specifically although the overall tone and story can't be changed. I can increase pace and try to cut back the narrator and a few of the graphic art shots.

I can't improve performances at this point but by cutting out some of the clutter, it might put the performances in a better light.

Anyway, thanks for attending. And thanks for your insight so I can try to improve on the experience for future audiences!

Albert Pyun

Scott WeinbergJuly 19, 2011 3:41 PM

Hey Albert, you've given us the impression that this was a "work in progress" screening, but before the show you said it was finished. As I am not in the habit of (ever) reviewing unfinished films, I am a little bit confused here.

Sorry I didn't like the film, but I will always (!) be grateful to you for S&S. Thanks for being a class act about a nasty review.

-scott

JohnnyJuly 19, 2011 4:35 PM

Pyun will never be "finished" with (fill in name of whatever Pyun movie that he's mercilessly hyping here). It's all a house of cards, a con, shell game, what have you. He reminds me of the TV preacher Jim Bakker that use to raise money for one thing and spend it on another. Just look back at the last couple of years of this guy. None of the movies he's blabbed about are "finished." He's always tinkering with them and he always will be. Why? Probably that he's hiding film budget money from investors of something like that. How much you wanna bet that Pyun is the person that sold TOAE to Thailand that he's blaming some "evil investor" for doing. He's such a load of dishonest shit. And he's obvious about it, too.

No, Scott, you got your review right.

Ard VijnJuly 19, 2011 4:37 PM

So the Swedish version sold on DVD is a workprint? Now I'm really confused... Or is the upcoming film going to be a "1.11" or "Extended Cut" or something?

JohnnyJuly 19, 2011 5:04 PM

and BTW Scott, over at Pyun's facebook page (Albert Pyun Movies) they're saying this about you:

"Yes, we read the twitch review. That guy began snarking out loud before the movie started."

So, a typical Pyun move, deflect and bury head in sand to avoid reality.

Didn't you know, Scott. The movie sucks because of you, not anything Pyun did.

HKFanaticJuly 19, 2011 5:44 PM

There's some guys at AICN that are still screaming about Albert Pyun ripped off the entire country of Guam for $800,000 with the whole Max Havoc fiasco. It's a shame that the latter part of his career has been plagued with controversy and shoddy filmmaking because, I'll be honest, I dig the first "Cyborg" flick.

albert pyunJuly 19, 2011 9:41 PM

Scott,

i honestly appreciate your review and love its honesty. I wish it wasn't about my movie but its still cool you are so blunt when many reviews hedge.

I am working around the clock to adjust and address the points I can can address and will screen an all new version of Tale on Saturday at midnight in Louisville. I'm calling this "the Weinberg Version" and hope it corrects at least the major points you listed.

I don't think i can correct the "amateur" aspect because this was done on a no budget level but I think we might turn a corner. however slight, into somewhat pro level.

Thanks again, Scott, from my heart for giving me this gift when I still have a chance to do something about it. I truly appreciate it! Especially as I begin the sequel in 6 weeks! No more green screen!

HK Fanatic - This is still my most rewarding period of filmmaking!

Albert Pyun

P.s. - Johnny....dude you are pathetic and never offer any real facts. Prove that I was the one who sold and delivered to Thailand, and I will
cop to everyhing you want me to.

JohnnyJuly 19, 2011 9:50 PM

Pathetic? You'd know pathetic now wouldn't you? No I don't have any facts about you selling your film to Thailand. Just seems like something you would do.

But if you want facts about ya, you let me know. I'll post 'em all right here.

You just let me know. Ever wonder why Christian Slater bailed from that proposed film of yours a ways back? No, the real reason.

Just let me know, dude.

Ard VijnJuly 19, 2011 10:15 PM

OK, official warning: let's keep playing nice. Facts and opinions only. One more threat or impossible to prove rumor and it's banning time.

I don't mind people having an axe to grind, just don't do it here.

icn1983July 20, 2011 5:14 AM

Honestly, I think saying "no more green screens!" is kind of silly. That's like saying "No more slow-mo!" or "No more flashbacks!" It's just a technique that if poorly-used stands out a bit in a good film and like a sore thumb in a bad one. The real problems here seem to be with the story, the acting, and direction. There's plenty of great genre movies with bad special effects ("Dark Star," "Q: The Winged Serpent," etc.) and crappy movies with great special effects (any given Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich film after 1998).

Also, I'm not too impressed when a filmmaker uses a low-budget as an excuse. There are a lot of great genre movies being made right now on a shoe-string by young upstarts ("Monsters," "Rubber," "Stakeland") that are ambitious in scope and don't look amateurish. On an even more fundamental level, your budget isn't the audience's problem. Theoretically, they paid the same amount to see your film in a theater or on DVD as any other movie. At the very least are giving you one and a half to two hours of their life. If you can't make it good, make it fun, and definitely don't make it boring.

albert pyunJuly 20, 2011 9:07 AM

@ICN 1963 - I agree with you. I'm just saying no more green screens pertaining to me. I think on the lower or non-budget end you have to have some background or abilities in vefx to pull that off. I'm not sure what the capabilities or knowledge was of the filmmakers behind the films you listed but I'm sure they have far more knowledge and and skill than I to pull it off.

Its just clear my way of shooting (18 to 20 pages a day) does not mesh with vefx green screen shots.

I agree my budget isn't the audience's problem but my own. But it does impact the film I'm making.

In any case, appreciate the scolding and hope my experience can pull Tales together before Saturday's public screening!

Albert Pyun

Kurt HalfyardJuly 22, 2011 2:52 PM

I think it pretty damn awesome that Pyun is public in this forum about his filmmaking. I mean how often does the average reader get this direct to a filmmaker, indie or not?

albert pyunJuly 25, 2011 12:15 AM

Scott - We screened the entirely re-edited Tales of an Ancient Empire last night at midnight (ugh) and the very positive reaction proves you so right on all counts. We took your laundry list of critique and systematically tore the film apart and started from scratch. The film opens with the ressurection of the vampire and then we go straight away to Sorbo in the tavern. This worked really great. We got a lot of big goofy reactions from the audience (they good kind) and I think everyone had fun. Everyone said the movie was extremely fast paced and the only complaint we heard was that the story was so streamlined that it felt light. But the sheer fast momentum worked wonders allowing performances to improve and not linger.

Everyone commented on the "look" of the film. Again helped by starting with vampire ressurection and the Sorbo scenes. The fast pace and stramlined storytelling enhanced all aspects of the film.

I can't thank you enough, Scott, for taking both the time and effort to give me such a clear roadmap. I hope if you ever chance seeing this "final" cut that you will find it rewarding that your thoughts were taken to heart.

You know sometimes a filmmaker needs a hard slap to get his objectivity back. Thanks for giving me mine!

Best,
Albert Pyun

WillJuly 25, 2011 3:26 PM

You have succeed Mr. Pyun in making me want to see this.

albert pyunJuly 25, 2011 6:16 PM

Thanks Will, I hope it will be a fun experience. The audience in Louisville at midnight Saturday seem to enjoy it.

This sort of rapid redo could only be possible today and because I control the film via final cut. If a studio controlled it, it would never allow a film to be completely redone based on the comments on a few. I however, have the luxury of listening!

It wasn't easy and required no sleep from the moment Monday's screening in Austin finished. I recut the film as I traveled to Louisville. In hotel rooms in Texarkana, Memphis the the fil was ripped (literally) back to its original shots and then slowly put back together following Scott's comments and list of offending filmmaking.

I learned a big lesson and I'm really grateful technology allows for this type of adjusting on the fly. The audience reaction was gratifying.

I hope more filmmakers take advantage of this type of input to refine their vision. And not fight against or ignore very helpful guidance.

Albert Pyun

Scott WeinbergJuly 25, 2011 7:34 PM

Albert, I'm pleased (and flattered) if you think my review helped to make the film better. Having said that, I've now reviewed a film that no longer exists. This is precisely why I wish I'd been told that the film was still a work in progress. I could have given you my thoughts privately and I would have avoided coming off like the asshole here.

Best of luck down the road with the movie and its sequels. Not sure how canceling your Fantasia screenings is a helpful move, but that's just me.


-scott

albert pyunJuly 26, 2011 9:32 AM

I am sorry for not mentioning that changes would likely be made to the version. I had just finished shooting the last bit a few days before the Austin screening so Austin was the first time even I saw the cut. I should have been clearer about where the film was at. My apologies.

Your review was critical though and a private exchange might not have had the same visceral impact on me that the public dress down had.

In any case, your review is what I needed and you more than just made it better....you saved the movie (and me). I will be eternally grateful to you for that, Scott.

Albert Pyun

Ard VijnJuly 26, 2011 10:51 AM

Mr. Pyun, will Scott Weinberg be in the (final) end credits under: "Special Thanks to..."?
Because that would be extremely cool!
;-)

albert pyunAugust 9, 2011 6:30 PM

Ard,

If you'd like to see the first 18 minutes of the redone Tales, please write to:

curnanpictures@gmail.com

Identify yourself as Ard from Twitch and you'll get the private link. I think within a minute or two you will be able to decide whether we were able to "save" the film. I think it works great thanks to Scott's notes and others, just as brutally honest. Wow...filmmaking is sure becoming a communal process!

Albert Pyun

optimusxjfrOctober 20, 2011 8:25 PM

Just watched S&S tonight to relive the nostalgia and found my way here. As a child that 3 bladed sword was so badass, I wish it saw more action, lol. After reading your comments I find you to be a class act and I look forward to being able to see this film.

AdamMarch 21, 2012 9:44 PM

I just watched this movie, it wasn't an early screening, it's what you have released to the public to watch.

Everything he said about how terrible it of a movie it was is entirely accurate.

scalabrin2001June 15, 2012 11:45 PM

Any word on how this turned out? I just watched S&S again and it also led me to this site. Scott could have been me as a child and I was so glad I was able to track this movie down.

I do not care how bad it is, it will be closure for the boy in me to actually see this movie. If this movie exists I must see it to fulfill a promise I made to myself as a kid.

Hope I can make it through.

Mr. Pyun, thanks for making the original. It still remains part of my childhood. My only beef with you is that you put that last line in the movie and it took so long for it to come out.