BLACK EAGLE is a film that I would assume has a cult following. The special collector’s edition has the director’s cut, a poster in the Blu-ray insert, and a heaping dose of special features. Movies from my own childhood that I believe have a cult following don’t get this kind of treatment. The film’s potential underground popularity may be because it features one of the most iconic 80’s action stars, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and a well-known martial artist, Sho Kosugi. So I have to blankly ask, at least for those who’ve seen this movie or have any interest in the blu-ray, what’s good about BLACK EAGLE?
I ask that with a deep sincerity because I know that a lot of people sometimes hold bad movies near and dear to their heart. I understand this because parts of me like MORTAL KOMBAT and SPY HARD, films from childhood that I fondly remember watching in a theater with a big tub of popcorn. BLACK EAGLE is the kind of movie that seems to scream nostalgia at the top of its lungs nowadays, but in the era it was released, it appears to just be another cookie cutter action film trying to take a small piece of the box office pie.
Ken Tani (Kosugi) is a special American operative, code-named Black Eagle. He’s tasked with finding a super-secret tracking device that was on board a fighter jet that crashed off the coast of Malta. His search is rushed by the fact that the Russians are sniffing around the coast, looking for the device. This is a film that came out in the waning years of the Soviet Union, but oddly enough feels relevant today. That doesn’t make the film any better.
As to how Van Damme factors in, he’s a stoic bodyguard to the Russian in charge. His speaking duties are limited and he appears mostly to do the splits or beat the hell out of someone. Kosugi does most of the heavy lifting in terms of acting, which I hate to say, is a mistake. I wouldn’t call him a bad actor, but he’s not a good actor. It doesn’t help that the subplot in BLACK EAGLE is that Tani is entertaining his kids while on vacation, something that seems obnoxiously similar to the Vin Diesel film, THE PACIFIER. So maybe in that regard BLACK EAGLE was ahead of its time.
Some of the action sequences are OK and the final duel between Kosugi and Van Damme feels like a letdown. Kosugi’s character ends up getting beat in both matches and runs away. Something I thought was a little bit too similar to how Jackie Chan’s characters always were, but didn’t quite match with the tone of the film. Kosugi seems like he’s the kind of guy who’s supposed to easily dispatch an entire ship of bad guys. He’s also the kind of person that’s supposed to come out unscathed, at least that’s what I’d expect from one of America’s best operatives, according to the film.
The international intrigue comes up short in BLACK EAGLE, a film that can’t decide on whether it wants to be a suspenseful commentary on U.S. and Soviet Union relations or a mindless action flick. Because I found the theatrical version nearly unwatchable, I knew I couldn’t stomach the director’s cut. I don’t think 11 minutes, no matter how insanely good they were, could have made this film remotely better. I like that some cult classics or diamonds in the rough are being dug up from past generations and brought to life on Blu-ray. But maybe BLACK EAGLE should have stayed in the past as a memory.
Video: (1080p HD Widescreen 1:78:1) Despite the blu-ray upgrade, I felt like at best, I was watching a DVD copy of the film, and at worst, I was watching a VHS copy from Blockbuster.
Audio: (Dolby Digital 5.1) While the picture quality struggled, the audio quality wasn’t bad. There were few instances where I thought I heard a pop in the audio, but it wasn’t discernable enough for me to note it as a legitimate thing.
Sho Kosugi: Martial Arts Legend (21:24): I’m not sure how old this interview is with the film’s star, but he mainly talks about his life, career, and BLACK EAGLE. Visually it’s a little dry, but Kosugi has a lot of fascinating tales to spin, even if you don’t know who he is.
The Making of BLACK EAGLE (35:45): In this feature, the director, Eric Karson, talks about the film. Once again, it’s visually dry because it so rarely deviates from a single camera view, but it mixes in other interviews at various times to add flavor to a memory of Karson’s or an on-set story. We also get some more tidbits from Kosugi, which after the previous feature isn’t a bad thing.
Tales of Jean-Claude Van Damme (19:20): I assume Van Damme declined to be interviewed? It’s odd that this feature is so glowing about Van Damme, but doesn’t feature Van Damme. I say that because Kosugi chimes in, with glowing remarks about Van Damme, who isn’t necessarily this film’s strength. Karson has the most praise, stating that Van Damme’s role was ever changing and not even concrete by the time filming began.
The Script and the Screenwriters (27:22): In some of the previous features, we’ve already heard Michael Gonzales weigh in on several issues, but this time he gets to tell his story. While not liking the movie, I think it’s still a fascinating story that he has because no one sets out to make a bad movie. So in this instance, Gonzales didn’t set out to write a bad film, but it’s certainly interesting to hear his perspective and what happened, especially since this is his only screenwriting credit.
Deleted Scenes (11:16): There’s about half a dozen deleted scenes, which only add exposition and “character development”. These are understandably deleted.