The Scorpion King Review
The fantasy style opening of The Scorpion King (previously known as Operation Scorpio in the UK) is a vivid departure in style when compared to the rest of the film yet it still sets the tone perfectly in what is one of many well executed action sequences you will see throughout. In this sequence we see a young martial arts master with flowing long black hair and an honourable look on his face as he stops a group of men who are forcing a young girl into slavery. To protect everything he holds sacred this young master uses his exceptional martial arts skills to save the young girl and become the hero of the day. Cue a misjudged footstep and our hero trips over and comes screaming back to reality where he is merely a school student being ousted by his teacher for daydreaming and drawing comic books based on the fantasy realities his mind creates.
One similarity recurs though between the real world and our main character, Yuk Su's (Chin Kar-lok) fantasy worlds, and that is his disgust towards those who force the poor and weak into slavery. This honourable outlook fuels his yearning to become a martial arts master and to ultimately become an eastern interpretation of Robin Hood. An opportunity to make this dream a reality comes along when he working in the grounds of a manor where he witnesses a young maid being sold off to an evil old man. At the same time we bear witness to a stunning display of martial arts from this mans son (the aptly named Sunny) who will protect his father at all costs, a dedication that is pivotal to the films storyline. Seizing the opportunity Yuk Su rescues the girl but in doing so encounters some trouble in the form of Sunny and his various minions who while failing in the prevention of Yuk Su's rescue attempt, do succeed in injuring his father.
On the run with an injured father and a girl with nowhere to go, Yuk Su seeks refuge with an Uncle who runs a Noodle House. While here Yuk Su is taught the art of being a noodle chef by his uncle (portrayed by martial arts legend Lar Kar-leung) while also sneaking out to pursue his dream as he trains with a local muscle-camp to build his strength so he can combat evil. Without realising it Yuk Su is also being taught traditional Chinese martial arts by his uncle who, using the 'Karate Kid' method of training, uses noodle-cooking techniques to educate his unaware student. This mixture of traditional Chinese martial arts and the more western approach of body-building prove to be of great use to Yuk Su when he is faced with rescuing the girl for a second time after Sunny finally locates our family in refuge and takes her back. With his newfound skills revealed to him by his Uncle the duo set off to save the day in what proves to be an imaginative and thoroughly exciting martial arts action finale.
Given the relatively simple plotting of The Scorpion King the one area where you would not expect problems is that of pacing, but thanks to a drawn-out mid section that sees a montage training sequence accompanied by a song 'Eye of the Tiger' style you may find yourself squirming slightly as I did. Fortunately though this is an isolated incident and to be fair it's maybe not quite as bad as it could have been, and it at least serves its purpose, which is to show a transition of time. Other than this fairly minor issue the film offers everything you might expect from a Hong Kong martial arts tale and then some thanks to a mostly unsung cast that are joined by the seminal talent that is Lar Kar-leung who returned to film making after a lengthy rest for this project. Bringing with him many years of acting experience and most of all a phenomenal talent in both martial arts choreography and performance he (along with co-choreographers Yuen Tak and Won Jin) delivers many stunning action sequences. These include the demonstration of the Scorpion style (performed with grace by Won Jin) that is quite possibly one of the most exciting styles I have yet seen in a martial arts film. You will also be treated to several fights that see the western and eastern techniques found in the movie go up against one another and eventually combined which again makes for interesting viewing even if they do play to the Asian audience but they will also be appreciated by fans of Bruce Lee as the message is similar to that of Bruce's own teachings. The final action set-piece allows Lar Kar-leung to show off his famed weapon skills while Won Jin and Chin Kar Lok deliver an exciting final bout that sees the merging of all that has gone before and even makes use of an interesting plot point (Fuk Su's comics) seen frequently throughout the movie.
Alongside Lar Kar-leung are the aforementioned younger cast members Chin Kar Lok (who was making his move from stuntman to leading actor at this point in his career) and Won Jin (a Korean martial arts expert) who offer up equally solid performances and as I have already expressed can certainly hold their own when it comes to performing the fantastic choreography Yuen Tak, Lar Kar-leung and Won Jin developed with the latter in particular being extremely impressive with his acrobatic style and keen kicking abilities.
As you can probably tell The Scorpion King will not win any awards in the scripting or dramatic acting categories of any awards ceremony but then not many martial arts movies would. Like the many classics Hong Kong was famous for in the mid-eighties The Scorpion King goes for a simple tale that allows for the occasional touch of humour, a hint of a love story and plenty of action and if this is all you are looking for then this film certainly delivers. Add to this some inspired cinematography that makes fine use of the near constant night-time settings and of course allows the action to look all the more impressive and you have a film that not only looks good but thanks to the simple plot and the high quality of the action choreography is highly entertaining.
This Hong Kong Legends DVD is Region 2 & 4 encoded.
Released back in 1992 and only enjoying a weeks release at the Hong Kong box-office you might think that The Scorpion King was a missed opportunity and you would be right, but in a strange turn of events this is also a good thing as the source prints for the film have seen very little use, and this stunning transfer from Hong Kong Legends showcases that fact. Utilising a pristine source print (and if it was not quite mark free, the restoration HKL carries out has assured that what we see here is) The Scorpion King is presented in a Widescreen TV native Aspect Ratio of 1.78:1 with Anamorphic Enhancement and despite one small issue with this Aspect Ratio, this is one of the best presentations of an early nineties film from HKL so far. Now, the small issue with the Aspect Ratio is that The Scorpion King should be 1.85:1, but has been cropped slightly for this release to 1.78:1. The reason I consider this cropping to be a minor issue is that even after several viewings I was completely unaware of it until it was pointed out to me. Now of course this is no excuse for the cropping but in practice you will barely even notice it and for that reason alone you should not deprive yourself of an otherwise fine release. Moving on then. Detail levels are very high while grain is kept to a bare minimum. The generally dark cinematography is handled with ease thanks to deep blacks and fine colour reproduction and thanks to a high bit-rate there are absolutely zero signs of compression problems. My only complaint lies with a typically 'jerky' layer transition that is made all the more criminal by the fact it is placed mid fight scene!
The original Cantonese Language track is provided in a remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 format (as is the optional English Dub) and is fairly typical for a Hong Kong Legends release. This is a good thing though as yet again we find a subtle remix that utilises your surround speakers to project the score as well as to place the occasional sound effect when appropriate while the dialogue is clearly presented via the centre speaker (and is projected elsewhere when required). With no signs of distortion or sound dropouts this is another fine effort that combined with the well presented (and optional) English subtitles allows for you to enjoy the film the way it was meant to be heard.
After the Audio Commentary on Zu: Warriors of the Magic Mountain where Bey Logan takes a back seat approach to allow the films director to have his say it is refreshing to find Bey speaking alone on this track and further reminded me as to why I would have liked a second Bey Logan only commentary track on Zu. Those reasons are plentiful as Bey divulges many interesting stories on this films production, has much to say of its main actors and how they sadly have yet to make their big breaks in the Hong Kong Movie industry despite an obvious talent base, while he also goes on to discuss the fighting techniques seen and also covers many other aspects of the films production. For around thirty-minutes this commentary is fairly scene specific until Bey himself admits that he is holding off discussing a personal icon of his and a legend of Hong Kong Cinema, the incredibly talented Lar Kar-leung who once Bey does begin to talk about, he does not stop for a full 45-minutes! As you might expect we have nothing to complain about as Bey delivers a welcome history lesson that, like the rest of the commentary is thoroughly entertaining and to top it all off, you can just tell Bey is loving every minute of it, something that is confirmed by the frequent use of his 'English Dub' voice.
A Won Jin Showreel contains 2-minutes of a jaw dropping martial arts and acrobatic demonstration from the films 'Scorpion King' Won Jin, who really is a formidable talent and based solely on this footage deserved to go so much further in the Hong Kong film industry than he currently has. Another shorter extra feature is a 34-screen Life of a Legend text based biography for the great Lar Kar-leung that is written by Bey Logan. Much like the fine Audio Commentary you will find an in-depth look at Kar-leung's life and career with this particular presentation of this information being a little easier to take in as you can read the myriad of Chinese names and movie titles at your own pace.
The Interview Gallery contains two features presented in Anamorphic Widescreen with the interviewees speaking in their native languages with easy to read English subtitles providing the translation. First up is Chin Kar Lok who plays Yuk Su in the film and speaks for just over 17-minutes. HKL regulars will most likely recognise him from the Stuntman documentary on Red Wolf and those same people will also recall a reasonable portion of this interview from that same documentary, fortunately he has many interesting stories to tell so we can forgive a slight overlap on content. Beginning by discussing his time as part of Samo Hung's Stunt Group Kar Lok provides us with some interesting stories while the segment where he speaks about The Scorpion King, his thoughts on the role, and co-stars Lar Kar-leung and Won Jin (whom he was suitably impressed with) are of much interest to those who enjoyed the film.
The second interview is with Won Jin who speaks for just over 19-minutes and goes fairly in-depth as he discusses his early influences, the training he underwent and how he obtained his first role in Hong Kong movies with The Scorpion King. Other areas of interest are his thoughts on the films production and in particular his time spent with the films director David Lai and his co-stars (Chin Kar Lok and Lar Kar-leung) who he has much to say about. To round off yet another informative interview session Won Jin informs us of his current activities.
The final section to be found in the extra features of this disc is the Trailer Gallery that features both the original Hong Kong Theatrical Trailer and the HKL Promotional Trailer for The Scorpion King. Both are presented in Anamorphic Widescreen and are certainly worth a moment of your time, while the hard-core fans will no doubt find the slightly different translation of certain scenes in the original Theatrical Trailer a strong talking point.
Much like the Hong Kong Legends release of Ninja in the Dragons Den, The Scorpion King is somewhat of a hidden gem that proves to be a highly entertaining experience. Fortunately for us Hong Kong Legends have treated The Scorpion King with great care and other than the problems with the cropping and layer change (two areas HKL really need to address) this proves to be one of their better releases in terms of content and the quality thereof.