david j. moore chats with filmmaker Paul Kyriazi on Forbidden Power…
In the heyday of the grindhouse era, it was quite common for filmmakers to use action, sex, and thrills to spice up their genre jambalayas, and filmmaker Paul Kyriazi came up during that period, with cult classics like Death Machines (1976), The Weapons of Death (1981), Ninja Busters (1984), and Omega Cop (1990) to his credit. After a long hiatus (nearly 30 years!), Kyriazi is back with the sexy science fiction film noir hybrid Forbidden Power, which hinges on the story hook “What if a man contracts sexually transmitted superpowers?” The plot has the hero running away from danger straight into more danger, and making a stunning discovery that his newly developed powers are part of a grand design to take over the world. In this candid interview, Kyriazi discusses his inspirations for this outlandish genre adventure, while also discussing the themes of the film at length.
Forbidden Power is quite unlike anything else you’ve directed. It has a hint of the martial arts stuff you’re best known for, but it’s very unique in your filmography. Talk a little bit about your inspirations for the movie.
I’ve always been a fan of romantic-mystery-thrillers such as: Vertigo, Double Indemnity, Body Head and Sea of Love. I also like film-noir movies: Sunset Boulevard, Nightmare Alley and Leave Her to Heaven. Those stories have a man that is so addicted to a woman that she can manipulate him. However, producing independent films with no star actors, I had to rely on the action genre, but a genre I truly loved. After Jaws became a blockbuster hit, the downtown action theaters and drive-ins started closing down making it difficult to get financing for a smaller movie. So then, I stared writing novels, which freed me up to do romantic-thrillers that I turned into full-cast audiobooks. As digital moviemaking improved, and Amazon opened its site for independent producers, I decided to write a screenplay from my novella, Forbidden Power. That story mixes a thriller with the idea of a young man empowered. I’m a big fan of the movies Limitless, Lucy and Wolf where the hero is empowered, but I had a different idea of how the hero gets his power and at the same time addicted to a woman. Witting the screenplay I added the character of the martial arts trainer and some other quick fight scenes to keep the audience interested while the ’empowered man addicted to a woman’ story unfolds. The final screenplay really excited me, so I decided to produce the movie on my own.
Forbidden Power is an inherently masculine story, focused on a male protagonist who discovers his “forbidden powers” after a one-night stand with a mysterious woman, played by Nasanin Nuri. The story has a very “men’s adventure” feel to it, which in a sense in an outdated sort of story in these times we’re living in. Are you a fan of “men’s adventure” stories?
I grew up on men’s adventure stories, but especially the ones that had a strong female in it. Take a look at The Thing (1952), Rio Bravo, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Die Hard, most Hitchcock movies; they all have strong female characters. And women who manipulate men in the movies, besides what I mentioned are Play Misty for Me, Kill Bill and Fatal Attraction. Once you enter that genre as well as film noir, you need a strong male character, so that the woman appears stronger when she gets him under her control. That’s the masculinity that was needed in Forbidden Power. If you take a look at strong females, movie characters in the last few years, they mostly appear in science fiction movies, as if they could only be powerful under in the realm of the ‘unbelievable’. I fall into the same situation in Forbidden Power, but all my past movies have had strong female characters in them.
I know you have an affinity for James Bond. Say something about your James Bond Lifestyle philosophy, and how Forbidden Power borrows a bit from the Ian Fleming-styled viewpoint of the world?
Ian Fleming definitely has strong females in his stories and he often featured female villains. However, where Bond is methodical about his actions, the hero in my movie is a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type of guy. He never quite knows the situation he’s getting into. I did indeed write a lengthy book about living the James Bond Lifestyle. I developed that method and state of mind going to many success seminars and reading every personal development book I could find. Why? In order to survive as a freelance filmmaker, which takes a continuous flow of gold sovereigns to keep going. Especially if one wants to finance a few movies to start, restart or jump-star a career. The main thing that Bond has that can be put to use in most careers is that: Under pressure, many people fold, James Bond focuses. He can call up his talent and power at will and deliver results on a deadline. And most important, he never breathes a word about giving up. For example, on the 15th shooting day of Forbidden Power, I woke up very slow with a slight head-ache. I wish I didn’t have to film the difficult boat scenes that I had to do that day with the entire main cast. I thought about James Bond going ahead with his mission even when he was beaten up and bloody. That got me out of bed and onto my feet. Then it came to me; Howard Hawks must have had one day where he didn’t want to go to the set of Rio Bravo, even though that was his dream movie like Forbidden Power was mine. So, I said to myself, “I’m in a Howard Hawks mood today,” and kept that in mind while I was climbing around that boat and running up and down the pier all day long. That’s the mental discipline that comes with using James Bond as an inspiration.
As I understand it, it was very difficult for you to cast the part that Nasanin Nuri ended up being cast in. Talk about the casting process for this role in particular.
What made it difficult was the very defined role: Native American woman in her 20’s that is visual enough to make the audience believe the hero would get addicted to her. She would also need a good speaking voice, but I had the option of dubbing her voice like they did in the first two James Bond movies with the leading ladies. I searched talent agencies on the net who displayed their client’s photos. An actress in the Seattle area where we would film would be the best in case some scenes needed to be re-shot, but there was no one that fit the requirements. I found a 22-year-old model at a Los Angeles talent company and even saw a video of her walking. She looked perfect, but when I found her on Facebook, I saw that almost all her photos were taken at bars with her girlfriends. Some shots she was crunching up her face and flipping the bird at the camera. I immediately gave up on her. I figured I would lose her at the first bar she found in Seattle. On my first movie, I lost a co-star in a bar fight the night before the first filming day. His ear got cut by a knife and his head was wrapped up when I went to pick him up the next morning. So, I’m wary of actors who frequent bars. Finally, my co-producer on the movie put an ad in an acting magazine and found the perfect actress in New York, Nasanin Nuri. I interviewed her on Skype and her voice was also perfect. And as a bonus, she had been taking acting lessons and appeared in a short video, so she was comfortable in front of the camera.
Sexuality has never been an integral theme in your previous films, but in Forbidden Power it is the central theme. In fact, the tagline of the movie hinges on “sexually transmitted super powers.” It’s a novel hook. This is a theme that can carry over into all sorts of different stories and spin-offs. Say something about writing and directing a film that hinges on this very theme. What were the challenges for you in balancing the exploitation / empowerment issues this theme presents.
Yes, sensuality without exploitation is a balancing act. I think those kinds of scenes went on too long in Body Heat, but were of perfect length in Sea of Love. In that movie, with Al Pacino, there were story points to the erotic scenes. And that’s what I tried to do in the erotic scenes in Forbidden Power. I had to show how the hero became empowered and addicted, so that scene was the most explicit, though I ‘poeticized’ the scene using audio coming from the television and the beautiful night city lights of San Francisco seen in the window behind the couple. And I was very careful of the length of the two shots. For the scene with the hero in bed with his steady girlfriend, I did it in one shot with dialogue that shows the girl was getting suspicious of the guy’s power. The designing of all those scenes were mostly one shot, so it’s not the boring ‘love montages’ that were done in the ‘70’s and not done these days. I think we got a good balance. However, the leading lady has exceptional physicality that makes people think there is a lot of nudity in the movie. Not a lot, just memorable.
One of your supporting stars in the movie is Harry Mok. Talk a little bit about Mok and the character he plays. This angle of the story is very interesting, as that character ends up sacrificing his livelihood to help the hero of the story.
‘Sacrificing his livelihood’ is correct. And I had to make the character that Harry Mok plays reveal why he might do that. I gave him an ex-con, ex-street gang past. And added to that, someone who lost a friend in 9-ll and hates terrorists. So, when the time comes to make his decision to take action or not, we can understand why he makes the choice that he does.
The movie is populated with very attractive women. George, the hero, has a beautiful, steady, and devoted girlfriend, played by Hannah Janssen, and she is plunged into situations full of danger because of the actions of her boyfriend, played by Lincoln Bevers. Say something about Janssen’s character, and how she relates to the plot of the film. What might be the fate of her relationship with George after the events of the story play out?
With all the weird action and unusual characters and situations in the movie, I wanted the theme to ultimately be about love. Also, about the choice of the exciting temptation vs. something built on deeper values. So, Hannah Janssen’s character is the deeper commitment that is possible with her. The ‘good girl’, if you will, versus the thrilling, seductive woman. George, the hero, has to make that choice under pressure. But if he choses the good girl, he’s putting her life in jeopardy. That’s what I put in to have suspense in the movie from the first scene to the last.
The movie feels ripe for a continuation. Should a sequel materialize, how would you make the new story fresh and exciting?
I would pick up the sequel from the exact instant the first movie ended. Right on that ending scene and go from there. The Harry Mok character has proven to be a favorite of the audiences and he would be featured continuously throughout the new story. And there are many issues that can be resolved in the new movie as well. I also plan to bring back George’s business rival, Miles, in the new movie as he’s been singled out as interesting as well.
Who do you think your audience is for Forbidden Power?
That would be anyone that enjoys The Twilight Zone types of stories. And those that might want to see a story that unfolds over time as apposed to many movies these days that are a single incident. In fact, at the halfway point of Forbidden Power is when other movies might end. So we refresh the story by introducing new situations with new characters, besides continuing with the characters that are already established in the story. This is not an ‘action movie’ per say, but a drama that is punctuated by weird action that moves the story along quickly. It’s also been reviewed as a ‘mixed genre’ movie and that’s true, so I think the action crowd might get what they want while being involved in the story more than just the action.
Your previous films Death Machines, Ninja Busters, Weapons of Death, and Omega Cop have all achieved cult status. With premium blu ray releases of Death Machines and Ninja Busters, you have accrued a new audience all over the world. Do you think Forbidden Power is destined for cult status? Also, what do you think defines a “cult film?”
I think ‘cult film’ is a movie that has a good-sized fan base that is excited by the movie and watches it often. However, it doesn’t have a large base like mainstream movies. It’s too early to see if Forbidden Power will be a cult film, because it’s only been released for two months on Amazon Video Direct. But with the mix of genres, attractive women, weird action and a supernatural, mystery story, it has a chance to hit cult status eventually.
Any last words on Forbidden Power?
When a psychologist was asked about why Star Wars fans make models of the spaceships, or dress up as the characters at conventions, or write their own Star Wars stories, he said, “When a person becomes impassioned about a movie, he or she is compelled to express it in some kind of art form of their own.” This is what happens to me that compels me to take a financial chance on a movie. I’m compelled to make it, more than the fear of losing money on it. That compulsion is what happened to me big time on Forbidden Power. It was not acceptable to my mind to not have this story told. First as a novella published on Amazon which was satisfying, but not quite enough. So next, I was compelled to get this onto the screen no matter the risk. And in this case, with the movie getting six nominations at the 2018 International ‘Action on Film’ MegaFest, one for ‘Best Science Fiction Feature Film’, my risk and the hard work by the cast and crew (and lots of good luck) paid off. I’ve very satisfied and grateful.
Forbidden Power is currently available to stream on Amazon Video Direct in the US and in the UK.
david j. moore