Movies Are Boring—‘Red Scorpion’
Dolph Lundgren stars as a rogue Soviet commando in a film produced by a lobbyist and funded by apartheid
Red Scorpion is like an anti-communist Dances with Wolves with machine guns and explosions. Lots of explosions.
Director Joseph Zito’s 1988 flick stars Dolph Lundgren as the Soviet Spetsnaz soldier Nikolai Radchenk. His mission: to pose as a deserter in order to gain the trust of African anti-communists rebels in order to assassinate their leader.
But as he spends more time with the Africans—and witnesses numerous communist atrocities—he decides to help the rebels instead.
Notorious American lobbyist Jack Abramoff—now disgraced—wrote and produced Red Scorpion. It filmed in Namibia, then controlled by South Africa, and received support from South Africa’s racist apartheid regime.
Abramoff denied getting assistance from South Africa and yet the film’s Russians drive armored vehicles developed by the racist state. This isn’t surprising given Abramoff’s ties to the International Freedom Foundation, an anti-communist group with offices in Washington, D.C., London and Johannesburg.
South Africa was still battling the opposition African National Congress when Abramoff made Red Scorpion. It was a time when many Western nations were reconsidering their alliances with brutal right-wing African regimes.
In supporting Abramoff’s IFF and Red Scorpion, South Africa hoped to remind people that communism was bad and anyone who fought communists was good. The film’s communists use chemical weapons, slaughter whole villages and light people on fire with flamethrowers.
Red Scorpion is an odd and, in light of its political context, unsettling little movie. Despite protests, production delays and the film industry’s threat to blacklist Lundgren, the anti-communist action flick became a commercial success … and a cult classic.