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Cyberpunk film challenge


Shaun Duke challenged me on Twitter to name “5 great cyberpunk movies that most people have never heard of” and while no great fan of cyberpunk – books or films – I decided to take up the challenge. Although, to be fair, I can’t in all honesty describe any of the following films as “great”… And their categorisation as cyberpunk might be a bit wobbly too. But I’m pretty confident Shaun hasn’t heard of them…

The Ugliest Woman In The World, Miguel Bardem (1999, Spain). Aka La mujer más fea del mundo. A near-future thriller, but set in a world which would be familiar to cyberpunk fans. A young woman undergoes experimental gene therapy, which makes her beautiful, she then murders a contestant in a beauty pageant in order to take her place… and then proceeds to kill the other contestants. It’s not a cyberpunk plot, true enough, but the technology used by the detective sort of qualifies.

avalonAvalon, Mamoru Oshii (2001, Japan/Poland). In a sepia-tinted Poland, a woman jacks into VR to play a combat game, and which rumour has it contains a special level. Which she eventually reaches. The look of this film is absolutely gorgeous – not just the parts set in the “real world”, but also those in the VR combat game. It’s one of my favourite movies.

Natural City, Byung-chun Min (2003, South Korea). It’s been a while since I last watched this – I lent my copy to a friend and never saw it again. I remember it as being a polished sf film set some sixty years in the future, with visuals reminiscent of Blade Runner but a way more action-packed story.

renaissanceRenaissance, Christian Volckman (2006, France/UK). A black-and-white animated film which was definitely going for a noir look, although the story and Paris of 2054 is pure cyberpunk. A genius young scientist is kidnapped and a hard-boiled police captain looks into the matter for the scientist’s corporate masters.

Black Heaven, Gilles Marchand (2010, France) AKA L’autre mond. A young man obsesses over a young woman, and discovers she is a frequent visitor to an on-line VR world. So he buys himself a copy of the game, and goes hunting for her. A reasonably stylish French thriller sadly let down by somewhat clunky CGI for the VR world.

I did think of a few more films, even though Shaun only asked for five. While Demonlover, Olivier Assayas (2002, France), probably qualifies – and Assayas has made many good films – the copy I bought proved to have Italian audio and Italian subtitles… so I’ve not seen it. Until The End Of The World, Wim Wenders (1991, Germany), AKA Bis ans Ende der Welt, is a film I like a lot but it may be stretching a point to describe it as cyberpunk. But back when it was released, the near-future it depicted was pretty cyberpunk-ish. As for Memory Run, Allan A Goldstein (1995, Canada), its corporate-controlled world probably qualifies as cyberpunk, even if its plot doesn’t (it’s apparently loosely based on Jean Stine’s novel of sex-change judicial punishment, Season Of The Witch).

So, Shaun, how did I do?

9 thoughts on “Cyberpunk film challenge

  1. I’ve only seen one of these (Renaissance, which I liked).

    “Avalon, for a better world”

  2. Stretching the parameters a little, could Darren Aronofsky’s first film “Pi” be labeled quasi-cyber punk? And how about Gilliam’s “Zero Theorem”? Tony Scott’s “Enemy of the State” has some cyber elements, methinks. John Badham’s “War Games”?

    I’m glad no one (so far) is citing “Johnny Mnemonic”. That would be…error….error…error…

  3. Good list. Not seen a couple of these.

    Notably missing films?

    I think the one film you’re missing is Strange Days which, despite it’s end of millennium setting, could easily be in the genre. Interestingly, a lot of people don’t appear to have seen it or have even heard of it.

    If we’re [really] stretching the genre definition out then it’s worth considering the Billion Dollar Brain. OK, it’s a cold war techno-spy thriller but it’s essentially about a quasi AI planning the takeover the world (albeit for a lunatic American ). Harry Palmer as a laconic outsider fits the kind of protagonist you see in many cyberpunk stories too.

    There’s probably some films I’ve not considered (Alphaville?).

    • I did consider both Alphaville and Strange Days, but decided they were a bit too well-known. The Billion Dollar Brain would be pushing the definition of cyberpunk a bit far.

  4. “The Forbin Project”? An old fave of mine.

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