Nemesis 5: The New Model (2017)

We’re nothing if not completists here at the ISCFC, and that’s what early 2019 is all about – wrapping up long-running review series, giving you, dear reader, the information you need to make an informed choice about the entire filmography of a certain director, or every sequel, prequel and spin-off of some franchise. Or entertaining you, at the very least, as only crazy people would care about some of these movies.

I was completely unaware of the existence of a fifth movie in the “Nemesis” series until yesterday, when I was aimlessly flicking through the movies available via my preferred streaming service. Who thought it would be a good idea? Presumably, the name cost someone money to obtain, so how far down the list of utterly forgotten 90s sci-fi properties did they have to get before they found a name they could afford? Were “Project: Shadowchaser” and “Cyborg Cop” too expensive?

Which brings us to this, a movie which barely makes it to 70 minutes, and that’s with a solid 6 minutes of credits at the end, a long info-dump at the beginning and several entirely static scenes where someone gives a monologue about information that was already covered in the info-dump.

While I recommend you go and read the reviews of parts 1 to 4 (click HERE to go to our sci-fi franchise review page), I’ll give you a potted history. The first movie deals with what appears to be a turf war between the LAPD and an organisation called the Red Army Hammerheads, but is actually the Hammerheads trying to stop the takeover of society by a robotics company, who are creating duplicates of powerful people and killing off the originals. Freedom fighters – good guys, LAPD – bad guys. Then, part 2 takes place 70 years afterwards – the hero of part 1 was killed offscreen just after that movie ended, and humanity is screwed.

Alex (Sue Price), a bodybuilder and non-actor, is sent back in time to 1988 to as she’s got super-DNA which will help to defeat the robots, and her mother doesn’t want her to fall into the hands of the baddies. She hangs out somewhere in Africa and has future bounty hunters and cyborgs chase her, which takes up the entirety of parts 2 and 3. Then, in part 4, she’s back in the future, when the war is over, or at a truce or something, and is a killer for hire, and she also has a bunch of cybernetic implants now because why not?

I’ll give part 5 the faintest praise imaginable – they tried to square the circle of a series where none of the sequels were really related to what had gone before (except 2 and 3, as 3 was created largely from offcuts during the production of 2). The long Star Wars-esque scroll at the beginning attempts, using “er, time travel”, to make them all part of the same whole, and as much as anyone can be bothered about the continuity of a bargain-basement B-movie series whose last instalment was 21 years ago and never gave a damn about its own continuity before, they make it work.

My question of “who would make this?” was answered when I checked IMDB, and discovered the director’s name was Dustin Ferguson. Mr Ferguson, who’s directed an eye-watering 60 movies and shorts in the last ten years, makes his living from no-budget horror production and distribution, filling the lower ranks of Netflix searches with cheap, ugly garbage. But, and this is slightly more germane to us because I’m beyond tired of modern no-budget horror movies now, he also creates very cheap sequels to long-dormant franchises, either those which never filed their copyright claims properly, such as “Night Of The Living Dead”, “The Legend of Boggy Creek”, and “Silent Night, Bloody Night”; or modern remakes that no-one cared about, such as “Sleepaway Camp 2”, “Camp Blood” parts 4 and 5, and a couple of movies with “Amityville” in the title to beat that long-dead horse some more. Plus, he does terrible-looking original movies that just try their hardest to look like more famous franchises, such as “Robo-Woman” (Robocop), “House Of Pain” (The Purge) and “Horndogs Beach Party” (which I just wanted to mention because it had such a ludicrous name).

Then this. I have no idea why this happened. No-one in the world was crying out for a continuation of the franchise, were they? Best guess is, Ferguson met Albert Pyun (director of parts 1-4 and one of those awful lazy directors whose work we keep stumbling across here) at some event and plucked “Nemesis” out of thin air as a project he’d like to work on. Pyun agreed to hand over the name in return for a cut of the profits and an Executive Producer credit, and $20,000 later, here we are.

800 words in and I’ve not even mentioned the movie yet! Can you tell I’m trying to put it off? Ari Frost is first seen as a young girl in the far future, where the Red Army Hammerheads have won and turned the world into, er, even more of a dystopia than it was before. No explanation is given as to why they’re the bad guys, except it was 2017 when this movie was made and people don’t even think of criticising the police any more. She meets the now elderly Alex (Sue Price, making her first appearance in front of a camera since Nemesis 4), who trains her and tells her all about the past. As Alex is too old and breaking down now, they decide to send Ari back in time to 2077 to stop the Hammerheads from taking over the world’s media, although to call this plan somewhat undercooked would be giving it significantly too much credit.

So she goes back, gets involved with…some guys?…and runs around the wilderness, a few vacant lots and some ugly interiors, for about an hour. Slap on a miserable non-ending and you’ve got yourselves a movie!

Let’s discuss sound. If there’s any two bits of advice I could give to low-budget filmmakers, it would be to invest more in lighting and sound. Stop paying women to take their clothes off and get a decent microphone, my friends, because the sound here is just abysmal. A solid half the lines are basically inaudible, and if you turn the sound up loud enough to hear it, the background music wrecks your speakers. There’s just no excuse for this pitiful display nowadays.

Not even a little powder to take the shine off his face? Seriously?

Lighting is sort of dealt with here by having a ton of day-for-night shots with a heavy colour filter over them, which honestly isn’t the worst idea in the world. But, it’s one of those effects which ought to be used a little more sparingly, perhaps?

I’d like to break down one scene, and that’s where our rag-tag group of freedom fighters go to a bar. Now, there’s a Nebraska licence plate in one scene, so I noticed the posters on the wall and a quick Google later, discovered this is a real place called the Zoo Bar, in Lincoln, Nebraska, a fun-looking dive bar by all accounts. But that’s not important! So, they turn up, and the bar’s owner is persuaded by his girlfriend to rat them out to the Hammerheads. The patrons of the bar go from uninterested barflies to gun-toting maniacs, and our heroes are forced to slaughter them all. Minutes later, the same “busy bar” background noise is playing, as who cares about making an effort to make your movie good, right? And there’s a bunch of people sat round as if there wasn’t just a huge massacre ten feet away from them.

The “climax” is them facing a Nebula robot, which you may remember from Nemesis 2. It’s supposed to be this near-invincible killing machine, but a couple of people who look like they’ve never held a gun before are able to defeat it quite easily – perhaps a metaphor for the amount of effort “Nemesis 5” made. Oh, and there’s a few hand-to-hand fights featuring Ari, and even though she’s not a fighter in the slightest, they make her do it. Did no-one realise it looked terrible? Could you not cut around it, or just not have a fight scene if none of your actors were capable? Oh, and the guns are cheap plastic kids toys, in case you were expecting anything better.

So, factor in the long opening and closing credits, the tedious monologues, and the sub-Youtube level drone footage, and the amount of actual movie in this movie is somewhere around 30 minutes. Why do people insist on doing this? Actually, I think 75% or so of low budget genre movies are just excuses for guys who look like me (schlubby, late 20s to early 40s, metal fans) to hang out with attractive women for a few weeks, with the finished product being incidental.

I’m annoyed I spent any time with it, although I imagine the people who made it have turned a profit from us small handful of people who remember the Nemesis series enough to check out a new one. Shame on all of us, really, but please, dear reader, avoid this like the plague.

Rating: thumbs down then into the eye sockets of the people who made this movie

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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

Omega Doom (1996)

That Hauer picture is from a different movie

That Hauer picture is from a different movie

If there’s a movie you don’t want to be reminded of, it’s “Nemesis 4”. Boy oh boy, does that movie suck, although surprisingly suckiness is not the primary reminder here. We’re talking location, and if you remember Nemesis 4 (pray you don’t) then you’ll remember the large, bombed out town square, the one side street and the numerous rubble-strewn buildings. I imagine Eastern Europe was lousy with such places in the 1990s (although they do look very very similar), and low-budget auteurs like our friend Albert Pyun took advantage.

 

Oh yes, that’s the slightly more important link. In 1996, Pyun made both this and “Nemesis 4”, so best guess is he shot them both at the same time in the same location (I bet he begged Rutger Hauer to show up in the other one too). So, thanks to my punishment-gluttony, we’ve got another 90s post-apocalyptic Pyun-helmed robot B-movie to enjoy!

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Hauer is Omega Doom, although he’s never referred to by that name in the course of the movie. There’s a voiceover at the beginning, the classic scumbag’s trick when your movie doesn’t make sense and you need to explain it – this is a war between robots (yes, they’re called robots throughout, no-one says “cyborg”) and humans, and the robots win. The last human soldier shoots Hauer, and it wipes his memory and evil directives, so he becomes a nameless wanderer.

 

In the meantime, the robots have split into factions and are feuding with each other over…god knows. What do robots need, exactly? They drink water every now and again, but I get the feeling that’s just because they had a bar set and couldn’t think of anything else to do with it. So, there’s the Droids (who look like yer average post-apocalyptic people) and the Roms (who all look like Carrie-Anne Moss from “The Matrix”), a bartender, a bloke who keeps getting his head kicked off (called “The Head”) and Hauer.

No, that's a great effect :)

No, that’s a great effect 🙂

Basically, it’s a retelling of “Yojimbo” / “A Fistful Of Dollars”, where an unnamed stranger walks into town, plays both sides off against each other, leaves the few good people unscathed and walks off into the sunset. As soon as this (not particularly original) thought had settled in my head, I became annoyed, because both those movies are masterpieces of cinema, and this is some pile of garbage made by one of the worst regularly working directors in history. It did nothing interesting or original with the central idea, either, and in fact making all the characters robots made it significantly stupider. There’s not a single human being in this movie, despite their motivation to find the MacGuffin (a cache of weapons) being a rumour that some humans survived and are starting an army.

 

It’s also not terribly exciting. My wife turned to me at about the halfway point and went “shouldn’t there be some fighting?” – given our last Pyun review, “Knights”, was nothing but fighting for the last half-hour, I wish he’d balance his movies a bit better. Because his plan is screamingly obvious, even to someone who’s never seen “A Fistful Of Dollars”, too much of the movie is just waiting around for him to wrap up his plan and bugger off.

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So you’ve got a movie with no-one to cheer for, which is ugly, boring and full of plot holes. Is there anything to recommend? Well, there’s Rutger Hauer. He’s one of my favourite actors, and has been in some of the greatest genre movies ever (including sleeper classic “The Salute Of The Jugger”), and while he’s sleepwalking through most of this, he’s always fun to watch. And there are a couple of decent supporting performances too, such as Tina Cote as the Rom leader, and Jahi Zuri as one of the Droids, a fine and OTT turn.

 

I know this will come as no surprise to anyone, and I could have saved myself 90 minutes, but I don’t recommend this movie. Unless you’re a reviewer trying to entertain people by writing about it, steer clear. In fact, go watch “The Salute Of The Jugger” again! That movie is amazing! As a “one last thing” idea, the original idea was for this movie to be set at Euro-Disney, and the gangs of robots would have been the animatronic Disney workers, left running for centuries after the apocalypse. Now that might have been interesting.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Knights (1993)

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Our series on Donald Farmer’s movies will continue – we’re currently keeping our fingers crossed that our efforts to track down a copy of his unreleased-on-video-or-DVD “Space Kid” will come to fruition, and then we can carry on. But in the meantime, ISCFC readers need to know what long-forgotten movies are good or not, so we’ve got work to do.

 

And this brings us back to another ISCFC “favourite”, Albert Pyun. After losing our minds with annoyance at “The Sword And The Sorceror”, we’ve left him alone for a bit, but here we are. It’s got a typical Pyun story behind it, too. After making the surprisingly boring “Cyborg”, Pyun clearly wanted to make a sequel, but the producers decided to go with something people might actually enjoy watching, hiring Elias Koteas and Angelina Jolie. Our Albert wasn’t to be deterred though, and decided to make a couple of cyborg movies anyway, just with different names, which is why we have this and 1996’s “Omega Doom” to enjoy.

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We’re in a typical post-apocalyptic situation – well, I say we are, it’s never really touched on by the movie. Cyborgs and their human slaves raid settlements in order to kidnap people, take them back to their base and drain their blood. The cyborgs have figured out that doing this allows them to live longer, or something, which is actually a pretty cool if impractical idea, given the number of humans this one band of cyborgs gets through in the course of the movie. So, in the middle of a weird fight where the screen is full of dust and you can’t see anything – although we do get a brief cameo from ISCFC Hall of Famer Tim Thomerson, who must have owed Pyun a favour – we meet our hero Nea (kickboxer and her era’s Gina Carano / Ronda Rousey, Kathy Long) and the guy who helps her out, good cyborg Gabriel (Kris Kristofferson).

 

There’s really not a lot more to talk about in terms of plot. The cyborgs are about to invade some town somewhere, and Gabriel was programmed to put a stop to them. There’s an evil creator guy, but he’s only on screen for a few minutes and is clearly there to set up the sequel which never came; and a potentially fascinating subplot where the evil cyborgs say “are we alive?” and start discussing their programming, only to have that entire idea dropped like a hot potato, like a better writer / director had wandered onto the set and filmed that segment. Other than that, it’s the standard hero’s journey, where Nea is trained by Gabriel to take on the big bad.

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That big bad is chief cyborg Job (Lance Henriksen). Henriksen realises how silly this all is and gives it his overacting all, so that’s another mark in this movie’s favour; his henchman is 90s action movie mainstay Gary Daniels, and he’s a little more problematic. Basically, all Job’s lieutenants dress the same, and sort of look the same too (big white guys with stupid hair, and masks covering their faces) so I was under the impression Daniels was killed three or four times. Although one person who couldn’t be accused of looking the same is Kristofferson’s stunt double, who looks a good thirty years younger and has a completely different hairstyle.

 

Our most common complaint about Pyun is his lack of willingness to film transitions, to show how one scene connects to the next. That’s not a problem here, because pretty much nothing happens. Basically the entire second half of the movie is Nea fighting cyborgs and their human lackeys – while some extended fight scenes work due to escalation of the action or through bravura editing / filming techniques, this is just watching an admittedly skilled fighter dispatching hundreds of guys in one of three or so fairly similar ways. There comes a point where you’re begging them to get on with it, to have something else happen, and if Long was a complete non-actor, I’d understand, but she’s really not that bad so some variety would’ve been nice.

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It’s not the worst Pyun movie we’ve ever seen – that’s the three “Nemesis” sequels, in a tie – and it’s always nice to see a woman who looks like she can fight, with an athletic build rather than an impossibly skinny one, but too little happens to make it worth your while.

 

Rating: thumbs down

The Sword And The Sorcerer (1982) aka “Why I Hate Albert Pyun”

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I’m pretty sure everything at the top of the picture is a lie

There’s no name who can bring a chill to a room of people expecting a nice, normal genre movie like Albert Pyun. We’ve dealt with him on numerous occasions – “Cyborg”, “Captain America”, “Dollman”, and “Nemesis”, to name a few – and he’s become known for a certain sort of movie. I want to go into a bit more depth about his directorial quirks, but there’s also plenty of fun stuff to talk about with “The Sword And The Sorcerer”, his directorial debut, too.

 

Right away, the font of the opening credits gets you in the mood – pure gothic fantasy, veteran of a million similar movies. Much the same could be said for the plot, which starts off with a chap called Titus Cromwell summoning Xusia, who’s…maybe a demon? Cromwell wants to take over the rich, peaceful country of Adan, and needs a demon sorcerer to do it, apparently. Then, because Albert Pyun read “show, don’t tell” the wrong way round, all the conquering happens off camera and Cromwell realises that he doesn’t want to honour his end of the demon contract. So he “kills” Xusia, and traumatises Talon, a young boy, who manages to escape. I think he’s a Prince or something, but it’s really not important. What is important, sort of, is Talon’s sweet-ass three-bladed sword. The left and right blades can be fired like deadly projectiles, and…actually, I’m not sure it’s ever used in combat in its three-bladed variety.

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Boom! 20 years later! Or thereabouts! Talon (Lee Horsley) has become a famed mercenary with a magnificent mane of hair, and Cromwell has taken over Adan. I think. You may notice something of a trend as I recap this movie. Titus has invited all the Kings of the neighbouring countries, or maybe he’s just kidnapped Prince Mikah (Simon MacCorkindale, “famous” for his role in Manimal). Talon is hired by the almost unfairly beautiful Alana (Kathleen Beller) to rescue Mikah, defeat Cromwell and generally save the day. It’s also screamingly obvious that Xusia isn’t dead, so you know he’s going to show up before the end too.

 

You may think this recap has missed quite a lot of the important setup of the movie out. Oh, ye of little faith! We’ve still got that to get to. The raid on the castle is magnificent in its oddness, with Cromwell’s amazing sparkly armour not even making it into the top three.  There’s the way the guards know exactly where our heroes are, at all times, but are unable to use doors, smashing their way through unlocked ones on multiple occasions. There’s the way Talon meets the castle’s architect in the prison, put there because Cromwell didn’t want him sharing details of the secret passages. Why not just kill him then? It’s not like Cromwell hasn’t murdered people for less!

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If you’re wondering about the acting, then don’t. Simon MacCorkindale has one scene where he’s clearly trying hard, and it’s a decent scene; but then he realises he’s working for Albert Pyun, and everyone else is just reading the lines however the hell they like, and he relaxes. It’s packed to the rafters with odd shouters and random emoters and other Acting 101 don’ts.

 

If any of this made sense, then I’d suggest it was made originally as a family film, and after the first half had been shot, one of the producers went “what on earth is this rubbish? Give me sex and violence, now!” Talon runs through a harem of nude ladies, and one of them is so immediately taken with him that she leads the rest of the concubines into danger to help him out. After a first half of cutting away just before the killing blow is landed, the second half has blood and guts galore (including one poor chap getting his head split open). At least one fella gets eaten by a horde of rats too. It’s sort of gross.

 

But let’s talk about Albert Pyun. He’s compared to Ed Wood Jr on his IMDB page, but Wood loved cinema and loved making it – and honestly, I’d rather watch “Plan Nine From Outer Space” a hundred times than anything of Pyun’s twice. I don’t think Pyun has the slightest skill at making movies, and I’m not even sure he likes watching them; if he did, there’s no way he’d continue to make the same mistakes, over and over again. The primary one, and this is one we’ve mentioned before, is his complete indifference to showing how scenes connect to other scenes. We see a group of mercenaries preparing for a fight, then in the next scene, with no explanation, they’re all in prison. Characters will be on their way to do one thing, and in the next scene they’re off to do something else. The exciting stuff, the fights and wars and magic, happens off screen and all we see is the buildup or the aftermath.

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It’s so bad, and so obviously bad, that it annoys me none of Pyun’s future employers bothered to tell him to sort it out. It suggests a lot of people in charge of making potentially great genre cinema only care about getting 90 minutes of *anything* on the screen, to make a tiny bit of profit and move on to the next one. Albert Pyun has one skill – he can deliver a finished movie, under budget and on time. He does this by ignoring the connective tissue – showing how scenes connect to other scenes, how characters might have motivation to do something, or explaining why the stuff on screen is happening. While it might not seem important, it’s the difference between enjoying a movie and wanting to beat the director to death.

 

“The Sword and the Sorcerer” could have and should have been fun, but ended up being intensely annoying.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Captain America (1990)

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While the “new” Captain America movies are both excellent, the late 70s movies are so bad and boring that it feels like they reached forward in time to throttle any enjoyment we might get, and leave any fans with a sense of dread upon seeing the iconic outfit in any media. So with those two cancelling each other out, we’re left with 1990’s version, with a suitably odd backstory to it. Which side of the fence will this one fall on?

Cannon Films, old friends of ours (subjects of the documentary “Electric Boogaloo”) had the rights to create movies based on Spider-Man and Captain America, thanks to Marvel not realising how many billions of dollars they could make from these franchises. They’d hired our old friend Albert Pyun, and he had the truly insane idea of directing them both at the same time; luckily, Cannon had a cashflow problem at the time so sold the rights to Spider-Man.

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The only two things we really know about Albert Pyun is that he’s the guy hired to finish off films that are running way over budget, and that he’s completely uninterested in showing how one thing logically follows another thing in his movies. His best effort here is half a second of a plane in flight to show that action has moved from the USA to Italy, but he doesn’t usually even give us that much, leading to the feeling that poor Ned Beatty (the childhood friend of the President) can teleport from Washington to northern Canada and back in minutes.

But the film! After giving us a whole new Italian origin for the Red Skull, possibly because the actor they hired for the part couldn’t do a German accent, possibly because they were offered some filming time in Italy, we’re right in there with Captain America himself, Steve Rogers. As they couldn’t make him tiny by CGI means, a la Chris Evans in the recent movie, they make him disabled, as he walks with a stick, which is actually quite a clever way round it. Anyway, in shocking news for a film we review, they actually get on with it quite quickly, and Rogers is super-serumed and in full costume as the Cap by about 20 minutes in. Well done!

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It’s just everything after that that falls to pieces. Cap tries to stop a Nazi rocket bound for Washington, but just rides it across the Atlantic and only tries to divert it when it’s about 100 feet away fron the White House; he ends up then going to Alaska (all the way on the other side of the country from Washington) and getting himself frozen until the present day. Luckily, the freezing doesn’t age him in any way, so there’s that.

The Red Skull has set up a criminal empire in the intervening years, and from about 30 minutes in he’s just a guy with a normal-coloured face and some nasty scars. Whether the Red Skull-ness healed itself up after a while or they were planning to tear off his fake skin near the end and never got round to it is sadly never revealed. Cap has to go to Italy with his old girlfriend’s adult daughter (they do the reunion after 40 years rather well, I thought), rescue the President and save the day.

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Just as you’d expect from an Albert Pyun movie, the problems are legion, even if you ignore the lack of connective tissue between scenes. The first 20 minutes are sort of okay, then it just becomes boring – yet another movie that just doesn’t understand why people want to watch superhero movies. Captain America displays no evidence of super-powers at all, and they never bother explaining how he got his shield or why it’s indestructible and always returns to his hand. The guy playing him, Matt “son of JD” Salinger, can’t act worth a damn either…it’s just a boring waste of time pretty much starting at the time Cap is thawed out.

Actually, there’s a handy little reminder of how no-one involved in making this cared, at all. There’s the spinning headlines thing to illustrate the passing decades, and despite the camera focusing on this, no-one thought enough of the audience to do it again, only without the spelling mistakes:

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Albert Pyun has spent most of his adult life making movies, while I’m currently sat with a sore arm trying to get my cat to stop trying to climb on it and hurt me, after yet another day at the office. I just wish he realised how lucky he was to be doing what he’s doing and put some effort into it.

Rating: thumbs down

Kickboxer 4 (1994)

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Albert Pyun is the director hired to clean up other peoples’ partially shot messes, being cheap and quick, but with his own movies he’s given us gems like “Cyborg”, “Dollman”, all four “Nemesis” movies and a few of the “Kickboxer” sequels. His IMDB page compares him to Ed Wood – unusual sexual fetish that shines through in his films – check; rubbish movies – check; but Pyun is nowhere near as down-to-his-bones odd as Wood was.

He tries, though. Sasha Mitchell returns for a third film as David Sloane, and he’s in prison. What? Writing a letter to his wife Vicky gives us a swift recap of the first two movies (Zian, his trainer / sidekick, is written out of the timeline, and part 3 is ignored completely), and it turns out that Tong Po is an exceptionally sore loser. After killing JCVD off after part 1, then forcing David to fight in part 2 before getting his ass kicked yet again, Tong Po became a Mexican drug lord and had David framed for murder. Oh, but that’s not all – he then kidnapped Vicky, raped her and had her imprisoned on his compound – remember, all this is about “regaining honour”. This paragraph pretty much sums up Albert Pyun’s directing style.

So, David is offered a deal by the FBI – infiltrate Tong Po’s compound by entering his yearly $1,000,000 martial arts tournament, put a stop to things, and rescue Vicky. The subject of disguise is brought up, and David says he’s had some hard years since then and there’s no way Tong Po will recognise him. Dude, you’re his most hated enemy! And you look exactly the same! Sunglasses are not a disguise!

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So, after kicking some ass he gets himself an invitation to Tong Po’s compound, and the film turns into “Enter The Dragon”, pretty much. But only if “Enter The Dragon” were made by a lunatic. Michel Qissi (Tong Po in parts 1 and 2) wasn’t brought back, and was replaced with Kamel Krifia – weirdly, both Qissi and Krifia were childhood friends of Jean-Claude Van Damme. His make up job in this is really hideous, though, and I was wondering if I’d missed a line of “burned in a fire” dialogue.

As well as makeup, I want to salute the sound effect people in this movie. While doing a kata before the fights, every movement seems to break the sound barrier and during them, there’s one groin kick in particular that sounds like a bomb went off.

Pyun’s movies certainly aren’t laid out like normal directors’. At the compound is, incredibly coincidentally, Lando, the kid brother of a former student of David’s who’s now a DEA agent. He gets the romance subplot and way more screentime than you’d expect from a supporting guy; so does Michele “Mouse” Krasnoo, a world champion martial artist, as Megan, one of the other competitors.

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But the logic of it all is what we love about this guy’s movies. If David was in prison for murder, what was Tong Po’s plan with his wife? Keep her chained up forever? Also, the later rounds of the tournament are “to the death”, and all the people who choose to leave at that point get shot. Given that the winner still has to face Tong Po for the money, no-one has beaten him in 6 years, and your chances of death are pretty much 100%, who is going to these damn tournaments?

Add in a magnificently pointless three-way sex scene featuring people we don’t see at any other point in the movie (David hides near them while trying to sneak round the compound) where the women are naked but the guy contorts himself so you don’t see “anything”, and you’ve got yourself the weirdest of the “Kickboxer” series. It’s hilariously wretched – just see how one-sided the final fight is – even while being technically competent (heck, there are a few shots here and there I’d even describe as “good”).

Now onto part 5, with no involvement from Sasha Mitchell, Albert Pyun or Tong Po (either incarnation), which looks like some standalone Mark Dacascos film they renamed. Hurrah!

Rating: thumbs down

Cyborg (1989)

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Those of you who love JCVD and his great run of early movies probably don’t even know why this one is sort-of forgotten, the one that you either think sucks, or just avoid whenever you’re in the mood for a movie. Luckily, you have me to help, and the reason you all hate this film is Albert Pyun.

Pyun has made at least two almost-tolerable movies (the first “Nemesis” and “Dollman”) but his list of true garbage is a mile long, starting with the “Nemesis” sequels and extending far in every direction. This is the first in a Cyborg trilogy from Pyun, but they aren’t the actual sequels – “Cyborg 2”, nothing to do with him, is Angelina Jolie’s first starring role, and there’s a 3 as well (Pyun’s two “sequels” are “Knights” and “Omega Doom”). I hope this confuses you and irritates you a little, because it will recreate the feeling of watching this movie. Pyun proves my thesis that most directors aren’t making films because they’re good at it, or have anything to say, they can just hustle well, or they’re friends with a rich person.

Hey, movie, when are you set?

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So, we’re in your standard post-apocalypse situation, with the addition of the “living death”, a virus which is never really shown happening to anyone. The remnants of the CDC want to stop it, so they send their best agent to go and get some important information from New York, but they convert her into a cyborg before she goes so she can store the information, or whatever. Anyway, her escort dies, an evil gang who want to control the vaccine are after her, so she has to go and get help from a “slinger”, like a bounty hunter or something (JCVD, character name Gibson Rickenbacker, is the only one we ever see).

But she doesn’t really get help from him, and that’s where the weirdness of this film starts. He keeps getting his ass kicked, so she sort of decides it would be easier to travel with the gang to Atlanta and the CDC then fight them there; JCVD then meets up with an entirely different woman, who ran away from the same gang in an earlier fight but is now prepared to risk her life to help, and spends most of the movie travelling with her. Plus, flashbacks to some time he helped a woman, fell in love with her and stopped the slinging lifestyle for a while.

The one thing JCVD is really good at is fighting. So, if you’re going to have him in a film with a lot of fighting in it, you might reasonably expect his parts to be decent. Aside from a few cool moments here and there, though, he fights like a punch-drunk old boxer, just standing there and taking blows from his opponent, occasionally dishing one out in return (like I said, he gets his ass kicked a lot in this movie). It’s really surprisingly boring, and there’s a lot of it.

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Main baddie Fender Tremolo (I have no idea why most of the characters in this are named after guitars, and I can’t be bothered to check) has weird bright-coloured eyes, and reveals them a lot from behind sunglasses – however, after like the third time, I began to wonder why they kept expecting us to be surprised. Or maybe we might think his eyes changed colours? Ah, who cares? JCVD is literally nailed to a cross at one point, but because he’s quite clearly better than Jesus, manages to break it and get himself down. The exact same flashback footage is used twice within about 5 minutes, making me think the movie had lapped itself.

So it’s bad and boring and stupid, and really slow, is what I’m getting at. Two final, related examples of how strange this movie is – when JCVD has his big emotional moment at the end, it’s not with the cyborg woman, nor is it with the woman he’s spent most of the movie with, it’s with an entirely different third woman (the young girl from his flashbacks, all grown up and in the baddie’s gang). And talking of the titular female, you’d think a movie called “Cyborg” would have the actual cyborg be front-and-centre, right? Wrong. She’s fifth-billed and is barely in it, which would be like changing the title of “Candyman” to “The Woman Who Lives Down The Hall From The Heroine Movie”.

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Some of this film’s problems can actually be explained though. Cannon Films had lost a boatload of money on deals for “Masters of the Universe” and “Spider-Man” movies that had fallen through, so Pyun, who was going to direct both films simultaneously (!) knocked up a plot for “Cyborg” in a weekend, got “less than $500,000” and filmed it in 23 days. While great films have been made in less time and for less money, not many of them have been post-apocalyptic sci-fi movies; to add injury to insult, one of the actors lost an eye thanks to JCVD stabbing him with a prop knife accidentally, sued and won $485,000.

Sadly, “Cyborg” commits the unforgivable crime of being boring, and it really shouldn’t be. The “stupid” and “sort of pointless” crimes are just corollary.

Rating: thumbs down