Cyber Wars a.k.a Avatar a.k.a Matrix Hunter: Too many titles, not enough plot

According to Netflix, the movie I watched was called Cyber Wars. An incredibly dull and yet somewhat overwrought title, but what can you do?

Then I went to get details from IMBD, and it turns out this English language film made in Singapore was called Matrix Hunter for the English title on the Japanese DVD, and for the USA video, but Cyber Wars for the USA DVD. The IMDB page has Avatar for the real name, even though Avatar Exile is only listed as the working English title in Singapore. Also, see the poster, which has a mix and match.

I’m going to stick with Cyber Wars, if you don’t mind, since Matrix and Avatar are already taken.

Cyber Wars caught my eye because it’s based on work by William Gibson. It also looked like a good opportunity for me to start answering the question “if your action movie doesn’t have the budget to blow up half a city, am I going to like it?” I don’t know this film’s budget, but since I had never heard anything about it when it popped up in my Netflix recommendations, I suspected it might be a smaller scale production.

As it got started, I was feeling a near-future but not overly showy groove. Genevieve O’Reilly is Dash, a bounty hunter who specializes in nabbing people who use fake identities online. She works with a partner, Julius (Kay Siu Lim), who is the hardcore hacker support to Dash’s run ’em down and cuff ’em missions.

Dash and Julius are drawn into some high-level intrigue when Dash is hired by a megacorp to track down one of their own scientists. Police officer Victor Huang (Luoyong Wang) warns her that there’s more here than she knows, but she doesn’t believe him until her quarry is shot dead while she’s making the grab. She’s been used.

So far, so good. Dash is prickly, suspicious, and highly competent. O’Reilly is a culturally-approved attractive, thin white woman and she’s the white main character in a near-future Asian city-state, so that’s not breaking any boundaries. However, she’s not bouncing around in a swimsuit or hot pants for no apparent reason. She wears an oversized vest over a tank top, as I recall, and when she’s working she wears a trench coat with a coolant system so she won’t be detected on infrared scanners by the cops, who are often trying to jack her bounty. Dash and Julius turn out to be that rarest of beasts in cinema – a man and woman who genuinely love and cherish each other but are NOT romantically interested in each other.

All of that potential, though, started to crumble pretty quickly. I thought they weren’t going to sexualize Dash in a gratuitous manner, but of course, we have to throw in the shower scene. It turns out that she can’t just have a prickly, suspicious personality, but of course, this is the result of trauma. I thought they were going to let her be a bounty hunter just because she’s damn good at it, but no, these were skills she honed trying to find her father. Read: she would be a “normal” healthy woman if her life hadn’t been disrupted, just sitting at home with 2.5 kids baking cookies.

My viewing companion also noted that O’Reilly doesn’t know how to hit a punching bag properly. Just in case you were wondering.

I ultimately hope you don’t watch this movie, due to the rather terrible plot, acting, and dialogue. (When Dash is yelling “But they’re playing with our lives!” I was like “And?” The horrible conspiracy was never sufficiently explained, I felt like it actually might just be efficient urban planning and that’s hard for me to get up in arms about.) So I can’t feel bound to avoid spoilers and here ya go: by the end of the film, Dash and Victor “fall in love.” I put that in quotes because it happened in that horrible way where she ends up falling for him because he was the guy who questioned her about her past! Seeing through her tough gal act to who she really is! Her declaration of love is one of the most horrible lines in the film, even though she only gets halfway through it before supposedly dying. I can’t take it seriously at all.

I think it’s meant to be a sign of her healing or something? (The falling in love, not the supposedly dying.) I guess it’s a fairly common trope the other way around, where the gruff guy is gruff because he lost someone close to him a long time ago, and a woman finally gets through the defenses and finds the still-beating heart inside. Female characters so rarely get to be the gruff ones, though, that I really missed the old Dash when she disappeared and turned into this

I want to say “so close” because I think they had good raw material for Dash, Julius, and Victor. I liked Victor quite a bit, actually, and I think Luoyong Wang can actually act. But they frittered it away. So sad. One star.

This post was originally published on Heroine Content, a feminist and anti-racist movie blog that ran from July 2006 to May 2012.