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Plot: beach babes defend their favorite resort from greedy developers.

Before Kick Ass Girls (2013) there was Beach Spike, or a Mainland China sports movie that is part Sunset Cove (1978) (without the rampant nudity), part Shaolin Soccer (2001) or Blue Crush (2002), and all fun. Instead of surfing or soccer Beach Spike (released domestically as 熱浪球愛戰, or Heatwave Love, which makes about as much sense as the title it ended up being internationally released under) is about beach volley, or just a preamble to put a bunch of cute Chinese models in tiny bikinis and have ‘em bounce around in the sand. It was the first time Chrissie Chau Sau-Na, DaDa Lo Chung-Chi, and Hidy Yu Xiao-Tong co-starred together, and they would reunite for the amiable kickboxing romp Kick Ass Girls (2013). There’s probably worse ways of spending an hour and a half than in the company of giggly, hard-bodied Chinese girls in tiny candy-colored bikinis. In the years since Tony Tang Tung-Ming hasn’t exactly been prolific as either a director, screenwriter, or special effects artisan, but that doesn’t make Beach Spike any less entertaining. Beach Spike in all likelihood was one of Chrissie Chau’s earliest hits as it was fourth highest-grossing titles at the Hong Kong box office in its opening week. Not bad at all for what’s essential a rom-com/sports movie hybrid.

If Beach Spike was indicative of anything it was that Chrissie Chau Sau-Na was destined for bigger and better things than the rank ghost horror and romantic comedies she had been making a living with by that point. Chau rose to fame as a lang mo model with her 2009 and 2010 photobooks. Chrissie was the subject of a legendary Slim Beauty boutique commercial in 2009, directed by Tony Tang Tung-Ming, and that the two would end up working together again was all but inevitable. Chau won several Yahoo Asia Buzz Awards including "Yahoo! Entertainment Spotlight Person" in 2009, four for "Most Searched Photos on Yahoo!" in 2009–2012, and "Most Popular Actress Award". Cutting a dashing 32D figure the Chinese once-and-future queen of cleavage would become spokesmodel for luxury lingerie brand Lamiu, launched her own multi-million ShowNa Collection (秀娜系列) bra line in 2012, and heads up her own business empire with LAANAA. Not that bad for a young Sino girl without any formal model training.

On the acting front miss Chau appeared in a seemingly endless - and frequently interchangable - barrage of ghost horrors, action, and fantasy wuxia webmovie features including, but not limited to, Cold Pupil (2013), Lift to Hell (2013), Kick Ass Girls (2013), The Extreme Fox (2013), and the Jing Wong comedy iGirl (2016). After a decade in the dregs of Mainland China cinema Chau won the Hong Kong Film Award for Best Actress for 29+1 (2017) and a year later would legitimize herself as an A-lister on Yuen Wo-Ping’s Master Z: Ip Man Legacy (2018). Not bad at all for the girl that became an internet phenomenom in 2009, and was publicly ridiculed and called a “bimbo” by veteran actor Raymond Wong. For Beach Spike Chrissie received the “Award of Merit: Leading Actress" from The Accolade Competition. Chau has worked in Hong Kong, China, Taiwan and Malaysia, and but it’s unlikely that she’ll ever breakthrough internationally the way Ni Ni, Yu Nan, Fan Bingbing, or Jade Xu have done as sweet Chrissie speaks little English, or that’s the impression she’s giving off at least.

In Hong Kong there lies a seaside resort called Paradise Cove and working in the beach restaurant are the sisters Sharon (Chrissy Chau Sau-Na) and Bee (Theresa Fu Wing). They live with their uncle and auntie Tao (Lo Meng and Sharon Yeung Pan-Pan) who have instructed them in the ways of martial arts and have them busting tables. The sisters love volleyball and are adored by everyone for their bright smiles and high spirits. One day Sharon nearly drowns while swimming and is rescued by Tim (Law Chung-Him), one of the waiters in uncle Tao’s restaurant and the eldest scion of the wealthy and well-connected Bu dynasty. Sharon and Tim spent a lot of time in each other’s company and the two fall madly in love. Tim’s sisters Natasha (Phoenix Valen) and Natalie (Jessica Cambensy, as Jessica C) consider Sharon and Bee bad news and challenge them to a volleyball match. Sharon and Bee suffer a humiliating defeat and in the aftermath Mrs. Bu (Candice Yu On-On) issues an eviction note. The resort will be sold off to developers and turned into a luxurious playground for the rich and famous. The only way to keep Paradise Cove is to win the Hong Kong Beach Volleyball Championship. Sharon and Bee agree to a rigorous training regimen from uncle Tao, but do the girls have what it takes to save their beloved resort from being sold?

If DOA: Dead or Alive (2006) was a pretty composite adaptation of the Dead Or Alive series then Beach Spike is that Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball adaptation the world never got. As a romantic comedy (what this really is before becoming a fairly standard, and thus pedestrian, underdog sports movie) it has the same trappings that made Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball a popular sub franchise. That is to say, there’s plenty of opportunity to get an eyeful of the girls bouncing around in tiny bikinis, to have them go on dates, splash in the sea, and generally be giggly and fun-loving. The other reason to stick around, besides Chrissie Chau Sau-Na, is much in-demand model Jessica Cambensy (who comes from an American father and Chinese-Filipino mother) who has worked in Hong Kong, Singapore, China and Japan as a brand hostess for Cliniqué, L'Oreal, Max Factor and appeared in Marie Claire and CosmoGirl. As always with international versions a few character names change. Depending on the print Chau is either called Sharon or simply Chrissie, and Bee becomes Kim. Likewise, Jessica C and Phoenix Valen become Natalie and Natasha, respectively with their last name Brewster instead of Bu. Law Chung-Him’s Tim, for obvious reasons, remains intact.

The reason to see Beach Spike isn’t so much the sports element which is utilitarian at best, but to gawk at the assembled bronzed hard bodies of Chau, Wing, Jessica C, and Phoenix Valen as well as DaDa Lo Chung-Chi, and Hidy Yu Xiao-Tong. For the women there’s the bared chest of Alex Lam Chi-Sin that gets plenty of screen time too. Kudos to Chrissie Chau, Alex Lam Chi-Sin, and DaDa Lo Chung-Chi for pulling double duty while this was being filmed as they were engaged in filming the Jing Wong produced Marriage with a Liar (2010) during the night with Patrick Kong Pak-Leung. Also to be seen is sometime Hong Kong martial arts – and action star Sharon Yeung Pan-Pan and wuxia regular Candice Yu On-On. Pan-Pan worked frequently with Godfrey Ho Chi-Keung and shared the screen with wuxia pillars as Lo Lieh, Ti Lung, and Casanova Wong as well as 80s HK Girls with Guns action stars Moon Lee, Oshima Yukari, Sibelle Hu Hui-Chung, and Kara Hui Ying-Hung. On-On on the other hand got her start with Goldig Films but was quickly and frequently employed by Shaw Brothers. Sharon Yeung Pan-Pan was responsible for the action choreography and her routines are fluent, graceful, and stylish but never excessive or overly flashy. As expected Beach Spike never engages in Hong Kong styled antics, and whether that is to its advantage or to its detriment is entirely up to one’s personal preferences for these things.

For those of whom DOA: Dead or Alive (2006) was lacking on the beach volleyball front Beach Spike is probably a good alternative. That she ended up working with master philistine Jing Wong is not all that surprising considering the amount of comedies Chau has done over the years. In recent years Chau has worked very hard to legitimize herself after spending what seems like a small eternity in the Mainland China webmovie circuit. She may not be as versatile as, say, Ni Ni or willing to lower herself to Category III the way Daniella Wang Li Danni has, and that’s admirable to say the least. It sort of makes you wish Chrissie Chau would end up working with Tsui Hark, or somebody of similar repute. If anything Beach Spike was a start, and ample evidence that Chrissie is a pretty good comedic actress if the material suits her. In all other cases Beach Spike is an enjoyable Mainland China take on Shaolin Soccer (2001) – and knowing how annoying and kinetic Sino comedy can get, this could have been far, far worse.

Plot: behold the new model to fight the cyborg oppressor.

Once upon a time Hawaiian shlockmeister Albert Pyun directed Nemesis (1992), a low budget action movie that placed film noire characters in a dystopian cyberpunk setting with the style, swagger, and gunplay of some of John Woo’s best explosive Hong Kong heroic bloodshed features. It liberally lifted ideas and concepts from James Cameron’s The Terminator (1984) and gave them a HK bend. With the arrival of Nemesis 2: Nebula (1995) and the induction of Sue Price the series took a turn for the worse – something from which it never recovered. For those who thunk Nemesis 4: Cry Of Angels (1996) was the ultimate insult and the lowest the series would sink, Nemesis 5: The New Model pulls the once-glorious franchise to previously unimaginable new lows. With Albert Pyun executive producing (more of a symbolic honorary title instead of anything substantial) and Lincoln, Nebraska micro-budget one-man-industry Dustin Ferguson directing Nemesis 5: The New Model (Nemesis 5 hereafter) makes one cardinal mistake. That is considering the Sue Price episodes canonical. If Nemesis 4: Cry Of Angels (1996) effectively buried the franchise for 21 years, then the nostalgia-driven grab-around Nemesis 5 will ensure it remains that way for the next twenty, or so, years.

Nemesis (1992) was an introspective musing on life and what it meant to be human – and when it wasn’t, it was a hyper-stylized explosive HK action movie with a cyberpunk aesthetic and literal acres of skin, both of male and female persuasion, on display. The Nemesis sequels with Sue Price were nowhere near, or at all for that matter, as thoughtful or nuanced as the original. They weren’t written by David S. Goyer after all. The depth and subversive elements that Goyer brought to the original were conspicuous only by their absence. For Nemesis 5 apparently nobody bothered dissecting the original and why it worked as well as it did a quarter century ago. When a franchise doesn’t produce a sequel in over two decades there’s probably a very good reason for it. After Nemesis 4: Cry Of Angels (1996) even Albert Pyun thought it was high time to relegate the franchise to much deserved obscurity. Nemesis 5 is not that long overdue sequel or soft reboot to restore the long-suffering series to its rightful glory. Instead Nemesis 5 is a crushing disappointment. A cruel and sobering reminder that good things not always come to those who wait. If this was meant to be a symbolic passing of the torch, Nemesis 5 is a stark and abject failure on all fronts.

It is the year 2077. Humanity has been enslaved by the cyborg oppressor. The Red Army Hammerheads control all aspects of life, but the arid wastelands are overflowing with dissent and rebel enclaves are omnipresent. In the ruins of civilization once-fearsome bounty hunter Alex Sinclair (Sue Price) continues the grassroots insurgency. After her parents are killed in an attack young Ari Frost (Joelle Reeb) seeks out Sinclair and becomes her student. In the years that follow Sinclair tutors Frost to become her successor thus earning the tag of The New Model. Once she has come of age The Red Army Hammerheads realize that Ari Frost (Schuylar Craig) poses a threat against their power structures once she kills one of their operatives (Daiane Azura) in a hotelroom. Henceforth the Hammerhead strategists/controllers Lt. Telecine (Robert Lankford) and Sgt. Telecine (Jennii Caroline) dispatch the bounty hunter twins (Breana Mitchell and Lia Havlena) as well as Nebula (Zach Muhs) to dispose of her. Ari is ordered to take down a reclusive Red Army Hammerhead leader (Mel Novak), but he won’t be going down without a fight and is constantly guarded by his trusted partner Barbarella (Dawna Lee Heising). Aiding Frost in her seek-and-destroy mission are Eve (Crystal Milani), Dan (Daniel Joseph Stier, as Daniel Stier), and Edwin (Edwin Garcia).

That the above plot summary reads nothing like an Albert Pyun Nemesis movie was expected. That it would get the most established basics wrong is far more damning In the original Nemesis (1992) LAPD cop Alex Rain was a police detective tasked with tracking down Red Army Hammerheads information-terrorist cells. On one such mission he suffered grievous bodily harm and his handler convinced him to defect to the Red Army Hammerheads camp. In changing his alliances Rain drew the ire of his former employers and was hunted by a cybernetic infiltration unit disguised as his direct superior in an attempt to dispose of him. It’s later revealed that the police and government have been mechanized by the cyborg oppressor, and the Red Army Hammerheads are in fact the last bastion of human resistance.

In the sequels, set several decades after the original, genetic descendant Alex Raine (later Sinclair) is transported to 1980s Africa where she’s first chased by Nebula, cybernetic bounty hunters Lock and Ditko, and much later an upgraded Farnsworth. No mention is made of the Impact clan, nor are there any references to Ramie (Ursula Sarcev) and Sinclair’s tribe of half-sisters from Nemesis 3: Time Lapse (1996). Nemesis 2 to 4 never managed to resolve their overarching plotline, and Nemesis 5 does so by glossing over the particulars. There’s a gender-swapped re-enactment of the “goddamn terrorist” scene from Nemesis (1992) but it makes little to no sense even in its present context. The remainder of Nemesis 5 is piss-poor on just about every conceivable level. In short, this is an exercise in tedium and futility that bears little to no semblance to the series it’s continuing.

If anything Nemesis (1992) was not afraid to be sexy. Olivier Gruner was bare chested for at least a quarter of the movie. Deborah Shelton, Merle Kennedy, Marjean Holden, Marjorie Monaghan, Jennifer Gatti, and Borovnisa Blervaque had something for everybody. The only good thing to come from Nemesis 5 on that end are Schuylar Craig and stuntwoman Crystal Milani, both of whom would be right at home with Rene Perez. The only star, nominal though it may be, that Nemesis 5 was able to afford is Dawna Lee Heising who (pre-plastic surgery) famously had an uncredited bit part as a showgirl in Blade Runner (1982), as a priestess in Big Trouble in Little China (1986), and a number of famous TV shows. The obligatory faded American star is martial arts veteran Mel Novak who has several decades of pulp to his credit. In that capacity he appeared in, among many others, in respectable fare as The Ultimate Warrior (1975), Game of Death (1978), and Force: Five (1981), Moonbase (1997), to direct-to-video action/science-fiction fodder as Future War (1997), Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance (2015), and Dustin Ferguson’s latest attempt at a franchise, RoboWoman (2019).

Nemesis (1992) never let its creativity be restricted by the budget, Nemesis 5 on the other hand is dictated entirely by its budget – or complete lack thereof. To dispense with the obvious, Nemesis 5 is cheap, shot on video cheap. This makes the oeuvre of Rene Perez look like Stanley Kubrick and Neil Johnson like Michael Bay. It was so cheap that it couldn’t afford neither director of photography George Mooradian nor composer Anthony Riparetti (although he’s involved as sound designer). It slavishly follows the template of the Pyun-written sequels with Sue Price, and never quite seems to grasp just what made Olivier Gruner headed original a modest hit on home video.

More often than not Nemesis 5 feels like a very bad piece of fanfiction. And it looks like it too. Nemesis (1992) had some hard-hitting and explosive action that clearly took after Hong Kong heroic bloodshed and bullet ballet. Nemesis 5 has random nobodies, faded once-somebodies, and pseudo-goth chicks standing around in the Nebraska desert holding dollar store props with a red or a green filter for that futuristic look. The action was more explosive and convincing in Ugandan action-comedy Who Killed Captain Alex? (2010) as were the martial arts for that matter. Nemesis 5 is amateurishly shot, badly choreographed, terribly written, and acted even worse. It’s the ultimate insult to anybody who ever followed the Nemesis series in any capacity for the last two decades and counting.

If there’s one thing that Nemesis 5 does right it’s that it, rightly, decries the increasingly totalitarian state of the US government, the increase of the police state, and the rampant militarization and systemic unaccountability of its law enforcement. It’s absolutely the last place where you’d expect to find a leftist, anarchistic agenda. Schuylar Craig couldn’t possibly be expected to carry this thing and the brunt of the blame for this unmitigated fiasco falls squarely on the shoulders of Dustin Ferguson and writer Mike Reeb. They completely dropped the ball on this one. Nemesis 5 not only lacks just about everything that the Albert Pyun original (and the three sequels of increasingly diminishing returns) had – but apparently forgot what this series was about.

The fifth episode of any series is usually where the bolts and nuts come loose, and things are no different here. Nemesis 5 is the malformed offspring of the series, the abomination of which nobody speaks, and the unspeakable atrocity from which there’s no return. In other words, Nemesis 5 stands among universally loathed cinematic abortions as Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985), Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989), Hellraiser: Inferno (2000), and Terminator Genisys (2015). As with many of these ventures, nostalgia can be a dangerous thing. Nemesis 5 is, as the great philosopher James Hetfield once put it, the thing that should not be.