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Plot: 10 million dollars, 1000 guns, 100 criminals, 1 winner.

Even the marginally talented occassionally catch lightning in a bottle. Case in point: Albert Pyun and his Mean Guns. In an attempt to imitate Quentin Tarantino he, either by design or by complete accident, stumbled onto a good idea. Pyun somehow managed to bring the plot of Battle Royale (2000) to home video everywhere a full three years before Kinji Fukasaku’s famous adaptation. Additionally there are shades of The Most Dangerous Game (1932), Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians, and It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963). This being a Pyun joint the plot, minimal as it may be, is mere pretext for what boils down to a 90 minute-long shoot-out. In spite of that Mean Guns remains strangely watchable through out, and every once in a while it actually works, and it's often better than some of the dross he’s known for. That is when Mean Guns stops reveling in its obtuseness and when old Al fires on all cylinders. That the entire thing is played for cheap laughs and comes with a mambo soundtrack is exactly the sort of thing you’d expect from Hawaii’s greatest export (next to Andy Sidaris, probably). Albert Pyun made a living riding the coattails of great directors.

Mean Guns is exactly the sort of thing that Albert Pyun was born to helm. He had earned his reputation with The Sword and the Sorcerer (1982), and experienced his first major success when he gave Jean-Claude Van Damme his breakthrough role in the post-nuke classic Cyborg (1989). He, like no other in Hollywood understood the appeal and style of Hong Kong action, as Nemesis (1992) attested to. Perhaps better than anyone else old Al could stage an exciting action scene on a limited budget. Mean Guns give him plenty of opportunity to do exactly that, but for a great portion of its duration it’s as if Pyun is stuck in second gear. No matter how stylish and beautifully photographed he's never quite able to light the fuse that would elevate Mean Guns from a bog-standard actioner to a cult classic. This is something that old Al could do in his sleep if he applied himself. More than anything else there’s a sense of squandered potential and promise never truly delivered upon. Nemesis (1992) is remembered for a reason. And that’s the thing. Pyun is a decent enough director when the material suits him, and when he actually cares about what he’s shooting. It’s unfortunate that for the brunt of his output he just doesn’t seem to, or isn’t given enough time. As such Mean Guns is, sadly as it is, emblemic of the Pyun canon: decent but unremarkable.

The Syndicate, a powerful criminal empire with international branches, has staged an event that will rid them of all their enemies in a single day. To that end the organization has summoned 100 of its low-ranking employees to the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles. They are told by Vincent Moon (Ice-T), a platinum-toothed crimelord of unexplained importance, that The Syndicate is opening a new prison complex as a way of expanding its business and they are invited to the grand opening. Moon informs the gathered crowd of the loot hidden somewhere in the confines of the complex – and they are to kill each other by whatever means necessary. The last man (or woman) left standing will receive 10 million dollars in prize money. The initial exchange of gunfire has participants scrambling for weapons, ammunition, and cover. Shells fall and so do the first bodies, but amidst the chaos a couple of characters hold their own better than most and seem weirdly acclimated to exactly that sort of thing.

Lou (Christopher Lambert) is a mentally unstable hitman under heavy medication ("Valium, Prozac, and Ritalin - breakfast of champions.”) who volunteered for the event and is the legal guardian to little Lucy (Hunter Doughty, as Hunter Lockwood Doughty) currently waiting for him in the parking lot. Cam (Deborah Van Valkenburgh), Moon’s accountant turned state witness currently bearing incriminating evidence, brought in forcibly by Moon’s personal bodyguard Marcus (Michael Halsey). Stunning leatherclad peroxide blonde D (Kimberly Warren) is a highly trained government assassin experiencing a crisis of faith (“This is wrong. Wrong time, wrong place… wrong life.”) in the entourage of Ricky (James Wellington). Also tagging along is escort Barbie (Tina Cote, as Tina Coté), who seems like an innocent bystander at first but is sly and manipulative. Also participating are Hoss (Yuji Okumoto) and Crow (Thom Mathews), two hormonically-charged adolescent douchebags, who see the event as an opportunity to forward their profile and make a pretty penny. Seen only in passing, and unfortunately never again after that, is the mysterious Mambo Woman (Jill Pierce). As the hours pass fatigue, friction, and animosity start to weigh heavy on the contestants. Old vendettas are rekindled and alliances forged out of necessity crumble and disintegrate as desperation and paranoia start to eat at the soul. There’s but one question that haunts everybody: who will be left standing after the last gunshots have rung out?

In 1997 Christopher Lambert had better stuff to do than appear in a sequel to Mortal Kombat (1995). Lambert, of course, had already made a name for himself with Highlander (1986), Fortress (1992), and had worked with Pyun the year before on Adrenalin: Fear the Rush (1996). Ice-T was the frontman of rap-rock group Body Count and had released his sixth solo album “Ice-T VI: Return of the Real” the year before. The remainder of the cast consisted of the usual Pyun warm bodies. Tina Cote had a small role in the Pamela Anderson actioner Barb Wire (1996), but is mostly remembed for Heatseeker (1995), and Nemesis 2: Nebula (1995). Kimberly Warren and Jill Pierce had no careers to speak of, and both could be seen in the stale Blast (1997). Thom Mathews at one point was a star thanks to Return Of the Living Dead (1985) and Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986), but also was in Bloodmatch (1991). Yuji Okumoto was in his brighter, younger days in The Karate Kid Part II (1986), but also ended up working for Pyun on Nemesis (1992), and Blast (1997). Deborah Van Valkenburgh was the prerequisite elderstateswoman, most notably from The Warriors (1979) and more recently The Devil’s Rejects (2005), in a supporting role.

Nemesis (1992) had the good fortune of being co-written by David S. Goyer, Mean Guns isn’t quite so lucky. To counter the lack of any substance Pyun resorts to did what Quentin Tarantino has elevated to an art form: imitating better movies. In an allusion to Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966) a brooding Vincent Moon repeatedly warns a knife-wielding goon that he should throw his knife instead of running his mouth. When his advice falls on deaf ears Moon brutally kills him. In another scene Marcus borrows a line about solidarity from Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch (1969) when Lou threatens to kill Cam. When that doesn’t work he uniformly focuses on his babes: Tina Cote, Kimberly Warren, and Jill Pierce. No money can compete with a good-looking woman in a skimpy black dress. Whenever the plot threatens to implode Pyun has Cote writhe seductively, bend over, hide guns in her stockings, or showcasing her cleavage with whorish aplomb. Of course, when Hoss and Crow lay eyes upon her they immediately agree that Barbie, and thus Cote, has a “nice pair of tits”. Warren’s D wears an amazing leather ensemble, and is given a more than a flew flattering angles. Again, when Hoss and Crow board an elevator in company of D the first thing they exclaim is, “Double D!” Pierce’s Mambo Woman can only be seen for a few fleeting seconds during the introduction and it's criminal that she never got her own feature.

Of the three actioners that Pyun filmed that year Mean Guns is definitely the superior. Neither the limp Die Hard (1988) clone Blast (1997) nor the more urban Crazy Six (1997) come so close to lighting the fuse. And for a director who used to pride himself in specializing on explosive low-budget action Mean Guns is notably without any boom or bang. Expect no city-razing shoot-outs or wanton destruction of public property. That was Nemesis (1992) and that was then, this is now. Not that Albert was riding on a high wave, or anything. He made it through the disastrous Adrenalin: Fear the Rush (1996) which not only went through extensive studio-mandated re-writes/re-shoots, but also spawned the rather unfortunate and indefensible Nemesis 4: Cry Of Angels (1996). On top of all that it also single-handedly killed Natasha Henstridge’s career. Which is a really roundabout way of saying that Pyun needed a hit… desperately. Mean Guns is about as nineties as these things come: lethargic, out of breath, and without any bang. Normally old Al can be relied upon to stage an exciting and explosive action scene, but not so here. None of the shoot-outs possess any weight, oomph, or impact (dramatic or otherwise). The entire thing comes across as strangely detached, something which the light-hearted, airy and breezy mambo soundtrack only serves to emphasize. More than anything else, Mean Guns very well misses its target. Battle Royale (2000) would do the same thing astronomically better just three years later. For shame, Albert, for shame.

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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 like 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...