Known in English-speaking regions as the Scorpion King, this has nothing to do with The Mummy. Rather, it is a Hong Kong martial arts flick from the early 1990s, that also goes by the title, Operation Scorpio.

In 1920s China, Fai Yuk-Su, a schoolboy who fantasises that he is a comicbook writer of wrongs, stumbles upon a loan shark prostitution ring. Problem is that it's enforced by a fearsome gangster, The Scorpion King, and operates with the collusion of the authorities.

Fleeing from the gangsters, Fai persuades the head of a bodybuilding school, Jean-Paul, to take him in as a pupil, while he works in the nearby noodle restaurant to pay his way.

But Jean-Paul proves to be no match for the might of The Scorpion King and Fai must look to an unexpected source for the power to defeat the villain...

The film is best judged as a genre piece: Does it entertain? How well does it work as a Hong Kong martial arts movie? Does it manage to transcend the limitations of its genre?

The answer to the first two questions is largely "yes"; the answer to the last is less conclusive.

Certainly, the numerous fight sequences are a success. None of the contributors - the director and his team, the choereographer and the martial artists themselves - is allowed to dominate over the others and their respective contributions form a harmonious yin/yang whole.

Elsewhere, the film's intentions are inadequately signalled. The opening fight sequence is clearly a parodic, comicbook fantasy, but are the Rocky-style training montages of Fai, accompanied by the strains of Cantonese pop songs, to be taken seriously? Is the homoeroticism of Jean-Paul's gym, replete with Greco-Roman statuary and scantily-clad handmaidens intentional? Whether it's an inability to signal clearly, an attempt to have things both ways, or a failure of cross-cultural translation, such moments lessen the dramatic impact.

Even so, they also enhance The Scorpion King's entertainment value.

The performances are adequate, given that everyone is cast first and formost for their martial arts abilities - Chin Kar-Lok as Fai, Won Jin as the Scorpion King - or physical presence - Frankie Chan as Jean-Paul - with acting ability of secondary importance. That said, there are no complaints on this score either. Noone grates, or comes across as out of place.

Overall, while some aspects of the film - its mythic treatment of the hero's quest, complete with "false hero" in Jean-Paul and Fai's reconciling of opposites in the shape of Western and Eastern physical ideals - strive for the high ground, The Scorpion King is best treated as mindless entertainment, preferably experienced with friends and some beers.

Reviewed on: 12 Jun 2002
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Entertaining martial arts actioner.

Director: David Lai

Writer: Che Wai Chan, Sau Pung Lui

Starring: Kar Lok Chin, Chia-Liang Liu, Jung Yuen, May Lo Mei-Mei, Jean Pol, Frankie Chan, Victor Hon, Fung Woo, Shun-Yee Yuen

Year: 1992

Runtime: 95 minutes

Country: Hong Kong


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