Knights (1993)

In a distant future, or maybe a different world altogether, humans roam the desert in nomadic tribes. Nea was a child when she had to see her parents die in an ambush by a squad of cyborgs and their leader Job. The cyborgs are constantly in need of human blood to as a fuel for their body. Many years later, Nea’s encampment gets attacked by Job’s henchmen. She gets rescued by Gabriel, who is also a cyborg. Gabriel has been programmed to exterminate Job’s party, and teams up with Nea to fight them. He trains her in martial arts, and together, they plan to attack the cyborg camp. Gabriel gets incapacitated on the way, and Nea imprisoned. She breaks free, and takes up the battle against the cyborg army.

1993 was a good year for director Albert Pyun, at least in my book. In that year, his spectacular cyberpunk action flick Nemesis was released, and also Knights. On the surface, Knights may look like another post-apocalyptic B-movie, and even though the setting of a world plagued by cyborgs is not overly original, Knights elevates itself above its competition for several reasons. First and foremost it has a striking cinematography. Filmed in the mountains and mesas of Utah, we get to see panoramic landscapes basically all the time. The characters are frequently dwarfed against the monumental backdrop of the Utah desert, and many scenes have an epic vibe to it simply because of the scenery.

In addition to the shooting location, insertion of a Western theme is noticeable with plenty of horse-back riding, and the casting of genre veteran Kris Kristofferson. Knights is a fast-paced affair, every five minutes or so there’s someone getting their butt kicked, and people are always on the move. The fight choreography is far above the average of your typical B-action movie. Frequent cuts are avoided, and the actors and stunt people involved in the fight scenes display some impressive skills. Much of the action is nicely over the top, as the superhuman cyborgs are jumping high and throw their enemies far.

Kris Kristofferson and Lance Henriksen are the two celebrities that Pyun brought into the movie. Kristofferson plays a rugged, but charming character, as he mostly does. Henriksen gives it all as the major villain. Wearing an eccentric outfit, his portrayal of cyborg leader Job involves a lot of yelling, drooling and crazy faces. Equipped with a single giant robot arm, and frequently holding and cuddling with a parrot, he comes across as more of a pirate captain than a cyborg. Kathy Long as the human main protagonist displays her fighting skills frequently, and her coarse charm more than balances out the fact that is she is not a professional actress. Gary Daniels is in the supporting cast in one of his early roles, and shows in Knights why he would embark on a reasonably successful career in martial arts and action movies later on.

There is one item about the backstory that warrants a brief discussion. The cyborgs need human blood as fuel, and the consumption of it seems to make them self-conscious. Some people may call this a silly justification for why the cyborgs are after the humans, but I see it as a very playful attempt to explore a philosophical theme in an action movie. There is the question by what mechanism artificial intelligence will become self-conscious, but that the missing ingredient is human blood is a fairly elegant, though esoteric suggestion. But it’s certainly no less convincing than the popular drama-soaked treatments of the subject we’ve seen in the genre ranging from Blade Runner to the more recent Ex Machina.

Dialogues are occasionally on the cheesy side, and many protagonists act it out over the top, which creates a comic-like feel in many scenes. The comic-style look also gets emphasized by the very colorful costume designs for the cyborgs. The soundtrack is great, with a fairly epic synthesizer sound. One big questions remains though: Where are the knights in the movie? The cyborgs ride around on horses with banners raised a lot, that’s the best I can make of it. Overall, even it is visible that the production budget was tight for Pyun as usual, everything looks as it has been executed with maximum effort. Any weaknesses in script, editing, special effects and acting quality can be forgiven, as Knights is sparking with creativity and energy.

Knights is a charming romp on a budget that mixes Pyun’s trademark cyborg theme with a wild-west setting, and spectacular cinematography. The whole movie radiates a juvenile, playful vibe, which makes it a fairly unique watch if you can tune yourself in properly.