Heatseeker (1995)

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This guy isn’t in the movie

Like any sensible B-movie enthusiast, I was drawn to “Heatseeker” by its amazing IMDB description.

“A kickboxing champion is forced to fight cyborgs in a tournament when the company kidnaps his fiancee.”

Given its free availability on Youtube, I hope there’s at least a few of you who’ve already stopped reading this review and have gone to watch it. But for those of a more cautious bent, read on!

Time to deflate that excitement bubble. Writing, producing and directing is one Albert Pyun, who we’ve encountered many times – from “The Sword And The Sorceror” to “Cyborg” to “Captain America” to “Dollman” to the “Nemesis” series, he’s genuinely one of the worst directors to have ever been employed for as long as he has (34 years and counting). His particular directorial fetish is to not show how one scene connects to the next scene, and that’s in full effect here. Joining him are some of his favourite actors – most notably for us, ISCFC Hall of Famer (if we had one) Tim Thomerson, as a futuristic corporate type who appears to have turned up in “Hunger Games” cosplay gear; but also, Norbert Weisser (too many Full Moon movies to bother counting) and Thom Matthews (“Return Of The Living Dead”), among many others.

“Heatseeker” (why is it called Heatseeker? No bloody idea) rests on a number of very shaky premises. But before I get to them, I’d best fill in the plot. Chance O’Brien (Keith Cooke, who was also in both “China O’Brien” movies, so I’m sure just a coincidence on the name) is the world full contact karate champion. In the far off future of 2019, all the other fighters are cybernetically enhanced (to a maximum of 10% of their body mass) but he’s pure human, and is still the best. At the beginning, we see him defeat the uber-powerful Xao (Gary Daniels, who can be great but really isn’t here), but we also see the Sianon Corporation build an entirely new cybernetic body for Xao, who I guess is just a brain and a nervous system at this point.

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Sianon has had the idea of putting their cybernetic enhancements to the test against those of the other cyber-corporations, and to that end puts on a tournament in international waters, so all the psychopathic fighters can kill their opponents with impunity. Each corp sends their best fighter, with their best enhancements (up to a limit of 50% of body mass this time), and the winner will dominate the tech market for the foreseeable future. But there’s a problem! Chance wants nothing to do with it, so…well, you know, having read the first line of the review. There is a cool scene where Xao invades Chance’s post-title defence press conference, a classic sports movie trick, so I guess we shouldn’t complain too much.

A solid hour of the movie is just this fight league, with one guy we’ve never seen before fighting another guy we’ve never seen before, along with a very upbeat commentary as this is obviously being shown on whatever TV channel was in “Videodrome”, as there are a ton of murders and mutilations in it.

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The idea of corporations and their different tech is sort of similar to the story of how the UFC started. The Gracie family from Brazil wanted to both make a lot of money, and to show how superior Gracie jiu-jitsu was, so put on a tournament where the masters of a bunch of styles got together and fought (this was before every fighter worth his salt cross-trained in every different style) – it’s possible that’s where Pyun got his inspiration from (UFC started in 1993, this is from 1995).

Let’s deal with the first baffling premise. Part of why corporate bad guy Tsui Tung (Weisser) kidnaps Jo (Tina Cote), Chance’s trainer / fiancée, is so she can help Xao. But not in terms of his fighting style, which is almost perfect, but in terms of his heart, by pretending to love him, which will apparently make him a better fighter. Jo, quite reasonably, tells him to go forth and multiply, but he shows her tape of Xao and says if she doesn’t play along, Xao will kill Chance. Okay, I guess, but wouldn’t it have been a ton easier to just lock her up and pay some prostitute to provide the “girlfriend experience” for a week or two? He is in charge of the world’s biggest cybernetics corporation, after all, so can’t be short of a few quid. They end up having sex at least once, and as she’s being coerced into it, it leaves a distinctly unpleasant taste in the mouth.

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There’s a very big and very odd elephant in the room, though. The whole point of this tournament is to decide which corporation is better, but Tung also wants Xao to get revenge on Chance. If you’re already stacking the deck in your favour by having 50% cybernetic enhancements (and not really checking when people cheat and use even more), and the pure human is able to hold his own in any way against your robot, that’s a terrible endorsement for your product! Although it’s never mentioned (Pyun not being a fan of explanations of stuff) Chance’s lack of enhancements seems to be a personal choice, so people who also don’t want cyber-enhancements are not part of your target audience. Why bother involving him at all and taking the risk? I’m pretty sure this question never occurred to anyone during the making of “Heatseeker”, because that question asker would also have asked about the title, and that would have set a house of cards crashing down, I’m sure.

I do need to mention the ending, so spoilers ahoy. Jo is being very visibly held at gunpoint by one of Tung’s goons, on camera, and then when Chance starts beating Xao, pretty easily, Tung grabs his gun and storms the stage. The commentator then continues to commentate on the murder and mayhem all around – hold on mate, aren’t you a corporate employee? Shouldn’t you cut to adverts or something when your CEO starts shooting people? Also, how does Xao get beat worse the second time around, when his opponent is fighting injured (broken wrist, acid-burned hands) and he’s got way more and better cybernetic implants? And why are there so many white Europeans with Asian names in this movie?

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Hopefully this has provided you with a flavour of how terrible this movie is. It’s almost literally impossible to care about most of the fight scenes, because they’re just random dudes; the acting is either way over the top (Weisser) or wooden as hell (everyone else); and Pyun is a crappy director, with his one redeeming quality (to his employers) being he delivers the right amount of footage, on time and on budget (this was apparently shot in 11 days, and it shows). Still, one more for you “fighting tournament movie” completists, and one more to add to your “never watch ever” list for the rest of you.

Rating: thumbs down

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