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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Black Eagle (Blu-ray)
Black Eagle (Blu-ray)
MVD Entertainment Group // R // February 27, 2018 // Region A
List Price: $24.04 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Tyler Foster | posted April 4, 2018 | E-mail the Author
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When a US fighter jet gets shot down over the Mediterranean with a high-tech, top secret laser tracking device on board, it catches the attention of various parties. In particular, it lures KGB colonel Vladimir Klimenko (Vladimir Skomarovsky), who immediately flies to Malta and staffs a boat to retrieve it. Not to be outdone, the United States calls in their best man: Ken Tani (Sho Kosugi), a top-level CIA agent with martial arts expertise and a reputation for getting the job done at any cost. Although hiring him requires interrupting his mandatory 2-week vacation with his sons (played by Kosugi's real-life sons Shane and Kane Kosugi), CIA man Rickert (William Bassett) convinces him to go by sending his sons to Malta under the supervision of fellow agent Patricia Parker (Doran Clark). Upon arrival, Ken meets his partner, former CIA and half-hearted priest Joseph Bedelia (Bruce French), and scopes out his competition, which includes not just Klimenko, but Klimenko's intimidating bodyguard Andrei (Jean-Claude Van Damme).

Apologies in advance to any fans of the film, but Black Eagle is not a good movie. Despite the presence of Kosugi and Van Damme, as well as Eric Karson, director of the Chuck Norris film The Octagon, there's just nothing going on in this dreary, disconnected, and dispiritingly dull would-be martial arts movie. Although the bonus features on MVD Rewind's loving special edition shine plenty of light on why, it's evident watching the film that Black Eagle never had a core concept, something to really drive the film from beginning to end. Instead, it meanders along at a pace that makes 107 minutes feel like three hours, and never truly delivers on the only thing it needs to have in order to be at least somewhat successful: martial arts action.

First of all, it feels like a cruel joke that 40 minutes of Black Eagle have to go by (in uncut form, anyway) before the movie has what could be considered an action scene, of Tani fleeing some of Klimenko's henchmen. The scene is a foot chase without much actual action in it, including a supposedly thrilling jump across the gap between buildings that doesn't even bother to show the gap before Tani makes it across. Incredibly, it's another 10 minutes before there's any actual martial arts, which is an incredibly short teaser of what it feels like the movie must be building to, a fight between star Kosugi and young rising star Van Damme. The film goes on to feature two more fights between Kosugi and Van Damme, neither of which is particularly impressive or memorable (the one cool trick, Van Damme falling into the splits to avoid a high strike, is used twice to diminishing effect), underlined by the fact that Andrei (spoiler) doesn't even get killed by Tani, but rather an inexplicable bit of hubris that comes out of nowhere and manages to introduce a second anti-climax into his arc by promising a gruesome punctuation mark that doesn't arrive.

Much of the remaining screen time is devoted to Tani's relationship with his children, which is a drag. Of course, there are some metatextual elements to this storyline, in that Kosugi is obviously spending time with his real children in a cool way, but subjecting the audience to experience "Bring Your Children to Work Day" within the confines of what is ostensibly a spy thriller or an action movie at the expense of spy thrills or action is painful. Then again, it's impossible to tell if the spy movie that was eventually shredded to accommodate Kosugi's kids and JCVD was any good either -- what's left seems to be a movie where a character merely needs to swim to the bottom of the ocean, take an object out of a crashed airplane, and then leave town. Thanks to the highlighting of Van Damme, Klimenko never registers as a villain, and scenes of Tani and Klimenko butting heads just feel like a waste of time.

The film is overloaded with characters, including Patricia Parker (who nonetheless registers as one of the film's few interesting characters, getting a good bit where she leaves a calling card for Tani to find), as well as Natasha (Dorota Puzio), a random woman on the villain's side who has a whole romantic subplot with Andrei for some reason that takes up a bunch of screen time. There is also a local Malta detective tracking Tani as he leaves the bodies of henchmen in his wake, who adds nothing to the movie. The best character in the film is French's Bedelia, who has an interesting backstory, good rapport with Kosugi, and is worked into the story in interesting ways -- in fact, he's the only character whose potential fate actually generates some tension. The film climaxes with a boat explosion that is obviously a miniature, which seems to summarize the movie's ethos: it may not be good, but, it's finished.

The Blu-ray
MVD Rewind has taken one of Black Eagle's original theatrical poster images, featuring Kosugi in camouflage in front of Van Damme as a backdrop, and framed it with a red border and the MVD Rewind banner at the bottom. The two-disc set comes in a transparent Vortex Blu-ray case housing the Blu-ray and DVD copy. The package is, in my eyes, already designed to evoke a VHS, but those who pick up the first pressing will also get a limited edition cardboard slipcover that takes that ethos to the next level with a "weathered" look to the artwork, and "stickers" added to the box. It's a nice touch. Inside the case, fans will also receive a large fold-out poster of the sleeve art.

The Video and Audio
Black Eagle's 1.78:1 1080p AVC presentation is one of those mixed bags one often gets from specialty labels that focus on cult films. On one hand, this is almost certainly the best Black Eagle has looked in decades, but is this really a good Blu-ray transfer? There is a limit to textural detail that seems to bear itself out in an oil painting-like quality, one which doesn't read like the familiar look of DNR. Colors are on the muted side, with skin tones tending to look pale or washed out, and brightly-lit surfaces can bleed into the background. Grain is occasionally visible, moreso in dark scenes than light ones, and minor print damage and debris is visible throughout. Again, this is the best the film has probably looked in decades, so I'll split the difference between the three-star content and four-star effort. Sound options include DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 for the main feature, and DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 only for the extended cut. The sound is pretty run-of-the-mill, never bringing the viewer all that far into the film even on the 5.1 remix. It serves its purpose without much fanfare, with some signs of age. The bigger issue is that no subtitles or captions have been included, which is frustrating sometimes given the film's various accents.

The Extras
Just to be absolutely clear: while I found Black Eagle underwhelming, there are no complaints to be had with MVD Rewind Collection's special edition treatment, which is both loving and impressively comprehensive, especially when it comes to the disc's substantial bonus features.

First up, "Sho Kosugi: Martial Arts Legend (21:26) is a meaty sitdown with the star (and his son Shane) about his life and career. Kosugi talks about dire prognosis due to a hole in his lungs, his eventual trip to America and early years running a martial arts studio, professional competitions, and working his way up the Hollywood food chain from extra to villain to eventual star. Shane speaks about his own path in relation to his father's, including extensive details on the various styles of martial arts he's learned and his career overseas. Although the piece ends by turning into what feels sort of like a promo for Kosugi's recent book, this is still a warm and funny look back over his body of work. Of course, if you're looking for information on the making of Black Eagle itself, that's been saved for "The Making of Black Eagle" (35:50), which chats with director/producer Eric Karson, writer Michael Gonzalez, both Kosugis, Doran Clark, and Dorota Puzio about the making of the film. Karson outlines his own career and all of the participants talk about the movie's tumultuous, ever-changing production, including the addition of Kosugi's sons and Van Damme to the film after Gonzalez's first draft (which he describes as more Bourne-like). One particularly great story involves the climactic dock fight between Kosugi and Van Damme, who had a little bit of an ego contest trading real blows. Stories like this continue in "Tales of Jean-Claude Van Damme" (19:20), which has many of the same people giving their impressions of the eccentric martial artist, including his sunbathing and refusal to kiss Puzio on the lips out of respect for his wife. The disc's documentary extras wrap up with "The Script and the Screenwriters" (27:14), which brings back Gonzalez and Karson one last time to talk about the writing process. Gonzalez has plenty of eccentric Hollywood stories, including his hiring to write the script off of helping someone move, and hashing out ideas over the two-hour drive. Again, the participants talk about the struggle and ongoing mutation of the film due to the addition of Kosugi's sons and Van Damme, and as with many of these extras, what's fun is the slightly differing recollections of the participants as to what actually happened. There is one more video extra, but it turns out to be sort of a trick: deleted scenes (11:16) turn out to be the difference between the theatrical and extended cuts, presented in lower quality.

An original theatrical trailer for Black Eagle is also included. It and trailers for Rewind releases D.O.A.: A Rite of Passage, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, and Savannah Smiles have their own menu.

Black Eagle is a movie that didn't need to be polished up and rereleased, but here it is, and the effort is quite impressive. I have to stress: those who haven't already seen Black Eagle and aren't absolutely positive that this movie is for them should not blind buy this, but for MVD Rewind's effort alone, I'll bump this up from a "skip it" to rent it, for the disc itself rather than the film.

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