Deep in the heart of Moscow, at the headquarters of the Soviet Un ion’s Supreme High Command, a committee of Generals handpick super-hard soldier Nikolai (Dolph Lundgren) as the perfect man to send on a suicide mission to stop rising South African ‘dictator’ Ango Sundata from gaining more power than he already has.

First, Nikolai must go undercover at a prison camp set up on African soil by the Russian allies, the Cubans. There, Nikolai is to pose as a technical advisor from the KGB in a bid to befriend Sundata’s recently caught right-hand-man Kallunda (Al White) and discover his boss’ whereabouts.

To this end, Nikolai gets all drunk and belligerent on his first night in camp, causing a fight and singing his National Anthem tunelessly until the guards – led by the vicious Brion James – throw him in a cell. Handily, he shares his cell with Kallunda and American reporter Dewey (M Emmet Walsh).

At first he is treated with suspicion, especially by Dewey. He’s in the country to report on the poverty and devastation left behind by the Russian conflict, and the apartheid that exists as a result. He sees "human killing machine" Nikolai as the personification of evil.

But after witnessing first-hand the needless brutality and racism of his comrades, Nikolai has an epiphany and helps his cellmates break out. Uh-oh, his boss, General Vortek (T P McKenna) will be most displeased. And he’s not the type of man you fuck with...

Meanwhile, Kallunda leads Dewey and Nikolai to his hometown and later to a rebel camp where Sundata has managed to evade several attacks from the enemy. His equally innocent friends, however, have not been so lucky.

Can Nikolai win the trust of his African and American acquaintances, and forge a better life for them while taking on an entire army?

Are you kidding? This IS Dolph Lundgren.

No matter that Dolph looks like Chicken Little with his blonde spiky hairdo, he’s kicking butt within five minutes of being on screen. And, er, singing. To be fair, this scene isn’t as cringe-inducing as Van Damme’s pissed up dancing in KICKBOXER. But it’s not far off.

Lundgren is a strange lead, physically imposing but bereft of charm. Still, he looks the part (although he’s actually Swedish) and fair play to him for doing almost all of his own stunts in gruellingly hot conditions.

Walsh is Walsh, reprising the slimy shit-eating character he did over and over in the latter part of his career, from BLOOD SIMPLE onwards. White is the emotional core of the film, a fundamentally good man who wishes no harm to anyone. His quick bonding to Nikolai is a stretch of the imagination, certainly, but schematically necessary as their gelling helps the film work on more than just an action level.

Speaking of action, the film excels with explosions, car chases and bloody shoot-outs galore. Tom Savini is on hand to provide some minor gore FX (including Lundgren’s torture-by-needles scene, shown here in its entirety). Joseph Zito (MISSING IN ACTION; THE PROWLER) directs with pace and flair, crossing continents and filling the widescreen shots with sun-kissed drama in a successful bid to get the most out of his $16 million budget.

Minor comedy helps ingratiate Lundgren to the audience a little, but he simply lacks the charisma here of an Arnie or Stallone. Still, as brick shithouses go, he makes the grade on a physical front.

Politically charged thanks to the screenplay of brothers and producers Robert and Jack Abramoff (the controversial republican lobbyist who recently served time for fraud), the film tackles issues that were hot at the time in an unflinching if somewhat naive manner. Mixed with some great death-defying stunt-work and the type of non-horror bloodshed that Hollywood shies away from nowadays, RED SCORPION is fun if throwaway fare.

Arrow’s blu-ray presents the full uncut, 105-minute version or RED SCORPION as an MPEG4-AVC file. The transfer is 16x9 enhanced, preserving the original theatrical aspect ratio in a clean and filmic 1080p HD presentation. The first thing videophiles will notice are odd specks on the screen, but these soon settle down. Elsewhere, images are occasionally a tad soft and blacks aren’t always as solid as you’d hope for. But overall this is a good quality transfer and there are exterior scenes where the amount of detail is remarkable. Hope you’re into scenes of well-defined male perspiration! This is, no doubt, a serious upgrade against previous DVD releases.

English audio comes in a nice, clear lossless 2.0 stereo track with optional English subtitles.

Arrow’s blu-ray is a 50GB affair and boasts a luminous static main menu page. From there, pop-up menus include a scene-selection menu allowing access to the film via 12 chapters.

The disc opens with an up-to-date Arrow promo montage, showcasing their greatest releases and now incorporating the likes of DEMONS and DEMONS 2.

Feature-related extras begin with a sound, detailed audio commentary track from Zito and FX man Howard S Berger.

Even better is an all-new 30-minute chat with Lundgren, which goes by the title "All out of Bullets". Considering my comments on his onscreen persona earlier, it’s important to note that here the guy is warm, witty, intelligent and proves to be a great raconteur. This is a fantastic addition to the disc, with the big guy (looking better with age) talking about the reckless approach to shooting the film, his thoughts on Zito, his 90s rivalry with Van Damme and Seagal, his latter-day career as an actor-director and more. Priceless.

A 12-minute interview with the film’s composer follows and is worthwhile if not as engaging.

Both featurettes come from High Rising Productions, who appear to have taken heed of the online moans about their lengthy titles sequences.

Lovers of cheesy 80s action film trailers will love the explosive 2-minute version on offer here.

Finally, Lundgren offers an affable but brief 10-second optional introduction to the film.

Although not on a par with some of Arrow’s recent blu-ray releases of American films from the same era, RED SCORPION is still a lot of fun and the disc, though not flawless, is a very good one. Note though, that Synapse’s forthcoming blu of this film looks to be shaping up to be an awesome one...

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Arrow Video
Region 0
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review