NEMESIS. Sex, cyborgs and videotapes in B-class SCIENCE FICTION MASTERPIECE

Nemesis is a film that in many ways looks as if its creators wanted to go against the tide and provoke the audience.

Jakub Piwoński

21 June 2023

Albert Pyun should be called a cult director. He did not create great cinema, but he did not pretend to be so. He was enjoying the cinema. He was selling emotions using the style of kitsch. In 1992, this game gave him the equally iconic Nemesis. A film that, thirty years after its premiere, can be confidently considered a masterpiece of B-class cinema.

The period of VHS dominance in the 1980s and 1990s has something to do with what is happening with streaming media today. I mean mainly the aspect of the pace of production creation, the multitude of titles and the ratio of quality to their budget. Next to the mainstream cinema distribution, something so peculiar and so strong emerged that it began to take on a life of its own. What failed at the cinema box office could easily make up for the losses in VHS distribution. In fact, many cheaper titles could exist thanks to VHS, bypassing the traditional cinema route and going directly to home media. Albert Pyun, on the other hand, is an artist who sensed the situation at that time and followed suit.

The Sword and the Sorcerer from 1982 is a film that launched Albert Pyun’s adventure with low-budget cinema with a bang. With a budget of 4 million, the fantasy show managed to earn ten times as much. More or less, this is how huge amounts of money were made on b-class, kitschy productions (which continues uninterruptedly to this day). Later, the director collaborated with Cannon Films. In the late 1980s, Pyun made the already famous Cyborg for the studio, starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. The film turned out to be a hit and opened the door to another project bathed in cyberpunk style. The script for Nemesis, however, was created much earlier and took various forms over the years. Suffice it to say that at one point there was an option on the table with the action set … on Mars.

However, there were no departures into space, but transfers to the future were not avoided. The action of the show takes place in the year 2027. People compete for the lead over the world with cyborgs. Terrorism is a global plague, and a special group of half men and half machines has been appointed to fight it. One of them, Alex Rain, is accused by his former employers of murdering the leader of an underground militant group and his former lover at the same time. Rain uncovers a plot to take control of the world’s governments by cyborgs. The problem is that the hero is alone against everything. All he has to do is run away and shoot anyone who gets in his way.

It is hard to believe that apparently in the original script the main character was… a 13-year-old girl who worked undercover for the Police. Megan Ward was considered, and even tentatively agreed to participate in the film, despite her reservations about scenes involving violence and nudity. At the time Pyun was looking for producers for the film, he filmed some scenes involving Ward and sent them to the Shah brothers at Imperial Entertainment. They agreed to pay for the film, but on one condition – the main character was to be a guy. They suggested Olivier Gruner, a French kick-boxer whom they had previously discovered. Pyun agreed, of course, with the reservation that he did not want any more interference in the script. What is delayed is not escaped – the concept of the director with a female protagonist was used in the Nemesis sequels. The 1992 film was the first in a series of films of the same title, including four direct sequels and one spin-off.

I’m glad Pyon bowed to the studio’s recommendations and hired Gruner. The world of b-class cinema got better because of this discovery. A great role, perfectly tailored to the level of the show. He is a character full of exaggeration, but at the same time damn charismatic. In preparation for his role, Olivier Gruner reportedly reduced his total body fat to a mere four percent. Deborah Shelton, who appears in the background, also practiced hers. Although she has one memorable scene in the film in which she effectively exposed her body, as you can find out, the actress put a lot of effort into looking impeccable at that particular moment. It’s hard not to notice that in the background of the show we also see the characteristic faces of the actors who usually play the cutthroats in the movies – I mean Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Mortal Kombat) or, of course, Brion James (Blade Runner). This palette of characters in Nemesis is chosen skillfully, though openly schematic.

It’s hard to say that Nemesis is an original film, at least from the point of view of the script. The idea of Alex Rain being implanted with a bomb as “insurance” was borrowed from Escape from New York. But echoes of other thriller and science fiction classics intertwine in the film. The entire concept on which the film was based, introducing the protagonist to a situation of being hounded and forced to flee, was borrowed from The Six Million Dollar Man series. In turn, the cyberpunk underpinning of the film, led by the motif of strengthening the hero’s body with cybernetic parts, was taken from RoboCop and Terminator.

Certainly, however, the implementation itself was original and fresh. In Nemesis we will see a lot of practical special effects, which, considering the low budget of the film ($ 2 million), were very solid. Albert Pyun deliberately chose a color palette filled with warm earthy tones as opposed to the cool colors you’d expect from a futuristic cyborg movie. It is also worth noting that the film has a great pace, in which very short but meaty dialogue scenes are intertwined with brilliantly directed action scenes. The scene of “cutting out” an escape route with arrows into the floor, or the scene in which the characters glide down the slide without stopping shooting (apparently the cameraman was hit during the filming), is a level of film energy that is difficult to compare to anything else.

The fact that these scenes were possible is a big credit to the stuntmen. One of them has an interesting story. Olivier Gruner’s stunt double, Bob Brown, dislocated his shoulder during a scene where he had to jump out of a window. Brown did not want to continue working, but Pyun was reluctant to replace Gruner with another stuntman. But he had to convince Brown with something. In this way, he was additionally accredited as a stunt coordinator, which was associated with a much better salary. There is also another crazy scene, the backstage of which is hard not to mention here. In it, an old lady shoots a cyborg, throwing a few bitter words at him as he leaves. This lady is a certain Mabel Falls who was a natural. Albert Pyun is said to have expressed concern that Mrs. Falls would not be able to handle such a heavy weapon. Fortunately, he miscalculated and the scene came out great.

Nemesis is a film that in many ways looks as if its creators wanted to go against the tide and provoke the audience. One of them is the aspect of violence against women, achieved in defiance of the original idea that the female character should lead the show. There are a few moments in Nemesis that would certainly not appeal to modern audiences due to the portrayal of women in a negative light (especially the prologue). Their placement in the film may seem surprising, especially when you consider that the screenwriter of the film is a woman – Rebecca Charles. It’s a push, though. It turns out that the person behind this name is Albert Pyon himself, who was persuaded by the studio to use a pseudonym. I don’t know why. Perhaps the studio wanted to avoid accusations of chauvinism in this way. On the other hand, who at the turn of the 1980s and 1990s cared about such a thing?

Nemesis captivates after many years above all its uncompromising nature. This is a feature that can be witnessed like a medicine in today’s sterile, gloved cinema. It is also a film that proves that even with a kitschy production, with a drastically low budget, it was possible to convey a kind of inimitable atmosphere on the screen, which is a mixture of the actor’s charisma, effects created with heart, clever locations and imaginative action scenes.

Jakub Piwoński

Jakub Piwoński

Cultural expert, passionate about popular culture, in particular films, series, computer games and comics. He likes to fly away to unknown, fantastic regions, thanks to his fascination with science fiction. Professionally, however, he looks back more often, thanks to his work as a museum promotion specialist, investigating the mysteries of the beginnings of cinematography. His favorite film is "The Matrix", because it combines two areas close to his heart - religion and martial arts.

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