Guyver: Dark Hero (1994)
Directed by Steve Wang.
AKA The Guyver 2
Written by Nathan Long and Steve Wang. Adapted from characters written by Yoshiki Takaya.
Starring David Hayter, Kathy Christopherson and Bruno Patrick.
Follows The Guyver (1991)
Of all the bad films I have had the guilty pleasure (and at times displeasure) to watch, none have be as sentimentally close to me as Steve Wang’s live action take on the Japanese Manga; Guyver. A sequel to 1991’s The Guyver (itself a mediocre Americanized take on the source material), Guyver: Dark Hero was everything its predecessor should have been. Granted many might think this is just Power Rangers with blood and gore, but for its minuscule budget it contains impressive practical effects and brilliantly choreographed wirework.
From my first viewing back in the 90s on a crappy VHS through to its recent Directors Cut on DVD, this film remains beyond a star rating system and conventional criticism. To me this is a 2 hours of pure unadulterated fun and still remains as one of a handful of comforting cult films from my childhood. For those unaware of who or what Guyver is, please allow me to enlighten you. Starting life as a Japanese Manga under the name of Bio Booster Armor Guyver (by Yoshiki Takaya) in 1985, it then blossomed into a 12 OVA Anime series (later released by Manga Video in the early 90s). Following the adventures of a young Japanese student by the name of Sho Fukamachi (changed in the film to Sean Barker) who stumbles on (and unwittingly activates) an organic bio weapon, codenamed the Guyver Unit. Over the course of the series Sho learns to take control of the device and face off against a collection of man-monsters (named Zoanoids).
As mentioned previously a 1991 live-action American take on Guyver was released Direct-To-Video, with make-up and directing from the infamous Screaming Mad George (of Society and Nightmare On Elm Street 4 fame). Produced by Brian Yuzna and starting Mark Hamill (along with Jeffery Combs playing a character named Dr East) it fell short of fan expectations, becoming more comical and less action packed. In fact the film is sorely lacking in any kind of excitement, which leaves it up to the creature design to take center stage.
This was far from what fans of Guyver were expecting. Thankfully in 1994 Guyver: Dark Hero was released (also directed by an make-up artist) and was closer to the style of the Manga. Director Steve Wang’s love for Japanese Tokusatsu TV serials (such as Kamen Rider and Ultraman) shone through on film and appeased those who found the original lacking.
For myself, Guyver: Dark Hero is an underrated superhero film and also one of those rare westernized adaptations that continues to work. On the special effects and make-up side, things felt more polished. Each creature/Zoanoid looks alive and visually seem less rubbery then one might expect. And like any good film based on a Manga the violence remains. Throats are ripped out with relish, eyes are gouged out, heads are removed from bodies and monsters explode in bloody chunks. Its almost as if you can sense Wang’s childhood glee as each monster bites the dust at the hands of The Guyver. This is how B-Movies should be made.
This brings me to the fight sequences (to which there are plenty if you are a fan of Hong Kong Wuxia films). Each one feels faster and more ludicrous then the last, which makes the Guyver quickly come off as an utterly badass anti-hero. It still amazes me that with such a low budget it is incredibly polished at times. Granted its not high art, nor is it an exceptional piece of film, but it shows just how bad the first entry was. One particularly great moment involves Sean jumping off a cliff and transforming into the Guyver mid fall, it is the stuff of brilliantly ludicrous action legend.
On the minus side the story has a by the numbers sci-fi movie of the week, while the acting is hammier then a rack of pork ribs. But for film and gaming geeks everywhere Guyver: Dark Hero does have one ace up its sleeve, mainly in the form of David Hayter. The one time scriptwriter for Watchmen and X-Men 2 (not to mention the legendary voice for Solid Snake in the Metal Gear Solid series) is as overly melodramatic as they come, but his take on Sean Barker is far better then that of Jack Armstrong’s shockingly bad performance.
One last thing to mention is the use of sound effects within the fight sequences. Each slap, punch, break and kick is given its own unique sound, very little of which would have been heard before. Adding to the overall experience during the Guyver’s battles, the sound effects are also one of the many elements that add to my nostalgia of the film (and makes the Guyver feel like a fully formed organic character). Even now I can hear them as I type, surely that’s the sign of a memorable film?
When all is said and done this is a so-bad-its-enjoyable film. But then it is one film I will continue to be biased towards, as I still feel it has redeemable moments that make it shine as a low budget sci-fi creature feature. It also helps that most of the practical effects have aged incredibly well. This along with Christophe Gan’s underrated adaptation of the Crying Freeman Manga, are two of the best examples of live action features based on eastern comics. It’s just a shame that Wang never got to follow up Dark Hero with a third Guyver feature, but one does hope for the day when The Guyver and his sonic armblades make a re-appearance.