Skip to content

398892_10150539571836259_172106871258_11220931_852513309_n

Plot: disgraced bounty hunter ponders the human condition while killing people

Nemesis was the only of the original quadrilogy to have any discernable talent in front of, and behind, the camera. Albert Pyun wasn't always the schlockmeister he eventually turned into. In 1992 he was a halfway promising action movie director. Above all else Nemesis is stylized in its adrenaline-pumping mix of martial arts, dystopian science fiction, and Hong Kong heroic bloodshed. Elevated beyond mere pulp thanks to a tight script that intelligently borrows from James Cameron, John Woo, and Paul Verhoeven Nemesis attempts, no matter how daftly shot and generic, to say something, anything, about the human condition. While there might not be much flesh to its metallic bones, the machine beneath it is rock-solid.

The screenplay, written by Rebecca Charles and an uncredited David S. Goyer, paints a dystopian future vision reminiscent of a William Gibson novel. In the distant future of 2027 Japan and America have merged, economically and politically,  and man and machine have become intertwined. Cybergenetics and human augmentation have become everyday commodities. Information terrorism is the order of the day. LAPD officer Alex Rain (Olivier Gruner) is tasked with intercepting data chip smuggler Morico (Borovnisa Blervaque), resulting in massive collateral damage and the woman’s head being blown off. Rain is chased, and eventually killed, by chief gunwoman Rosaria (Jennifer Gatti). In a scene mirroring the resurrection of Alex Murphy in RoboCop (1987) Rain (or what remains of him at any rate) is taken to the Marshall Islands where he's re-assembled through bio-engineering and synthetic reconstruction. The then-partial cybernetic Rain is sent to apprehend Morico in Baja, New Mexico. Rain is debriefed by his android handler Jared (Marjorie Monaghan, a less square-jawed Megan Boone) and her blonde partner (Marjean Holden). His old mentor LAPD Commissioner Sam Farnsworth (Tim Thomerson) deems Rain fit for new field operations. Instead he decides to retire to New Rio De Janeiro as a black market mercenary.

Rain's rest is short-lived as his explosive reputation and predilection towards violence puts Farnsworth, now at a genexus between man and machine, and his henchman Maritz (Brion James) on his tail. Both men have other plans and coerce him into accepting a mission to track down his former handler Jared, who has since gone rogue. To get Rain to do their bidding they install a small explosive charge in his heart. Now forced to cooperate against his will Rain tracks Jared down to Shang Loo, Java where he comes to the realization that in a society where humanity has been rendered obsolete, a war between the last bastions of mankind and the industrialist machines is looming. Jared, who has shed her android skin and exists in a permanent state of digimortality, has fallen in with the Red Army Hammerheads, the last faction of assorted humanity that refuses to bow to their cyborg oppressor. The established order has been strategically mechanized by the cyborgs. They seek to subjugate, and eventually demanufacture, all of humanity. Now a peon in a much larger conflict Rain is forced to choose an allegiance. Helping him with that are Hammerhead leader Angie-Liv (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), Jared's sometime-accomplice Julian (Deborah Shelton) and Max Impact (Merle Kennedy), a slender female who either practices capoeira or parkour and looks something of a 90s counterpart to Analía Ivars, albeit with a far less pronounced bosom. Rain ponders the soul of a new machine and thus becomes their Nemesis.

The star of Nemesis was Parisian kick boxer Olivier Gruner, who had worked as a consultant on the Jean-Claude Van Damme action romp Lionheart (1990). Pyun had conceived Nemesis at the end of a three-picture deal with Cannon. The project originally went under the name Alex Rain with both Kelly Lynch and Megan Ward being attached to it as lead stars. The project was put on hold as Pyun tended to other obligations and several years and rewrites later it resurfaced in its current form. Imperial Entertainment, duly impressed by Pyun's ability to helm marketable product within the allotted time and budget, was given the green light. The caveat was that Nemesis had to be a vehicle for their new discovery: Olivier Gruner. Unfortunately Nemesis didn't launch Gruner into stardom, instead he found himself working in low-budget action and science-fiction ever since. Which is all perfectly understandable since Gruner is probably a worse actor than Van Damme, Steven Seagall and Michael Dudikoff combined. 

Nemesis was Albert Pyun's first feature of note after his initial success with the sword-and-sorcery flick The Sword and the Sorcerer (1982) and the Jean-Claude Van Damme post-apocalyptic action yarn Cyborg (1989). It also is one of Pyun's best looking productions by a wide margin. It seamlessly weaves together Hong Kong action, some martial arts, and American action movie clichés into an admittedly slick, hyper-stylized whole. Nemesis has an impressive cast including future Pyun stock talent Tim Thomerson and Yuji Okumoto as well as character actors Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Brion James, Jackie Earle Healey, Branscombe Richmond and a very young Thomas Jane. There's no shortage of bodacious, gun-toting, short-skirted women with the likes of Borovnisa Blervaque, Jennifer Gatti, Marjorie Monaghan, Marjean Holden, Deborah Shelton, and Merle Kennedy. Like any good pulp title Nemesis is simultaneously stylish and completely derivative of better properties - but it's also prescient of the Hong Kong action and cyberpunk trend of the 90s predating The Matrix (1999) by over half a decade. It isn't for nothing that some of its scenes were replicated in big-budget Hollywood productions years later.

Rain's escape from a goon-infested hotel in Shang Loo was copied verbatim in the daft Len Wiseman actioner Underworld (2003). In Wiseman's movie a leatherclad Kate Beckinsale shoots her way through several floors to her escape. The look of the agents, and the wardrobe of the female assassins during the opening shootout, would be copied by Wachowski siblings in their 1999 science-fiction hit The Matrix. Nemesis isn't without its share of humor either. In a surgery scene aped from The Terminator (1984), Julian is forced to do ocular inspection on Alex, "Now this is gonna," she starts, "sting a little?" Alex matter-of-factly asks. "No," Julian remarks prior to starting the procedure, "it's gonna hurt a motherfucker!Nemesis then shifts gears and foreshadows its first sequel with a jungle segment redolent of Predator (1987). Farnsworth, replaced in the interim by a cybernetic infiltration unit programmed to execute Rain, gives chase. After a protacted chase sequence that forms much of Nemesis’ second half the metallic endoskeleton of Commissioner Farnsworth grapples onto the airborne plane in a scene that simultaneously rips off Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) and James Cameron’s The Terminator. Rain drops Farnsworth in a volcano because no B-movie is complete without a live volcano.

Beyond mere gun pyrotechnics and lifting from better movies Nemesis has a thought or two in its head. Much like Rick Deckard from Blade Runner (1982) and the hardboiled detectives from Raymond Chandler and Philip Marlowe novels Alex Rain waxes faux-philosophically about the nature of his rapidly eroding humanity and the state of his eternal soul. These bouts of existential fear are somewhat offset and ineffectual as they often happen when Raine is in process of gunning people down en masse. As Jared puts it at one point, “It took them 6 months to put him back together. Synthetic flesh, bio-engineered organs. It always scared him that they might take out his soul, and replace it with some matrix chip.” In the second half of the movie everybody, on either side of the divide, keeps telling Alex that he’s, “more machine than human”. While Pyun would remain prolific through out much of his career seldom, if not ever again, would the screenplays (written either by himself or his associates) aspire to these kinds of ambitious conceptual heights. Nemesis is completely and entirely derivative, but in that rare good and intelligent fashion.

Nemesis is, to put it mildly, sparkly. Director of photography George Mooradian and Pyun love to shoot everything beautifully lit and in soft focus. Everything has the cinematography of a sex scene even when it is anything but. Sparkly is very much Pyun's calling card. There's an outspoken adoration for Hong Kong action cinema with the completely over-the-top gunplay, inexplicable explosions, and reducing enemies to a splatter of sparks, wires and exposed circuitry. Pyun often gets carried away with his depictions of trench-coated, bespectacled people shooting at each other in slow-motion and in soft focus. Pyun realizes he is no John Woo and probably never will be, but he tries. Albert Pyun was always prone to stealing from the best and never hid his adoration for his superiors. Nemesis transcends its derivative nature by the sheer amount of starpower involved.

The women are universally and uniformly beautiful. Jennifer Gatti and Borovnisa Blervaque completely steal the opening gambit set piece that has them systematically obliterating an already blasted out industrial wasteland to bits. Certainly a scene that inspired many a video game in terms of multiplayer arena matches. Blervaque was a French model who appeared in music videos from Richard Marx and Eddie Money with Nemesis being her only cinematic credit of note. She was born Myrtille Blervaque in Paris, France but changed her name to Blueberry and later to just Blue when she started modeling. Marjorie Monaghan looks the part, but her acting certainly isn't worth the price of admission. Marjean Holden is barely a character worthy of the mention but her pairing with Monaghan is at least effective, no matter how minuscule its overall importance. Pyun treats the viewer to a leering look of Deborah Shelton’s well-formed, sweaty posterior, but makes sure to give the ladies something as well by showing Olivier Gruner and Thomas Jane in various stages of undress. Much like Cat Sassoon in Angelfist (1993), Julian’s globes remain sturdily in place no matter how she moves.


Nemesis is a highly stylized, action-packed and breakneck paced genre exercise that pays homage to many, often better realized, productions – but remains strangely watchable despite hardly ever being coherent as far as the storyline and characters are concerned. It manages to avoid most trappings of low-budget action cinema and lends itself to repeated viewings. Nemesis has all the gunfire and explosions than one could reasonably ask for. It was followed by three, largely unrelated, in-name only sequels with Sue Price taking over from Gruner, all of which were unfortunately penned by Albert Pyun. Alas, Nemesis is a lone high-water mark in a franchise that never lived up to its promise and potential.

As of 2017 a fifth installment is in production (with no involvement from Gruner) called Nemesi5: the New Model from director Dustin Ferguson. In Nemesi5: the New Model Price returns as the aged mentor to the titular new model Ari Frost (Schuylar Craig). For this fifth episode Pyun served as executive producer. As a stand-alone piece Nemesis is derivative and the franchise would never reach the level of competence on display here again. That the franchise took a turn for the worse after its two original screenwriters bade their farewell speaks volumes of just how strong and efficient the first Nemesis was. The continuing and continued existence of the Nemesis franchise is puzzling enough by itself, especially in the light of Ferguson taking over the dystopian cyberpunk action mantle from Pyun...

92044-Burn_Cycle_(CD-i)-2 16.49.08.jpg

 

Burn: Cycle (1994)
Developed by Trip Media
Published by Philips
Produced & directed by David Collier (game)
Written & directed by Eitan Arrusi (full motion videos)
Music by Simon Boswell and Chris Whitten
Starring Aaron Swartz, Viva Duce, David Sterne, Abigail Canton

“Burn: Cycle” was a 1994 videogame for the short-lived CDi console by electronics giant Philips. Along with “Dragon’s Lair”, “Mad Dog Mc Cree” and “Chaos Control”, it was one of the launch titles. The CDi was mostly universally panned for its price, graphics, games and controls. Videogames were its secondary market, as it mostly focused on self-improvements programs and edutainment (portmanteau of education and entertainment). Unsurprisingly, the CDi died an embarrassing death, but not without leaving at least one title that ensured it legacy in the memory of many gamers.

The story is a combination of Blade Runner and Philip Marlowe detective novels, juxtaposing noire stylings with a cyberpunk setting. For a mid to low-budget game the whole premise is surprisingly ambitious. The production values of the full-motion video scenes are shoddy at times and the acting varies wildly from one actor to another. The title is mostly remembered for it fusion of full-motion video with computer generated backgrounds, and an ambient/techno soundtrack by Simon Boswell. On the whole, this forgotten game was a gamble on all fronts. Sadly, the gamble never took off and this is the only title in what arguably could have been a potentially interesting franchise.

In the game we meet Sol Cutter (Aaron Swartz), a small-time data thief/courier and one-time security officer, who gets infected with malicious software while on a job at Softech. This leaves him infected with the Burn: Cycle virus, a so-called Logic Bomb, that leaves him a one hell of a headache and is set to melt his brain if he doesn’t diffuse it in two real-time hours. Cutter must now flee from the Softech headquarters, along with his trusted ally Kris (Viva Duce), and seek out who set him up.

“Burn: Cycle” was released one full year before “Johnny Mnemonic” would hit multiplexes. Four years before “Dark City” and a half decade before “The Matrix”.

The game itself is a rather slow affair that mostly consists of traveling the various locations in search of clues to help you along the way. Most of the game consists of various puzzles and some fetch quests to keep the pace going. While the shooting galleries aren’t especially difficult in themselves, the game is very punishing and wholly unforgiving all around. About three or four shots and you’ll see Cutter die with a grunt and a splatter of digital blood. The supporting cast and extras consists of stereotypical archetypes of the science fiction - and action genre. While they aren’t the most stimulating, their backstories and lines of dialogue betray far more depth and pathos than their initial looks would suggest. There’s far more than meets the eye.

“Burn: Cycle” isn’t so much about action, gunfights and explosions as it is about immersing the player in its gloomy, eternally shrouded in twilight environment of uncaring multinational corporations, shifting loyalties, life-changing software and the very people behind the brands that make up every day life in this world. The game pervades a sense of utter nihilism, and portrays the inherent pointlessness of physical existence in a world where the rich and powerful have moved to a digital way of living. The juxtaposition of bright colors and cold metallic surfaces convey this contrast rather well. The game’s focus lies squarely on its puzzles and fetch quests. Urban Central, where the lion’s share of the game takes place, consists of all that. In order to progress you’ll need to call in a friend’s favor, find the item they desire and you’ll move on to the next person who can be of help in your quest. Those persons will again send you on one quest or another – while doing all that you’ll need to keep out of the hands of enemy agents and see that you don’t get shot while doing so.

The old Sierra adage: “save early, save often and don’t overwrite saves” rings especially true here. This was the time when games didn’t pamper their players, didn’t hold their hands through out the entire duration. The player had to use his wits often and all the time. When you died, there was no one to blame but yourself. Forgot to save at the critical junction? That’s too bad, start over from the beginning. Ah, those old times!

Some of the recurring concepts, the in-game mythos and narrative ideas are enough to fill an entire trilogy of games on its own. Everything in this cold and uncaring world is driven by personal gain and monetization more than anything. For starters, three cutthroat software corporations rule the every day life. Cortex and Semtex are the civilian branches, and Softech is the military arm. All three operate on the shady grey areas of law and legality, and all three are one step away from an all-out corporate war for market monopoly. Cortex appears as the lesser evil of the two, although Semtex’ line of business is never truly explained to any reasonable depth. It is clear that all three firms will stop at nothing to reach their objectives for market monopoly. Schemes and corporate espionage is the order of the day, and corporate “adjusters” are needed to see that competitors are weakened, either from within or through external force.

In order to sedate and placate the civilian masses, Softech has devised the ultimate experience with Trip World, an orbital theme park. “Rushing” is in with hackers, and Psychic Roulette is the newest trend in gambling. Information means currency (either in credits, or Nigerian rand) and ASCII is the number one entity to scan and sell information found in and on the Televerse. ASCII operates in numerous independent branches called drones. These are bodies (or hosts, rather) for the system to enter into everyday civilian life to sell its services to its many clients. Whether these drones are man or machine remains ambiguous, as is the nature of ASCII itself.

The Karmic Church and the New Age Movement is an alternate take on organized religion. Its new age design is deceiving and there’s something strangely cultish about the whole. Buddhist philosophy, meditation and spiritual enlightenment are merged with corporatization. Forgiveness is commoditized and monetized to the utmost extreme. At the Karmic Church a person can ask absolution from past misdeeds and transgressions, given that said person has a good credit line. Then there’s the Sum Zero Bar where smugglers, pirates, hackers and other criminals mingle with civilians, whether they be digital or physical beings. A terrorist organization called NAMO wants to take down the Televerse (and its inhabitants) for undisclosed reasons. Plastic surgery is widespread and common among all lines of civilization. In an offhand comment Sol dryly mentions he had a “different face” when he met Gala originally years before the game. Gala is (or was) part of an extermination squad to liquidate suspect and captured undercover agents within the ranks of NAMO’s operatives.

The Televerse is the global communication system of choice for individuals and corporations. The Televerse is both universal to its user pool, and unique to the individual user itself. Through the usage of a Comport or the User Interface, a user can communicate with ASCII to a obtain credit, or general information about themself, the data they are carrying, who is monitoring them and so on. There are several layers to the Televerse, and access to these is dependent on the “level” of the user. Only a “super user” can enter the deeper layers of the Televerse. Along with the User Interface, there’s the general entrance called The Pulse, which is a digital representation of all raw data currently in and entering the Televerse. In order to access the digital imprints of one’s memories the user needs to be downloaded into User Interface as a construct. From this place he or she can choose to enter Nirvana, which is a barren desert looked over by threshold guardians, and housing a floating labyrinthine grid of data constructed entirely out of interconnected personal memories of the user currently within its confines.

One of the recurring themes through the game is that of physical and digital immortality. Veilli, one of the characters the player meets later in the game, has devised the technology to allow people to download their consciousness into the Televerse, and to swap bodies as they please. Thus allowing great minds to continue their work in the philosophical and scientific world, without having to worry about physical and bodily limitations. Cortex, the corporation that monitors the Televerse wants sell this very same technology to the highest bidder behind the back of its creator. Softech, the villainous corporation seeking Sol, has its own plans for the technology and wishes to produce it for the mass market. Nothing is sacred in this world.

As touched upon earlier “Burn: Cycle” was a fairly ambitious undertaking. The story and central mythos are taking inspiration from literature, philosophy and religion (Buddhism) - this is not so much a game, but a veritable experience as its universe is so engrossing and complex despite the brief nature of the narrative. The soundtrack also helps tremendously in terms of atmosphere and immersion. In other words, the universe, the central cast and the lore alone are enough to fill a movie, or three. Despite the conclusive but strangely positive open ending a second game was never produced. It is really a shame that this was the only title of what could have been a spectacular series in the right hands. There’s so much material and interesting characters to work with. At one point Cutter and Gala reference the 1942 classic "Casablanca" by lifting a line of its dialogue in what probably was meant to be a throwaway one-liner.

After this game everybody from the principal cast continued work like the working stiffs they are. Nobody was able to force a real breakthrough of any kind, except for antagonist Dealey, portrayed by David Sterne. He seems to be the only one to have maintained a steady career in TV and cinema, although Canton and Swartz did deserve a better fate than they got. Gabriel Canton appeared in “Lost In Space” and Viva Duce had guest roles in “East Enders”, “Casualty” and “The Bill”. Aaron Swartz had a role in the Samuel L. Jackson flick “The 51st State” and also appeared in “Entrapment”. Other than having a recurring role in the TV series “I Shouldn’t Be Alive” and an uncredited guest spot on “Spooks”, Swartz’s career didn’t take off in any specific direction. Director Eitan Arrusi went on to write the script for the 2001 TV drama/comedy “Is Harry On the Boat?” and the 2002 horror movie “Long Time Dead” (which was critically savaged). A few years later, in 2008, he directed the critically panned horror flick “Reverb”. What happened to game director David Coullier is hard to tell, as a web search didn’t yield any results to speak of – the game did nothing to forward anybody’s career, and that’s a bit sad considering how interesting and ambitious this title was.