The Laser Blast Film Society Presents: Nemesis

When: July 12, 2017 @ 7:30 p.m.

  • PRE-SHOW: 7:30 p.m.
  • FEATURE: 8:00 p.m.

Where: The Royal Cinema, 608 College Street, Toronto, ON

NEMESIS (1992)
Dir. Albert Pyun
Cast: Oliver Grunner, Merle Kennedy, Tim Thomerson, Brion James, Tom Jane
Runtime: 95 min
Country: USA
Format: 35mm Print, generously provided by the University of Toronto Media Commons.

Poster Artist: Andrew Barr

“Retro-cyberpunk at its most creative.” – New Retro Wave

“The rewards are immeasurable; especially in terms of watching comely cyborg chicks in short skirts shoot automatic weapons at a wily French dude.” – House of Self Indulgence

In a not-to-distant future inspired by the cyberpunk conceits of William Gibson’s Neuromancer and particularly their cinematic application as seen in The Terminator, RoboCop and Blade Runner, bounty hunter Alex Rain (a stoic and sweaty Olivier Gruner) gets shot to shit by cybernetic terrorists, only to be rebuilt by a shadowy agency and equipped with cybernetic enhancements of his own - a procedure that comes with both an existential crisis and a heart wired to explode should Alex ever decide to relent on his duty as a government cyborg hunter extraordinaire.

However, relent he does when he discovers that “cyber-terrorists” he’s been battling may actually be working to help save humanity – plus some of them are spunky vixens with wicked names like MAX IMPACT.

What ensues is some of the most pyro-laden action spectacle to ever to be captured on celluloid, and its all thanks to the glorious gusto of director Albert Pyun who imbues every moment of this film with a sincere determination to entertain by any idiosyncratic means necessary, be it careening a camera with the momentum of The Evil Dead, or decking out its cast with the wardrobe and attidude of John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow. Not to mention, a full-frontal appearance from a young and hung Tom Jane!

The Laser Blast Film Society invites you to not only bask in the sparkly glow of this magnificently eccentric slice of pulp science fiction on a rare 35mm print plucked from the depths of the University of Toronto’s Media Commons Film Archive, but to also celebrate Pyun’s prolific career as a B-movie auteur with A+ passion through a pre-show reel of Pyun's most indelible contributions to the genre film canon!

Albert Pyun on NEMESIS

The Laser Blast Film Society received the personal blessing of prolific director Albert Pyun for this 25th Anniversary screening, and he was gracious enough to answer a few questions we had about his eclectic cyberpunk action epic!

LASER BLAST: What were your first steps in bringing NEMESIS to life?

ALBERT PYUN: Originally I had written written the script for NEMESIS with Rebecca Charles. She took my ideas and incorporated them into a screenplay and we approached an actress named Megan Ward (ARCADE) to play Alex Rain. The whole thing was built around Megan. As these things go, to get the film financed, I had to change the lead into a male and use the action-star that Imperial Entertainment was trying to develop; so Oliver Grunner became the star of NEMESIS.

LB: What influenced the film’s unique look? There’s a distinct use of wide-angle photography and sparkly squibs that really amplify the visuals beyond what one expects from a low-budget action film of the era.

AP: Usually when I start a film, I like to sit down with the Director of Photography and go over the limitations that were facing and schedule, and try to figure out a style where we could do some interesting things within that schedule and budget. We shot this film in the old 2 perf Technoscope process, and because we were gonna shoot wide-screen, so wide-angle was the best way to capture the action that I had in mind. We did some tests with filters and we really liked what the wider lenses were doing, more so than the longer ones.

In terms of the squibs - the idea was that a lot of the people that got shot were cyborgs, so they should have electronic bursts. I wasn’t really excited about blood squibs - they’ve been done to death. Sparkly squibs would add a little pizazz to the wounding.

LB: What was your process in building out the action scenes, from script to screen? Did you leave much room for improvisation on the set with regards to camera set-ups?

AP: There were no storyboards. I don’t storyboard any of my films, mainly because the schedules are so tight I try to break down each hour into 60 minutes and wherever we are in those 60 minutes determines the coverage of a scene; how it will be staged and blocked. I generally know 3-4 camera set-ups ahead of what I am doing and it’s all governed by time. I have to finish X amount of material a day, so you can’t really locked into a set plan. I was improvising constantly.

Improvisation from the actors was pretty limited though. I had worked with the actors before, so I did give them a little more leeway, but everyone was bound to the script, mainly because Oliver was still struggling with English.

LB: NEMESIS was made during the direct-to-video boom of the 1990s, what was it like to work in this era?

AP: It was pretty hectic. Everyone was trying to get a lot of product out there because home video was new, and there was a pipeline to feed, so everyone was trying to get genre movies as fast as possible. A lot of these companies had ongoing output deals, where they were paid a sum for say 20 movies, and now were under a lot of pressure to turn these things out, quickly and cheaply.

It was exciting though because you actually had a lot more flexibility as a filmmaker. When I originally started it was all theatrically based, so you had to come up with ideas that would work in theatres or it didn’t stand a chance of getting made. The home video thing opened it up so you could be a lot more daring and experimental (within a genre film framework) and not be at risk to lose any money.

LB: What was the biggest challenge you confronted on NEMESIS?

AP: The worst part of NEMESIS was that one of the producers that just hated me - how I was working, my ‘evolutionary’ filmmaking, my process of improvising the shoot constantly. He had just directed Grunner in Angel Town and I think he had very set ideas on what professional filmmaking was, and I was much more of a rock ‘n roll kinda wild child type of director. I think he wanted to direct Grunner’s next big film, and when I came in with NEMESIS, I think it irked him a little bit.

Maybe I was too irreverent and out of control. I did a couple experimental things… For instance, I shot all the inserts for the entire movie in the first three days of the movie - which is a really weird thing to do because you’re basically shooting things like ‘water pouring into a cup’, ‘picking up a picture’. I was shooting all of that before the rest of the scene, and so there was a lot of concern of how I was gonna match the shots. The producer thought it was insane to spend 3 days shooting inserts, but I felt that I just wanted to get them out of the way, because with a movie like this it’s been my experience that by the time you reach the end, you have no money left and you can’t shoot them and inserts actually become really important in an action movie - all those pieces of detail.

We actually shot all those inserts in a 6 x 6 space. My other philosophy on NEMESIS was to pick the smallest rooms possible, with the tightest spaces, so that it limited the options in terms of how to light it, how to shoot, so we’d have to deal with those natural restrictions and it helped speed the process along.

The Laser Blast Film Society is made possible in part by the funding support from the Ontario Arts Council, an agency of the Government of Ontario.