THE TAPE RAIDER TRIBUTE TO ALBERT PYUN PART 2: HEATSEEKER
Yes friends, here’s another Albert Pyun film that has only been released on VHS in the U.S., HEATSEEKER. It came to us in 1995, #2 of 3 between SPITFIRE and NEMESIS 2: NEBULA. Pyun has a story credit, with the screenplay written by Christopher Borkgren (whose only other credit is SPITFIRE).
Set in the futuristic New America of 2019 A.D. (“After Dollman?”) it’s the story of kickboxing champion Chance O’Brien (Keith Cooke, CHINA O’BRIEN I & II) trying to keep doing his thing in a changing world. Combat sports are beginning to be dominated by new models of cyborgs, including those created by the sinister Sianon Corporation, who try to bait “the greatest human fighter in the world” into entering their imaginatively titled event “The Tournament.”
When Chance declines, they kidnap his manager/fiance Jo, played by Tina Cote, looking pretty cool with short blond hair. It’s the first major role for Pyun regular Cote, though she was “Girl in Opening Credits (uncredited)” in SPITFIRE. IMDb says she’d also been an extra in a few movies including one terrible one (MOBSTERS) and one masterpiece (BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA).
The introduction of Chance (I might have to keep making “What kind of a name is Chance?” jokes because Pyun enjoys re-using the same character names) and Jo is pretty good: in his corner during a fight he asks her to marry him. She scoffs and tells him only if he wins, which inspires a flying kick you’d think would be a knock out. When desire doesn’t turn out to be enough for victory he tries to explain the situation to his opponent, who for a bit does seem sympathetic!
When they kidnap Jo (interrupting a romantic sex scene) they use the NEMESIS-like technology of sticking a pin in her neck that holds a chip to jolt and control her. They force her to train Chance’s rival Xao (Gary Daniels, FIST OF THE NORTH STAR, THE EXPENDABLES), a “bio-enhanced cyborg clone” who Chance beat before because “he has no heart.” But they force her to “show him a certain amount of love” (not fuck him, just pretend to love him) because that seemed to help make Chance the best.
Chance (who alternately reminds me of Brandon Lee and Justin Long) heads to New Manila to register for The Tournament, which takes place on a nearby secret tournament island. Half a dozen thugs jump him on the street to injure his wrist (which doesn’t seem to come up again?) and street kids steal his clothes, leading to a somewhat comedic sequence where he runs around town naked and has to leap off a dock onto a speedboat leaving for the island. It’s either an homage to AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON or an excuse to show off his physique or both. But it’s a good scene just because the other guy in the boat gives him his coat, saying, “Cover your human ass, man.” And then he declines to shake Chance’s hand because, “Nah, that’s okay. I don’t wanna know somebody I might hafta kill.”
This version of a world of cyborgs has more ROBOCOP in it than CYBORG, NEMESIS or KNIGHTS do. Greedy corporations are responsible for the state of the world, and there are even corny commercials for the latest models. We know it’s big business because nice Zanac Corporation fighter/chairman of the board Bradford (Thom Matthews, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD) brags that his company is the 13th largest. Then we hear that The Tournament involves “56 cyber-corporations represented by the greatest fighters of all time.” One is portrayed as an underdog startup trying to prove itself against the larger corporations, but nothing much becomes of that.
But instead of mocking capitalism by staging super-villainy in a normal board room these are b-movie bad guys sitting in the dark with a small light in front of each, shining on them like a flashlight for a scary story at a slumber party. Tim Thomerson has a big Dracula style ring and a long cocaine nail on his left pointer finger. The top villain is the sinister Sianon head of marketing, a white guy named Tsui Tung (Norbert Weisser, SCHINDLER’S LIST) who wears sunglasses and a flashy red ‘70s collar pulled up. Unfortunately he spends many of his scenes just watching security monitors of the good guys with an intense Lance Henriksen style wide-eyed stare.
He needs the champions of every style to compete in order to prove “who is the best cyber-implant system,” kind of like the Gracie family starting the Ultimate Fighting Championship to show off their system of Brazilian Jiujitsu). Only Chance turned down the money, and he’s the most important one to beat, just to show that pure human fighters are obsolete. “For the first time fighters [are] allowed to be cybered up to 50% of their total mass,” and he needs that to be the standard for now on.
Once the tournament gets going there are some good touches, like the commentator (who I could not find in the credits) not only describing the action in the ring, but how it affects each company’s stock prices. And, as in all Pyun cyborg movies, we get some good shots of smashed heads with robot parts pouring out. The most memorable fighter is lanky, long-haired Chad Stahelski (future director of note and “Chad” from THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS) as “Current World Cyber All-Around Champion” Chung, sponsored by #2 cyber corporation Kalmac. He has a bunch of fights, but I think only two lines of dialogue: “My name? CHUNG!” and “You’re just a fuckin tin man!”
Also I guess John Machado is one of the fighters – he’s the youngest of the famous Machado Brothers, cousins and students of the aforementioned Gracie family of Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners. Other notable roles for him include the very home-made Machado family vehicle BRAZILIAN BRAWL (which he has a story credit on), and the actual classic REDBELT (which he was also fight choreographer for). And he plays a terrorist and did some choreography for UNDER SIEGE 2.
HEATSEEKER was Michael Scott’s top recommendation on Action For Everyone’s great Pyun tribute episode. He described it as basically Pyun’s adaptation of Mortal Kombat (the game), which makes sense. Cooke would soon play Reptile in the official MORTAL KOMBAT movie and Sub-Zero in MORTAL KOMBAT: ANNIHILATION. It’s not really fair to compare the two because the gap between the budgets must be immense, but I would love to be able to say that actually the low budget one is way more fun. Unfortunately I found the tournament stuff to be less engaging than the set up. It has the same fight choreographer as KNIGHTS, Burton Richardson, but the staging and framing is much more static because it’s always one-on-one on this same tournament stage. As an aficionado of the tournament and underground fighting circuit formats I much prefer one where the fights can be in a variety of locations. And this is a common problem for tournament movies, but it’s hard to have any story in the fights because there’s so much montage-dissolving to get through to the next round. There’s really no need to keep track of anything.
Particular to this one, it feels cheap that we never once see the commentator who’s talking wall-to-wall for every fight (even after guns are pulled in the ring). And shouldn’t the cyber-implants be an excuse for some knocking people through the air or punching heads off, like in the other Pyun cyborg movies? Seems like a waste that the fighting isn’t any more exaggerated than your average Van-Damme-alike.
I will give points though for the part where Jo walks in on Xao doing arm curls while also doing the splits between two chairs.
To me HEATSEEKER is not structured well enough to take advantage of the endlessly repeatable appeal of the fighting tournament formula, so it’s not giving KNIGHTS or NEMESIS any competition for my favorite Pyun movie. But at least I can say it’s a decent b-movie with more than enough colorful touches to be worth your while if you’re into this sort of thing, like I am.