Color, 1981, 96m.
Directed by Robert Clouse
Starring Joe Lewis, Boon Soo Han, Sonny Barnes, Richard Norton, Pam Huntington, Benny Urquidez, Ron Hayden, Michael Prince
Scorpion (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
It isn't too surprising that someone in Hollywood had the bright idea to rip off Enter the Dragon and combine it with the trendy public paranoia surrounding cults after the Jonestown tragedy and the rise of Moonies. The end result turned out to be Force: Five, a movie seemingly designed to be shown on cable TV late at night, made by indie company American Cinema around the same time as their Chuck Norris hits like A Force of One and The Octagon.
In fact, one of the latter film's stars, Richard Norton, returns here as part of a group of five "very special people" picked by martial arts spy Jim Martin (Jaguar Lives! star Lewis) to slip onto a guarded island belonging to a spacey sect run by Reverend Rhee (Bong Soo Han). Of course, the reverend's public sermons about peace and heavenly communion to his flock (the Aryan offspring of rich American families) are just a mask for his more sinister true nature, and he's already in a foul mood after Martin's new boss, William Stark (Prince), sends in an assassin who ends up on the wrong end of some acupuncture needles. The main objective is the retrieval of Stark's daughter, Cynthia (Amanda Wyss, pre-A Nightmare on Elm Street and Better Off Dead), who's completely fallen under Rhee's spell (along with fellow young cultists including Popcorn's Tom Villard). With the rest of the team in place -- macho Billy (Urquidez), wily Lockjaw (Barnes), obligatory tough gal Laurie (Huntington), and ace pilot Willard (Hayden) -- it's off to the island fortress where much skulking, snooping, and fighting ensue.
It isn't hard to see why real-life kickboxing champ Lewis never took off as a movie star like some of his peers, but he manages to anchor this film well enough thanks to a chase or fight popping up every few minutes. Not surprisingly, the director of Enter the Dragon, Robert Clouse, was brought on board (in between his stints on The Big Brawl and Deadly Eyes), and he seems to have a good-natured view about the absurdity of going back for another kung fu island showdown again. A classic? Nope, but there's plenty of fun to be had if you're in the right frame of mind.
Though the VHS release from Media kept this one widely available in the '80s (not to mention years of TV screeenings), Force: Five strangely disappeared for the entirety of the '90s and '00s. This was one of the final American Cinema theatrical releases (along with the even more elusive Beatlemania), and it's nice to finally see it back again. A DVD appeared in 2014 from Scorpion Releasing with a nice transfer with healthy colors and a nicely textured '80s cinematic appearance throughout. No real complaints here, which goes for the perfectly serviceable mono audio, too. Extras include an explosion-laden, textless theatrical trailer and bonus ones for The Octagon, Go Tell the Spartans, Firepower, Blood Feud, Kill and Kill Again, Paper Tiger, Space Raiders, Alley Cat, and Saint Jack. The 2016 Blu-ray upgrade sold via Screen Archives ratchets up the image quality as you'd expect; this isn't the most razor-sharp film in history with an often soft and gauzy, sun-drenched appearance, but it's fine for what it is. The English mono audio also gets a DTS-HD MA bump for what it's worth. This time the same textless trailer is accompanied by bonus ones for Kill and Kill Again, Firepower, Killer Force, and Go Tell the Spartans.
Updated review on August 28, 2014.