Nikolai Petrovitch Rachenko, a Soviet Spetsnaz operative is sent to an African country where Soviet, Czechoslovakian and Cuban forces are helping the government fight an anti-communist rebel movement. He is tasked with the mission to assassinate the rebel leader. In order to infiltrate the rebel movement and get within striking distance of his target, he stirs up trouble in the local bar and gets arrested for disorderly conduct. He is put in the same cell as a captured resistance commander and gains his trust in facilitating the escape. Upon finally reaching the rebel encampment he is met with distrust by the rebels. During the night he attempts to assassinate his target but does not succeed when the distrustful rebels anticipate his actions.
Disgraced and tortured by his commanding officers for failing his mission, he breaks out of the interrogation chamber and escapes to the desert, later to be found by native bushmen. He soon learns about them and their culture, and after receiving a ceremonial burn scar in the form of a scorpion (hence the title), he rejoins the freedom fighters and leads an attack against the Soviet camp after a previous attack on the peaceful bushmen. Nikolai obtains an AO-63 from the armory, confronts his corrupt officers and hunts down General Vortek, who attempts to escape in a Mil-24 Hind only to be shot down after takeoff. Nikolai defeats and kills Vortek, as the freedom fighters finally defeat the Soviet oppression.Dolph Lundgren as Lt. Nikolai Rachenko
Al White as Kallunda Kintash
M. Emmet Walsh as Dewey Ferguson
T. P. McKenna as Gen. Vortek
Carmen Argenziano as Col. Zayas
Alex Colon as Sgt. Mendez
Brion James as Sgt. Krasnov
Ruben Nthodi as Ango Sundata
After being denied the right from filming in Swaziland and a search for other locations, the film was made in Namibia (then South-West Africa). 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 allegedly received help from the South African government as part of its propaganda efforts to undermine international sympathy for the African National Congress (see International Freedom Foundation).
With all the delays and productions issues, the film went over budget by 8-10 million dollars (approximately twice the initial amount).
Producer Jack 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.
In 2006, Abramoff gained infamy for his role in the Jack Abramoff Indian lobbying scandal and other crimes, and was sentenced to six years in federal prison for mail fraud, conspiracy to bribe public officials, and tax evasion.
Red Scorpion screened at the 1988 MIFED film market, and was first released theatrically in South Korea in late December 1988, then Germany and Japan in January 1989, then in the US on April 21, 1989. The movie was released theatrically worldwide except in the United Kingdom (where it went "direct to video" in January 1990).
The film was released in the US on VHS and Laserdisc in August 1989 through Shapiro-Glickenhaus Entertainment Home Video. In 1993, a budget tape of the film was released by Starmaker. The movie has had at least two Region 1 DVD releases. The first DVD was released in 1998 by Simitar and the second DVD was released in 2002 by 20th Century Fox. In 2005, Tango Entertainment released a UMD of the film for the Sony PlayStation Portable. The two DVDs are now discontinued.
The film has been released on Blu-ray special editions in the U.K. by Arrow Video on 6th Feb 2012, and in the U.S. by Synapse Films on June 12, 2012.
Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times described it as "a numskull live-action comic book" that, despite showing Lundgren's charisma, is likely to hurt his career. Stephen Holden of The New York Times wrote that Lundgren's physique is the film's true star, as it communicates more emotion than his acting.
A sequel, Red Scorpion 2, appeared in 1994, although the story is largely unrelated to the first installment.