Jacob Mendez
Jacob Mendez

Jean-Claude Van Damme vs. Chuck Norris. Why he chose “Cyborg” and he regrets it

Action of the film “Cyborg” is set in a post-apocalyptic world where humanity is struggling with a mysterious disease. The main character, Pearl (Dayle Haddon), a cyborg, has key information to create a cure for the plague. While traveling from New York to Atlanta, she is attacked by a group of villains led by by the ruthless Fender (Vincent Klyn). Unexpectedly, Gibson Rickenbacker (Jean-Claude Van Damme) comes to her rescue and decides to protect her on the way to her destination. Although the cure is important, his main motivation is the desire to take revenge on Fender, who he took in the past everything to him.

The Cannon studio planned to create a film about Spider-Man, to which it acquired the rights in 1985, and a sequel to “Masters of the Universe” from 1987, a story about He-Man. Scott Leva, known for playing Spider-Man at Marvel Comics events, was set to play the title character. Other roles were to go to Bob Hoskins (Doctor Octopus), Katherine Hepburn or Lauren Bacall (Aunt May), and Stan Lee wanted to play J. Jonah Jameson, editor-in-chief of the Daily Bugle. The film was to be directed by Joseph Zito, who worked on Invasion of the USA with Chuck Norris. The “Masters of the Universe” sequel was scheduled to feature the return of Dolph Lundgren as He-Man and Frank Langella as Skeletor, with Albert Pyun behind the camera.

Despite the start of pre-production work, the failure of “Superman IV” resulted in significant budget cuts for both projects. Joseph Zito resigned and was replaced by Albert Pyun, who continued working on “The Lords of…”. Cannon's financial crisis forced the studio to make a choice: producing one low-budget film instead of two expensive ventures. The studio asked Pyun to use ready-made costumes and sets. This is how the Spider-Man and He-Man projects ended, and the story of “Cyborg” began.

Cannon spent two million dollars on unrealized films, while the budget of “Cyborg” was only $500,000. Albert Pyun wrote the script in a week, signing as Kitty Chalmers, and based the plot on his earlier texts. Although the director wanted to cast Chuck Norris in the lead role, Cannon insisted on Jean-Claude Van Damme, who had gained fame with “Bloodsport.” After the success of this film, Van Damme was offered to choose one of three productions: “American Ninja 3”, “Delta Squad 2” or “Cyborg”. The Belgian chose the last option, which later turned out to be a wrong choice.

“Cyborg” was shot at lightning speed and filming lasted only 23 days. Apart from the main actors, the rest of the cast were extras. Van Damme ran around the set with a paintball gun, simulating a real gun. The main antagonist of the film, Fender, was supposed to terrify viewers with his white eyes, but Vincent Klyn, who played him, lost one pair of lenses at the beginning of filming and the other during the final fight with Van Damme. After finding them, the problem was solved.

This wasn't Klyn's only problem. The actor had a high-pitched voice that did not match his appearance, causing audience laughter at test screenings. It was decided to record his lines again with the participation of Branscombe Richmond, who later starred in the series “Renegade”.

Jackson “Rock” Pinckney, a soldier, played one of Van Damme's opponents in “Cyborg”. During one scene, Van Damme accidentally injured Pinckney in the left eye, which caused serious injuries and ended the actor's military career.

The case went to court, where in 1993 Pinckney accused Van Damme of dangerous behavior on set, claiming that the star strived for realistic fights, often exceeding safety limits. Testimony from other stuntmen confirmed these accusations. Van Damme's defense claimed that it was an accident, but the court did not accept this explanation. Van Damme was ordered to pay Pinckney $487,000.

Albert Pyun planned “Cyborg” as a dark combination of Western and science fiction. The original version was in black and white, with extensive off-camera narration by Van Damme. Unfortunately, test audiences rejected the film. Out of a hundred people, only one rated it positively. As a result, it was decided to end cooperation with Pyun, and Van Damme was responsible for editing the film. The actor removed a large part of the plot, focusing mainly on his character and dynamic action scenes. Pyun recovered the cut scenes in 2011 and released his version of the film three years later.

“Cyborg” debuted in theaters on April 7, 1989, to withering criticism. Roger Ebert was laughing after thirty seconds of the screening, considering the production to be inept and kitschy. The critic accused the film of lacking credibility and embarrassing the actors wearing strange costumes. Despite this, the film was popular with audiences and grossed over ten million dollars, which was a success considering its low budget.

Pyun's film had two sequels. The second part from 1993 starred young Angelina Jolie. Pyun also planned a prequel, but work was interrupted by his death in 2022. Van Damme reluctantly mentions “Cyborg” and admits that he does not like the film.

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