FORCE: FIVE (1981) Blu-ray
Director: Robert Clouse
Scorpion Releasing

1979 World Karate Champion Joe Lewis leads team of karate ass-kickers against a maniacal cult leader in FORCE: FIVE, out on Blu-ray from Scorpion Releasing.

Young Cynthia (Amanda Wyss, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET) joins the World Church of Reverend Rhee (Master Bong Soo Han, BILLY JACK), a cult recruiting the children of the wealthy who then sign away their inheritance to the church (the "lucky ones" pass into the "Palace of Celestial Tranquility" and are never heard from again after visiting Rhee's labyrinth). When her father appeals to influential William Stark (Michael Prince, DEATH WISH II) – whose past run-in with Rhee cost him his legs – for help, he sends in an assassin. When it is evident the assassin has failed, Starke approaches martial artist/special agent Jim Martin (Lewis) to infiltrate the cult and bring back Cynthia. Martin recruits a team of five: randy Billy Ortega (Benny Urquidez, Jackie Chan's WHEELS ON MEALS), pool hustler Ezekiel (Richard Norton, THE OCTAGON), man-mountain Lockjaw (Sonny Barnes, TRUCK TURNER), slinky yet deadly Laurie (Pam Huntington, THEY CALL ME BRUCE?), and nutty pilot Willard (Ron Hayden, AMERICAN OUTLAWS) whom they must first spend the rest of act one busting out from an Ecuadorian prison. The team accompanies Senator Forrester (Peter MacLean, SQUIRM) on a visit to Rhee's island and they quickly discover the dirty secrets behind Rhee's operation (and what becomes of those who displease him). Laurie tries to convince Cynthia to leave with them but she is resistant until she visits the palace and makes some frightening discoveries herself; but it may be too late for all of them once Rhee's hulking henchman Carl (Bob Schott, VAMP) recognizes Martin.

Although a minor effort, FORCE: FIVE is something of an unrelated follow-up by ENTER THE DRAGON producer Fred Weintraub, director Robert Clause (BLACK BELT JONES) and Lewis to JAGUAR LIVES!, as well distributor American Cinema's ersatz follow-up to the Chuck Norris vehicle THE OCTAGON with a larger role for stuntman Norton (in one role as he played more than one part and doubled for several in the aforementioned film). Clouse, Norton, and Weintraub would go on to collaborate on the infamously bad GYMKATA as well as the direct-to-video Cynthia Rothrock vehicles CHINA O'BRIEN flicks. Lewis' special agent isn't a particularly charismatic or compelling lead or character, and this would be a problem if not for the entertaining, lengthy, and sometimes painful-looking fight scenes and an uneven comic tone just lopsided enough to provide chuckles without undermining the nastiness on display (and some appreciated nudity). FORCE: FIVE ends up being thoroughly undemanding entertainment that is worth seeking out.

Released on VHS by Media Home Entertainment, FORCE FIVE was not one of the American Cinema titles that made it to DVD in the earlier half of last decade from Trinity Entertainment (among them THE OCTAGON and DOGS), coming to DVD just two years ago from Scorpion in a barebones anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen transfer which recently went out of print and was replaced by this limited edition Scorpion Blu-ray. The 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen transfer isn't as impressive as THE OCTAGON, but that is likely down to the elements. The Blu-ray appears to be sourced from the same HD master or at least the same source with identical framing but a slightly brighter image with healthier skintones, brighter whites, and a hair more detail in the blown out highlights of some shots (from lamps pointed towards the camera to background sky). Colors seem accurate but not particularly bold due to the design choices (the blood on the other hand pops in every shot, literally so late in the film). The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track is also clean-sounding with the music having a bit more umph over the DVD version. The only extra is the film's theatrical trailer (2:20), along with trailers for KILL AND KILL AGAIN, CHARLIE CHAN AND THE CURSE OF THE DRAGON QUEEN, FIREPOWER, KILLER FORCE, and GO TELL THE SPARTANS, but it is a worthy upgrade for fans of the film. (Eric Cotenas)