Saturday, 11 April 2015

Tales of an Ancient Empire

Like I said during my review of The Scorpion King 4: Quest for Power, I'm a huge fan of fantasy films. Give me anything that has people swinging swords, monsters, adventure and a great fantasy setting and I'm hooked. However, it's a genre that hard to get right if a film production has a low budget. A high budget doesn't make a film of course, but it certainly helps when much of the success a genre rides on depicting a different, exciting and bizarre world. On one hand you have The Lord of the Rings, a stunningly designed trilogy that literally transports the viewer to the land of Middle-Earth. From high atop the Misty Mountains to the dangerous depths of Ered Nimrais, the world is perfectly constructed and pulls the viewer in almost immediately. On the other hand you have a film like Tales of an Ancient Empire, which has about as much world building as a knock-off box of Lego's.

Directed by Albert Pyun and out now on Blu-Ray and DVD comes Tales of an Ancient Empire, a film that easily falls into the so-bad-it's-good category because, simply put, it's a piece of fun shit. You may have never heard the name Albert Pyun before, but chances are you've seen some of his films. He directed Jean Claude Van Damme in 1989's Cyborg, as well as the 1992 film Nemesis, a film that spawned three sequels, with each one being worse than the one that came before it. Basically, Pyun makes a lot of crap, but some of it is fun crap. Tales of an Ancient Empire isn't a lot of fun, but it's like watching a train full of clowns crash- sure it's bloody and horrifying, but you just can't take your eyes of the multicoloured hilarious spectacle. 

Tales of an Ancient Empire is a sequel to The Sword and the Sorcerer, Pyun's first feature film he made back in 1982. I saw it years ago and found it to be decent enough, but I'll always remember at the start of the credits it said “Watch out for Talon's next adventure- Tales of an Ancient Empire- Coming Soon”. Well, needless to say that didn't happen any time “soon”, as it's now 32 years on from that initial teaser. The plot is really simple, and effectively focuses on a princess in search for her estranged father. But no, not because she wants to reconnect with the guy, but rather so he can help her kicks the ass of Xia, a female vampire that was recently unearthed and now threatens the kingdom of Abelar. The princess also recruits a few others for the battle ahead, with one of them being none other than Kevin Sorbo, you know, that guy who's a big Christian and played Hercules in that TV show.

Oh man. Oh man oh man, Kevin Sorbo is desperate. I know he needs to eat, but shit, this dude must have one colossal appetite for crap. Everything is bad in Tales of an Ancient Empire, but as soon as Sorbo appeared I burst out laughing. Don't get me wrong though, as I actually really like him in Hercules and, from what I can see online, he seems like a decent dude. But since his days of Hercules you kind of know you're in for an awful film when he's the lead. That said, the rest of the cast are much worse, with most of them looking like their either z-list actors or porn actors looking for their first acting gig. They roll around from set piece to set piece doing their best to read the script they're given without breaking down and crying. And sorry Albert, you can throw all the muscles and gigantic cleavages at us all you want, it doesn't hide the fact that your film is jam packed with actors with less charisma than a packet of Quavers.

Visually the film is a mess. I've seen it time and time again, and Tales of an Ancient Empire falls into the pitfall of using both a lot of green-screen and colour filters. The film occasionally makes use of some pretty bad green-screen, and when it's used it's painfully obvious. But the worst offender is the use of colour filters. I don't know why so many low-budget films use colour filters lately, but Tales of an Ancient Empire is completely covered with them. This becomes an issue as every scene looks washed out, blurry and either bright yellow or muted blue. It looks ugly and that, coupled together with the shitty green-screen, terrible cgi and cardboard actors, ultimately makes it a complete mess of a film.

But you know what? I had fun watching it. I did, seriously. Yes it's a complete pile of dog muck, but I sat there with my girlfriend taking the piss out of it and laughing at how awful it was. It's watchable if you can enjoy bad films. If you can't, avoid it like the plague. And to think, there must be someone out there who waited 32 years for this abomination. I feel bad for them.

Tales of an Ancient Empire is a watchable catastrophe and gets a 2/5.


Denis Murphy

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