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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