Sunday, May 23, 2010

Black Eagle (1988)

Director: Eric Karson
Notable Cast: Sho Kosugi, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Doran Clark, Bruce French, Vladimir Skomarovsky, William Bassett, Kane Kosugi, Shane Kosugi

Normally I would keep this opening bitch for the bonus rant section but I have to make a special case for this film. The DVD cover art I have has a lone picture of Jean-Claude Van Damme with a tattoo of a black eagle on his chest. From this we can assume that Van Damme is the main star and that his code name is "Black Eagle" due to his tattoo. First of all Jean-Claude Van Damme is NOT the main star and he does NOT have a black eagle tattoo. Oh yes, he is in the movie but he only gets second billing. This is actually a 1988 theatrical film starring none other than ninja legend himself Sho Kosugi though he is not credited on my DVD cover. Sho is the main character with the code name the title is referring to.

Despite what some versions of the cover art wants you to believe, this is actually a Sho Kosugi action film with Jean Claude Van Damme only playing the villain's main henchman. By the time this film came out in 1988 Sho Kosugi's popularity was starting to decline in the action film market and Van Damme's was only just beginning, hence why the some DVD companies did this cloak and dagger DVD cover into fooling potential purchasers. This cover art actually worked against me when I first heard of it. If they used the original poster artwork and showed me it was actually a Sho Kosugi film I would have been much more apt to buy it at first as I am not that huge of a fan of Van Damme, especially his direct-to-video garbage which my DVD cover makes it look like.

Now that I got it straightened out with you that this is a Kosugi film and NOT a Van Damme film, I'm going to throw another curve ball your way. Kosugi doesn't play his trademark ninja character here that he was known for throughout the 80's. Kosugi not playing a ninja? How can this be? He actually plays a spy/assassin here. The plot is actually very similar to a James Bond film. An American plane crash-lands in the Mediterranean and Kosugi is brought in to track down a top secret laser tracking device. It must not have been too top secret as the Russians quickly move in to capture it first. Typical spy action occurs as Russians kidnap Kosugi's family and it ends up a showdown between Kosugi and Van Damme.

The film really plays off like a poor man's James Bond film. It's like James Bond, extra light with no sugar or caffeine. Sure there's even a sequence when our main spy meets our main villain and henchman over a card game while wearing tuxedos but all the action and chase sequences are very bland and by-the-numbers. The plot also isn't that exciting and director Eric Karson takes his sweet time getting the picture to move along. Still my biggest complaint is that Kosugi always seems to get the filmmakers to cast his children in his movies (Kane and Shane). They are horrible actors and it just annoys me when stars force filmmakers to use their family members.

Though not unwatchable it is just very forgettable action film and isn't near as fun or over-the-top as Kosugi's early 80's action films for the Cannon Group. The film also doesn't seem to hold up well for Van Damme fans either as he barely says any lines. I actually felt after watching the film that Van Damme would have been better in the spy role and Kosugi in the main henchman role. I always felt Kosugi made a much better villain, especially with those small vengeful eyes. Still it was interesting to see two of the 80's biggest action stars go head-to-head for a short time despite the film being completely forgettable.

Written By Eric Reifschneider


As Eric points out in his original review for the film, Black Eagle is an odd duck. For a film that features the iconic Sho Kosugi and a young Jean-Claude Van Damme, it weirdly avoids playing into its own strengths and attempts to repurpose its B-action premise as a Bond film on a budget. There is a lot of potential for the film, but it often comes off as a mixed effort that stumbles around in trying to create spectacle and espionage intrigue without spending too much money.
This is also what makes this latest MVD Rewind Blu Ray release of the film such a find for cult cinephiles. While Black Eagle might be an overall awkward film, this release is dedicated to just that - embracing it for its cult status as a VHS video store classic. Not only does this release have two cuts of the film, both of which are remastered for this release, but it also digs into some of the whys and whats that make Black Eagle a cult classic. A 20-minute interview with Sho Kosugi and his son Shane showcases the unique (and very energetic and charming, might I add) perspective they have on cinema and their time on the film, while a fun series of interviews focused on JCVD also makes for great material that action fans will want to see. For the latter, it’s notes about how the director was just randomly adding in scenes to give JCVD more to do that explains some of the strange narrative bumps that the film has in the end product.

Even for a film like Black Eagle, which has its following, it’s a release like this latest one for the MVD Rewind collection that reminds us there’s a story behind the story being played onscreen and it’s, at times, more fascinating. For collectors of action cinema, this is definitely a must have - even if the film is hardly the best for either of the iconic stars in it.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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