Red Scorpion (1989) – By Duane L. Martin

Lieutenant Nikolai Petrovich Rachenko (Dolph Lundgren) is a member of the Russian Spetsnaz, Special Forces unit. In 1978, the Soviet army came to the air of a Marxist element in Mombaka known as the Soldat Rouge. In 1980, Cuban and Czechoslovakian forces assumed their responsibilities in the field and liberated nearly two-thirds of the country with their continued support and advisors. In 1985, a movement began in the bush. It was tiny at first, insignificant, but within a few years time it had reached out, vandalizing, propagandizing, killing and growing. The man behind the rebellion is Ango Sundata. One of his warlords, and his right hand man is Kallunda Kintash, who acts as his military advisor and protector. Kallunda has been captured and is being brought to Kwamo base, their operation center in Mombaka, Africa. Nikolai has been assigned there as a technical advisor. He is to encounter Kallunda Kintash, befriend him, and get him to lead him to Sundata, who he is then supposed to execute. Once he arrives in Africa however, he discovers that he may have just been thrown in there on the wrong side of this fight. Suddenly his realization of who his friends are and who his enemies are leads him to make a moral decision to fight according to his own conscience rather than blindly following orders. Now as the Russian army starts destroying villages full of civilians with chemical and conventional weapons, Nikolai has to find a way to stop them before it’s too late.

You know, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen an 80’s action movie. I couldn’t even tell you why, but it’s been ages. I guess it’s just because I have so much else coming across my desk that I have to get through, I just don’t have time to see stuff like Red Scorpion very often. While I was vaguely aware of this film’s existence, I knew absolutely nothing about it until it was sent to me to review, and other than Rocky IV, in which he was absolutely bad ass, my only other experience with seeing Dolph Lundgren in a film was in In the Name of the King II: Two Worlds, which was an absolute turd, and he was just beyond horrible in it. His acting and general line delivery were absolutely terrible, and he ran around like a stiff, stove up old man who was stiff as hell after abusing his body physically for years and years. This film came out around the Rocky IV era, so I was really interested to see him in another film from that era where he was allowed to talk a little more and really be the star. So what was the result? Well…

To be perfectly honest, this film was not what I expected at all. While Dolph wasn’t overly talky in this film, when he did speak, it sounded really authentic for his character. He was serious, he was funny at times, he was a badass and he really did a great job with bringing out the best in the character. I don’t know what the hell happened in In the Name of the King II. I guess he was either uninspired by the poorly written role or something. His character in this film proves he can act pretty decently, and he can do his own stunts as well. He did almost every one of his own stunts in this film, including having scorpions crawling all over his back, which was pretty damn creepy if I may say so.

The acting, style and attitudes in this film were typically 80’s, but nowhere was this attitude more on display than in the American reporter character, Dewey, played by familiar face, M. Emmet Walsh. Don’t recognize the name? Look him up in Google Images. You’ll know instantly who he is. This guy has been in SO many things between film and television. This film had him playing a pretty over the top charcter. He was an American who hated commies, and Russians in particular, and wasn’t afraid to open his mouth to very loudly and prolifically express that opinion in profanity laced tirades. Seriously, this guy swears like a drunken sailor, and it even became the source of a very funny bit in the film. He also has a penchant for playing Little Richard tunes, which you’ll hear throughout the film. I didn’t really get all the Little Richard music in this film, but it was pretty amusing, and a nice change from the orchestral poundings you usually get in these types of films.

Action wise, this film is full of explosions, military equipment, big guns, and even a Russian HIND helicopter. Remember those? They were a pretty frightening piece of military hardware back in the 80’s, and they still look really damn mean all these years later.

During Nikolai’s recovery after being tortured by his own people and escaping, he’s taken care of by the leader of the legendary bushmen tribe that lives in the area. They’re rarely if ever seen, but Nikolai learns a lot in his time with the elder bushman, and even becomes an honorary member of the tribe, receiving a scorpion scar "tattoo" from the tribal elder on his chest, which actually helped him to gain the trust of Sundata when he returned to the rebels to help them fight against their aggressors. This transformation he goes through while with the bushmen tribe is not only well written, but it’s a nice aside in the film that allows for some character development and change, which is something you don’t typically get in these types of films.

There was like a billion and one things getting in the way of this film getting made. From location moves to financing issues to legal troubles, it’s surprising that this film every got made at all. I’m not going to get into the details here, because there’s just too much to get into. That’s where this Synapse Films release really shines. It comes with a booklet with a detailed story of how this film came to be, all the things that got in its way, and various notes and bits of trivia about Dolph Lundgren relating to the film. The special features on the disc itself are too numerous to mention, but they include three really great interviews, behind the scenes footage and various other things that really give you a look behind the scenes of this film. The interview with Dolph Lundgren is particularly interesting, and covers more than just this film. He actually talks about a pretty wide range of his career, including how he was discovered by Grace Jones and had a relationship with her for several years.

Synapse Films are known for great quality releases, but they really went above and beyond with this one. The transfer is an all new 2K high definition restoration of the uncensored version of the film, and it looks and sounds spectacular. The liner notes, the awesome extra features, and the greatness of the film itself make this one a must have for anyone who’s a fan of great 80’s action films. I really can’t recommend this release enough. They really did a phenomenal job with it.

If you’d like to find out more about this film, you can check out the film’s page on the Synapse Films website here, or pick yourself up a copy of the blu-ray + DVD combo pack from Amazon here.