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Plot: retired assassin is targeted for extermination

For the last twenty or so years Nemesis 4: Cry Of Angels (Death Angel in some regions) was the lowest that anybody thunk that Albert Pyun's once-glorious Nemesis franchise could fall. Gone were days of Hong Kong bullet ballet action, of robust desert action, and hell, even the science fiction aspect was becoming negligible or strenuous at best. The law of diminishing returns struck hard and swift on Albert Pyun's once stylish but surprisingly watchable Nemesis series. That Olivier Gruner didn't reprise the role that made him famous for the first sequel should have been plenty indication. Sue Price made the best of what little she was given. The blame for Nemesis taking a turn for the worse lies squarely with director-writer Albert Pyun.

Nemesis 4: Cry Of Angels (Nemesis 4 hereafter) abandons all pretense of even bothering with established continuity and has Pyun indulging some of the worst inclinations typical to trash directors under the double strain of non-existent budgets and compressed production schedules. Nemesis 4 was afforded a grand total of 5 production days while Pyun was engaged in re-shoots for Adrenalin: Fear the Rush (1996). Pyun was never a good writer to begin with, and even his best writing was marred by sketchy, paper-thin plotting and nearly non-existent characterization. Pyun, no cinematic wünderkind by any stretch of the imagination, usually is able to conjure up at least an interesting action set piece or two more than this unsightly monstrosity that supposedly is meant to give closure to the two or three, depending how you count them, Nemesis episodes. Fear not, however, as greater atrocities were yet to be visited upon the unsuspecting franchise.

Six years after the events of Nemesis 3: Time Lapse (1996) a truce has been reached between the warring factions of the humans and cyborgs. With the war ending operatives from each side now work as mercenaries for private contractors. In some unnamed East-European city Alex Sinclair (Sue Price), who has shed her Raine surname and enhanced herself with cybernetic components, works as an assassin and is haunted by visions of a mysterious Woman In Black (Blanka Copikova). Hired to kill Carlos Jr. (Juro Rasla) Sinclair dons the disguise of an escort and completes her contract. When it is revealed that the hit was a setup to have her eliminated by her handler Bernardo (Andrew Divoff) Alex pieces together that her intended target is Earl Typhoon (Nicholas Guest). To get to him, and find those behind the conspiracy to disgrace and sully her name, she sets her sights on Tokuda (Norbert Weisser) and finally Bernardo. Amidst this chaos she also has a run-in with Johnny Impact (Simon Poland), a descendant of Merle Kennedy’s Max Impact in the original, and vastly superior, Nemesis (1992).

That it would come to this should surprise no one as the prior two sequels offered some spectacular devolution in their own right. Nemesis 4 at long last returns the franchise to the bleak urban cityscapes of the original but without an ounce of coherence and style. The pyrotechnics and stuntwork are conspicuous only by their absence and what once passed for low-rent action has been reduced to a softcore skinflick with occasional bouts of action. Nemesis 4 is neither here nor there. Had it starred Melissa Moore, Samantha Phillips, Tina Cote, or Julie K. Smith than it least could have been passed off as a marginally tantalizing affair. Sue Price was an award-winning bodybuilder, and not some sex-crazed femme fatale. Nearly unrecognizable without her cornrows and military garb this is not the Alex Sinclair you remember. Hell, this is not even the Nemesis you might remember with some fondness. Nemesis 4 is reductionist to the point of writing itself out of existence.

It's telling enough that the only big names in much of the promo material are Sue Price and... Blanka Copikova. Copikova was a featured extra in Adrenalin: Fear the Rush (1996) where she played the demanding role of "additional cop". Sue Price, of course, had been the series figurehead in Gruner's sorely felt absence and for her to have to sink this low is beyond forgiving. To have the burnt-out urban hellscapes of Vukovar, Croatia and Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina serve as the locales for something as drab as this begs the question why this was even deemed a good, or feasible, idea. Nemesis (1992) was a modest hit on home video and sequels were both expected and probably demanded, but not even a low-key action series as this deserved to be dragged through the mud quite the way it did. Pyun and his cohorts clearly dropped the ball on this one, and it shows. Does it ever show. For a primarily style-driven director as Albert Pyun this one distinctly lacks in showmanship and, well, basic style and decent cinematography even.

To have Nemesis, once a mildly promising franchise that went off to a surprisingly solid initial outing, reduced to this waste of celluloid is in itself not surprising. The two prior sequels at least hinted at such a devolution, but nothing quite pointed at a regression this dire. That Pyun went from a stylish John Woo heroic bloodshed imitation, through two sequels worth of cheap post-apocalyptic Mad Max (1979) knockoffs, to this unconscionably horrid waste of celluloid is frankly unforgivable. Pyun made better movies, often on the same limited budgets and timetables, than this. Were it not for the technical polish and reasonable cinematography Nemesis 4 could easily be mistaken for any late night skinflick. If it wasn’t for the dystopian science-fiction background, and the insistence of being a sequel to an established franchise, Nemesis 4 has little to differentiate itself from anything you could find on Skinemax or late-night softcore erotic trash.

Plot: kickboxer is coerced into partaking in clandestine tournament

It's entirely within the realm of possibly that in 1995 Albert Pyun was spreading himself a bit thin, creatively. Not only did he direct the first Nemesis (1992) sequel Nemesis 2: Nebula, around the same time he shot three films on location in the Philippines. In a bout of creative economics he lensed the Bond imitation Spitfire, the pseudo-realistic thriller Hong Kong ’97 (1994) and the the Christopher Borkgren written cyberpunk martial arts romp Heatseeker. Despite a mildly promising premise, a relative nobody in the starring role, and a swath of Pyun regulars in tow Heatseeker looks exactly as lethargic and turgid as it sounds. It certainly won’t bother explaining why it is called Heatseeker. If the wretched Bloodmatch (1991) had anything going for it, it was Andy Sidaris babe Hope Marie Carlton. Heatseeker has to content itself with sometime Pyun muse Tina Cote.

In the far-flung future present of 2019 Sianon Corporation marketing executive Tsiu Tung (Norbert Weisser), who isn’t Asian despite his name, has devised the ultimate scheme for dominating the fledging international cybernetics market. In a clandestine, globally broadcast, mixed martial arts tournament rival corporations will be able to present their sponsored fighters, and the eventual winner, and its parent company, will monopolize the cybernetics market. In an unexpected turn of events Chance O’Brien (Keith Cooke), the last fully human competitor and one who is vocal in his condemnation of cybernetics, defeats Sianon grand champion Xao (Gary Daniels) in the ring. To ensure victory for the hosting house Sianon decks out their prize fighter with in-house enhancements in a sequence looking like a skid row re-enactment of the assembly scenes in Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991).

At the post-match press conference O’Brien and his fiancée/manager Jo (Tina Cote, as Tina Coté) announce their engagement, and they are soon beset by Tung with his price fighter in attendance. Refusing to bend knee to the interests of corporate overlords O’Brien and Jo head off to Paris, France for a short romantic getaway. Jo is abducted by Tung’s goons and implanted with a mind control chip, the workings of which will, of course, never be explained. Under aegis of Tung she is forced to train Sianon prize fighter Xao under the threat of bodily harm. To make matters worse, Jo is forced upon Xao because Tang apparently mistakes physical affection for love, neither of which Jo is prepared or willing to give. Xao himself doesn’t seem comfortable with the arrangement, and will often look dismayed – or that may just be Daniels’ complete inability to emote combined with the cold looking azure contacts he is forced to wear. To get O’Brien to do his bidding Tung threatens to kill Jo if he doesn’t follow his plan. How killing Jo is supposed to be beneficial to Xao’s training regiment is, of course, conveniently glossed over. Neither does Tung seem to have a contingency plan in place in case O’Brien doesn’t want to partake in the clandestine tournament, and is prepared to sacrifice Jo to facilitate his escape.

In tradition of Bloodsport (1988) and Kickboxer (1989) – wherein Jean-Claude van Damme is as oiled up and flexible as Cooke is here - the only way to avenge the killing/taking of one’s sibling or paramour is by partaking in an underground martial arts tournament, or a full-contact kumite. Checking in at his hotel in New Manila a helpful receptionist (Hazel Huelves) points him to the right direction to enroll in the tournament. The tournament is, to avoid all possible confusion, simply called The Tournament. Supposedly because The Arena, Kubate, or Mortal Kombat were already taken. As genre convention dictates upon arriving in the Filipino capital of New Manila, O’Brien has barely left the plane or he is accosted by street thugs, and robbed of both his clothing and whatever possessions he brought along - an old Filipino action movie convention that also could be found in the Cirio H. Santiago topless kung fu classics TNT Jackson (1974), Naked Fist (1981) and Angelfist (1993). It is here at O’Brien runs into Bradford (Thom Mathews), a corporate executive acting as his own sponsor and quite literally defending his firm in the ring. Bradford is supposed to act has a buddy to O’Brien, but nothing substantial is made of it. A subplot wherein Tung coerces Bradford to sell O’Brien down the river is brought up, but has no visible effect on the main plot.

As Chance works his way through the early part of The Tournament he attracts the attention of the Zanac Corporation, who decide to sponsor him. Corporate assistant Liu (Yau Chau-Yuet or Selena Mangharan, as Selena Mangh), who everybody refers to as “Lou”, makes sure O’Brien remains properly motivated. Eventually Chance faces reigning champion Xao, who multiple characters lovingly call “a tin man”, an obvious reference the Wonderful Wizard of Oz novel, who despite being almost completely rebuilt from cybernetic components still doesn’t reach his full potential as a fighter. Xao, like LL Cool J before him, needs love to unlock his true power as a cybernetic combatant. When O’Brien defeats Xao in the ring a second time, supposedly due to the fact that O’Brien is empowered by love, the latter sacrifices himself by taking a bullet meant for Jo. O’Brien, dimwitted as always, walks away from the situation oblivious to Xao’s rather blatant and obvious heroic self-sacrifice.

Unlike the vastly superior Mortal Kombat (1995) or the Jean-Claude van Damme box office bomb Street Fighter (1994), Heatseeker hardly, if ever, manages to deliver on its promise. The mildly interesting premise, the stylized look, and even the fights come across as overly stilted and daft. The cybernetic implants and upgrades are heavily emphasized in the mess of a screenplay but it’s impossible to tell which combatants are enhanced and which are not. Neither do said implants seem to give any of the more enhanced combatants any strategic upperhand or special skills. One of the bigger, and more important, problems for Heatseeker is the unequivocally flat and unenergetic action choreography. The fights universally and uniformly are clunky, slow, and lack in athleticism, rhythm, and grace.

If this had been a Hong Kong production at least the fights would have been good. Not so here. Further complicating matters is that there's a complete absence of interesting camera angles, every scene is shot in soft focus, and the fights are easily the most boring aspect of the production. A great deal is made of Heatseeker being about a full-contact kumite yet it's practically bloodless and the injuries of the cybernetic combatants are shown with small, budget-efficient exposing of wiring and circuitry embedded in human flesh. Each cybernetic combatant hits the canvas with the expected eruption of sparks, vapors of smoke, and light electronic buzzing. It’s a sad day for a budget-deficient martial arts movie when the referee (Mary Courtney) becomes the only aspect of a fight worth paying attention to.

Somewhere in Heatseeker there’s a worthwhile little martial arts movie, or a passable character study of cybernetic enhanced martial artists in search and contemplation of the nature of humanity, and their loss thereof - or a protest against the corporization and mass commercialization of popular sports entertainment. All of which director Albert Pyun, or most likely screenwriter Christopher Borkgren, has no interest in exploring to any degree. It’s interesting that two of Pyun’s more worthy offerings were far more grounded in reality than his usual dystopian cyberpunk vehicles. Hong Kong ’97 benefitted from having two lead stars (Robert Patrick and Ming-Na Wen) that could actually act, and Spitfire was a popcorn spy/adventure flick in the truest sense of the word. That Heatseeker, much more in Pyun’s comfort zone than anything else that year, is so immensely, unforgivingly stale that it might as well signal that Pyun was spreading himself a tad too thin creatively that year. Heatseeker makes one long for the glorious incompetence of Mortal Kombat: Annihilation.