Studley Dewd overviews the latest of state of Lundgren.
The history of world film will state that Sweden has had four major cinematic exports: Ingmar Bergman, Ingrid Bergman, Max Von Sydow and, wait for it, Dolph Lundgren.
Though the former Kyokushinkai karate champion may never have made the A-list, he's exhibited more staying power than most of his contemporaries. After a walk-on in A View To A Kill, alongside then girlfriend Grace Jones, Lundgren was offered a break-through role in Rocky IV as The Italian Stallion's towering Russian opponent, Ivan Drago. Since then, he's been in regular demand as an action movie hero. Though the American theatrical audience as proved elusive, he's attracted a strong worldwide following and still commands over a million dollars a picture. It would be easy for critics to dismiss Lundgren as the archetypal brains-before-brawn B-movie brawler, but his filmography features a far more varied range of work than that of his fellows. Unfortunately, his better films, Dark Angel, Red Scorpion, Men Of War, have been overlooked in favour of overcooked action vehicles like Masters Of The Universe, The Punisher and Joshua Tree. Had the John Woo-directed pilot Blackjack been picked up for a series, Lundgren might have risen to a new level of stardom. As it is, Dolph's a prime exemple of an actor who, though seldom in the publicity spotlight, is perennially popular around the world.
"I knew of Dolph, or Hans, as he was back then, when he fought in the Kyokushinkai knockdown tournaments, and I met him on the set when I was working on Conan The Destroyer. I know that when he was training for Rocky IV, he went to box at these black gyms in the U.S, and here was this big, blond guy, and he actually used to get in the ring and spar. Ha wasn't just doing bag-work and looking in the mirror." Terry O'Neill, actor and karate master.
The Peacekeeper, directed by Fredric Forrestier, sees Dolph as most film-makers seem to see him: in uniform. Lundgren plays Major Frank Cross, a rebellious air-force pilot who gets the job of carrying the US nuclear launch codes for the President (Roy Scheider). When a terrorist gang led by Murphy (Michael Sarrazin) tries to use the US arsenal to further its own ends, the film takes a left turn into Die Hard territory. It's Cross taking on the bad guys in the missile base, aided and abetted, bizarrely enough, by talk show host Montel Williams, as a military officer. The film is worth watching for its occasional touches of black humour, and a stunning rooftop car chase, choreographed by veteran stuntmaster Spiro Rozakis. The special effects are generally lousy, including Lundgren's plunge from a building and a destruction of 'Mount Rushmore' that looks like a high school science project. The film's other technical credits are decent, but this is a film aimed squarely at the straight-to-video market.
"Schwarzenegger is my role model since he is successful, but he's not my role model as an actor. I prefer Sean Connery, Mel Gibson and Harrison Ford. They too started out as 'beefcakes', but have since established themselves as acknowledged actors." Dolph Lundgren.
"When you come from an action movie background, as I do, (it) can be hard. You have to find material that would attract a director who probably wouldn't want to do action, but there's something in the material that will interest them, and that way I'll get to work with someone who has more vision and who is more of an artist and will give the film complexity... Clint Eastwood is a big exemple of someone who was looked down on or laughed at by the creative establishment, and somehow he found a way to express himself in that genre that came out to be extremely powerful, and probably more powerful than many people would have thought, say, twenty years ago. In the back of my mind, I remember people like that who've managed to do it, and they started off a little like I've started off." Dolph Lundgren (talking to Douglas Elby)
Storm Catcher combines the elements of the Clint Eastwod vehicle Firefox and the John Woo film Broken Arrow. Directed by Anthony Hickox, it stars Lundgren as a test pilot who falls victim to a U.S military conspiracy, and finally gets to turn the tables. Though evidently not in the same league, budget-wise, as the films it emulates, Storm Catcher is beautifully shot, and features some fine aerial photography of the film's eponymous stealth bomber. With its always imaginative use of light, sound and camera movement, the film actually does director Hickox more favours than it does Lundgren. He doesn't get a single martial arts fight scene, but Storm Catcher does give him a chance, albeit a brief one, to show off his comic sensibilities.
"Directors have generally overlooked Dolph's sense of humour. He's very funny." John Woo.
"Lundgren's comedy (in Showdown In Little Tokyo) is harder to define. He's got an uncanny ability to make his face a smooth, expressionless blank slate. Bo Derek can do it too, but Lundgren is a master. He looks like he has completely separated his brain from his central nervous system. It's down right spooky." Mike Mayo, Video Hound's Video Premieres. (n.b Showdown wasn't a video premiere. It did get a low-key U.S theatrical release.)
Bridge Of Dragons is far and away the most impressive recent Lundgren vehicle. It was originally called Bride Of Dragons (a reference to the character played by Rashel Shane, a.k.a Valerie Chow), but the producers realised that this title, coupled with a picture of Dolph, might seem a triffle odd. The team behind the cameras, director Isaac Florentine and action ace Koichi Sakamoto, are two names to watch. They have a genuine talent to bring magic to the mundane. What might have been just another Nu Image shot-overseas-'cos-it's-cheaper number is given a genuine sense of scale, thanks in no small part to Yossi Wein's excellent cinematography. Like many helmers before him, Florentine has realised that Lundgren looks damn fine in a uniform, whether it's dress blues or combat fatigues. The action is state-of-the-art with Sakamoto pulling out all the stops to make Lundgren look graceful and Shane look powerful. Also on hand is Mortal Kombat veteran Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as a suitably imposing villain. In a genre where so many films are much worse than they need to be, Bridge Of Dragons is significantly better.
As world cinema evolves, the age of the well-muscled action star seems to have passed. Today, pumped up thespians have inherited the roles once played by the likes of Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Van Damme. Though it seems unlikely he'll ever break through as a theatrical star, it seems equally certain that Dolph Lundgren will remain a popular B-picture player for as long as the genre itself endures.