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Red Scorpion is a 1989 film starring Dolph Lundgren.

The film is noted for its association with future lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who wrote the story and produced the film together with his brother Robert Abramoff.


The plot centers on Lundgren's character, a Sovietmarker Spetsnaz-trained KGBmarker agent called Nikolai who is sent to an African country where Soviet, Czechoslovakian and Cuban forces are helping the government fight an anti-communist rebel movement. Nikolai is ordered to assassinate the movement's leader but eventually turns against his government by switching sides. He is abandoned in the desert and found by native people, who he soon learns about them and their culture and later leads an attack after a massacre at the rebel stronghold.

The film has a strongly anti-Communist and anti-Soviet message, and goes to great lengths to depict the sadism and violence of the protagonist, as well of as his own superiors, prior to his conversion, including scenes where he is disgraced and tortured by his commanding officers for failing a mission and where chemical weapons are used on civilians. Nikolai is also portrayed as a mindless automaton, who then learns to smile and laugh later in the film.

The movie was directed by Joseph Zito and represents his first auteurial effort half a decade after the release of the Chuck Norris vehicles Missing in Action and the infamous Invasion U.S.A.. To the contrary of his previous movies, which became camp classics due to over-the-top situations and involuntary humour this piece seems to have not aged well, perhaps due to his tight association to contemporary shifting politics.

Parallel to the real world

The fictional country is clearly modeled on Angolamarker, and the conflict on the Angolan Civil War, in which the Marxist Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), supported by the Soviet Union and Cuba, fought a long civil war against UNITA, which was backed by South Africa and on an on-off basis by the United Statesmarker as well. The character of the anti-communist rebel leader appears loosely based on UNITA founder Jonas Savimbi,late 1970s.

Production and controversy

After being denied the right from filming in Swazilandmarker and a search for other locations, the film was made in Namibiamarker. Warner Bros., who had a negative pickup deal to release the picture, pulled out for the breach of their contract with the production. Artists and Athletes Against Apartheid then condemned the production for breaking the international boycott against South Africa. The film was allegedly financed by the South African government as part of its propaganda efforts to undermine international sympathy for the African National Congress (see International Freedom Foundation).

Abramoff later claimed that he did not intend the film to contain so much violence and profanity, blaming the director. He established a short-lived "Committee for Traditional Jewish Values in Entertainment" to release films more in line with his values, but later abandoned the project, feeling it would be unfeasible.

A sequel, Red Scorpion 2, appeared in 1994, although the story is largely unrelated to the first installment.

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