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wpid-1376540925873.jpg[The following is the second in a series of writings about the filmography of Jean Claude Van Damme.]

I swear that I’m not a masochist. I have known people who claimed I was, for various reasons, but I maintain to this day that this is not the case. However, what I am about to admit to you will not help my argument.

I have seen Albert Pyun’s Cyborg at least six times (possibly seven). I am not exactly proud of this.

Perhaps being able to sit through Cyborg is the film-watching equivalent to the milk challenge (GUYS NIGHT!). Can you finish the movie without puking? Better yet, can you make it through the entire movie without wanting to commit suicide? Can you do it multiple times? I have, and yet I don’t know how! (okay, maybe at least one of those times I might have been drunk…)

Cyborg is unwatchably bad. Cyborg is not a movie that is so bad it’s good. I can’t decide if it’s a movie that should be preserved to show people how not to make movies, or if we should have every copy of it in existence placed in a missile and launched into the sun. If nothing else (and definitely taking his entire filmography into account), Albert Pyun should most definitely be sentenced to eternity in the Phantom Zone.

Cyborg was made over the course of mere weeks, cobbled together from half-finished costumes and sets for two other movies (an aborted sequel to Cannon’s Masters of the Universe adaptation and a proposed film based on Spider-Man, reportedly, and while I’m certain those movies would have ended up better than what we got in Cyborg, I doubt they’d be that much better) with a budget of about $12, because Cannon Films was about to implode, with a script that’s barely there. Van Damme himself stars in the film because, at this point in his career, he was still new and pretty cheap to cast as a lead. This movie has as much production value as a backyard wrestling video. And it shows. I have seen video tapes recorded by 8-year-olds that make more sense than Cyborg. I could probably strap my old Sony Handicam onto the back of my pug with duct tape, let him wander around aimlessly for about an hour and a half, and come back with a more coherent film.

So why do I keep going back to Cyborg? It is not out of a desire to inflict harm upon myself, by any means. No, I go back to this movie in the vain hope that I will somehow begin to make sense of what is occurring on screen. This is a movie that is so nonsensical that you manage to convince yourself that their must be some hidden meaning, some secret locked away in it that you can somehow uncover after another viewing. And if you’re like me, you’ll continue these fruitless endeavors until one day you realize you’ve wasted hours of your life not just watching Cyborg, but thinking about Cyborg.

The sad reality is that this is a movie where you will learn more from reading the Wikipedia synopsis for it than you ever will from actually watching the thing. If it weren’t for the wiki page on Cyborg, I’d probably still be wondering what the plot of the movie was, and to be honest, I’m still kind of unclear. I wouldn’t even have caught on to the whole “everybody is named for a guitar” thing if it weren’t for the Internet, partially because the dialogue is so sparse, and partially because half the people who talk in it barely speak coherent English. Did all the actors get root canals the day before shooting?

You know what I do know? Characters go places. There’s a lot of running.

A good friend of mine described it (if I remember correctly) as a series of fight scenes created by a kid smashing his collection of action figures into each other, just throwing more random, nameless bad dudes at a dazed Jean Claude Van Damme (please note that this movie is so awful, it really does appear like Van Damme is suffering through it with you; he feels your pain, and he’s as exhausted by all of it as you are).

I like the analogy, because it really does speak directly to the seeming randomness of the entire film.

However, for me, it’s more like a generic arcade fighter in the vein of Double Dragon, Final Fight, or Streets of Rage, where your characters just keep going and going and going, with endless generic dudes that kind of all look alike coming at you. You begin to wonder why you’re still playing it, long after it’s lost its novelty, until it just ends when you kill the final boss. But you know what? Even Bad Dudes is better than this.

And when it ends, it just ends. Who won? What did they win? I don’t really know! I have watched this movie six (possibly seven) times, and I still don’t fucking know for sure.

There are sex scenes that are so incredibly stilted and awkward, they could very well work as cutscenes in an 8-bit or even 16-bit video game (especially with the bizarre midi soundtrack going on in the background). You’re left wondering if anybody involved in the writing of the sex scenes, the directing of the sex scenes, or even the actors acting in the sex scenes have ever actually engaged in sexual intercourse in their entire lives. I wonder if this is what it was like the first time Kirk Cameron had sex.

A year from now, I’ll probably watch Cyborg again, hoping something will finally click for me, even though I know it won’t. And you know what? That’s still probably not going to stop me.

My only hope is to take my DVD of it and chuck it into the ocean. But then, some poor fool in another part of the world will find it and think, “Jean Claude Van Damme? I better watch this!” And the curse will live again.

I guess at least it has some hilariously bad wigs in it.

I probably should not admit to anybody on Earth that I have spent most evenings for the past month watching VR Troopers on Netflix, and yet here we are. Even when I’m completely sober, I still want to watch it. And I swear, when I was a kid I didn’t feel like this.

In the period of time between then and now, my interest in Japanese “tokusatsu” shows has grown exponentially, mostly due to the internet and an increase in my awareness of such things.

As a kid, I figured out pretty quickly while watching my first episode of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers that the footage with the actual Rangers, Zord, and monster were not shot by the same people that shot all the stuff with the dumb teens and Bulk & Skull. Granted, I had prior exposure to Masked Rider and Kikaider when I was about 3 or 4, living in Honolulu, but my memories of that were barely existent by the time I saw Power Rangers; what mattered was that I associated this kind of stuff with Japan, so I pretty much put 2 and 2 together and figured out that Power Rangers was just Americanizing Japanese live action shows.

And let’s be honest: it is not unfair or wrong for me to make that kinda of connection. The television programs aired in Japan are so purely Japanese on just a basic cultural level, while Americans in the TV industry here were until recently not nearly that creative, and it was bizarre to see this kind of stuff on American television. Stuff that wasn’t made here still sticks out like a sore thumb.

So as a kid when this show was coming out, I only had a passing interest in it, and the only reason any existed was because I knew it was Japanese in origin. I only ever saw it when I was home, sick from school, and nothing else was on TV, and when I did, all I remember is the Japanese stuff.

Anyway, what am I getting at? Well, I guess I’ve been hammering on the fact that fans of Tokusatsu might have an interest in watching this, and should.

The other part? If you like things that are insanely bad, you should probably watch this as well.

While the awesome, cheesy, lower-image-quality parts of the show with Grimlord, all the robots/mutants, and such are what drew me in initially (and certainly entertain in that area), seeing the ways the American producers had to adapt the original material becomes even more entertaining.

See, for the first season, they took two distinct, separate Japanese series (Spielban and Metalder*), borrowed the action footage (all the stuff involving the metal hero in question and/or the various monsters) and then shot new footage with American actors to fill everything in-between (this is the same practice used for the Power Rangers series), creating new shows in the process. It was kind of a more extreme take on the method used to create Robotech. So right off the bat, whatever was going on in that footage, the American producers and writers had to make what they came up with connect with it. This gets really entertaining when you see the writers coming up with a subplot involving the Troopers’ alter egos that mirrors or parallels the plot of the original footage.

But better yet, it becomes more entertaining when the Japanese episode footage involves a kidnapping.

These episodes exist in every tokusatsu series, from Iron King to Go Ranger to Supaidaman to Power Rangers; somebody close to our hero is kidnapped by the bad guys, and the hero has to fight the baddies and rescue that person. Frequently that person is a potential love interest, while more often it is a child, perhaps a younger brother, nephew, cousin, or family member of a close friend. Since it’s Japanese, that person is pretty visibly Japanese as well.

That’s where the fun begins.

There are at least two episodes in the first season of VR Troopers that involve the kidnapping of a boy, and so each time you get to watch the folks at Saban find some way to introduce an Asian boy into the story. One episode, it’s just some Little League kid who’s some kind of baseball phenom who just happens to be asian; and the next, it’s Tao(the owner of the local dojo in the American footage)’s visiting nephew. Somebody was put in charge of dressing each kid in a costume that matched the costume worn by the kid in the Japanese footage.

Naturally, you could also assume that somebody was given the job of finding a kid that matched the kid in the Japanese footage. And that is where you would be wrong.

In particular, look at the episode “The Couch Potato Kid,” where you somehow end up with two child actors that look nothing alike. The only things they have in common are that they’re Asian and they’re boys. It’s actually pretty ridiculous how different they look.

It’s really quite beautiful, and I think it’s entertaining in the same way that watching stupid people try to function is. Added to that are the ridiculous premises of each episode. One episode sees the bad guy, Ziktor/Grimlord, kidnap a litter of puppies. Another sees him interfering with go kart racing, while yet another involves Grimlord creating an obstacle course for his minions to run because he was inspired by the Troopers doing the same thing for the local kids.

This is a show that will actually begin with the main character rescuing a stray kitten, and somehow have it lead to robot dudes fighting each other and blowing up.

But what makes it better is that it’s combined with that weird, crazy Japanese action sci-fi stuff, complete with dudes doing karate in crazy rubber and chrome suits. What’s not to love about that?

And the combination? It only gets better when the Japanese footage contains this many explosions. Seriously, shit blows up on this show. Ryan Steele/Metalder is jumping around in a nondescript rock quarry-esque set, dodging lasers and missiles, and then about 13 different explosives go off in the background. These dudes duel with laser swords and blaster guns, and then each fight shot is capped off with a handful of big, fiery explosions. Michael Bay wishes he was this efficient with pyro.

My recommendation is the aforementioned episode “The Couch Potato Kid,” because it also happens to be the coolest episode of the bunch. See, this episode shows the lead bad guy, Grimlord, making all of his mutant/robot/cyborg minions fight it out to determine who will have the honor of fighting the VR Troopers on Grimlord’s behalf. What you end up with is a crazy, kaijin-infested episode of Takeshi’s Castle, as all of the foam rubber robot monsters try to survive an obstacle course as they’re broken into Laff-A-Lympics-style teams. It’s pretty cool, especially when you think about how rarely you get to see all the cool monsters in any of these shows get this much screen time.

Is it good TV? Oh hell no, but it’s insane, and not in the same way that Toddlers and Tiaras is insane.

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