Release Date(s)1988 (February 27, 2018)
Studio(s)Rotecon B.V./Magus Productions/Taurus Entertainment (MVD Rewind Collection)
- Film/Program Grade: C-
- Video Grade: C+
- Audio Grade: B-
- Extras Grade: B
For a brief moment in time, Jean-Claude Van Damme was a big draw for action film fans. From Lionheart to Kickboxer to Hard Target, he definitely made a mark on the genre with sex appeal, martial arts skills, and an impressive physique. 1988 saw the release of Bloodsport, but also, and to a less successful degree, Black Eagle, in which he was not the main star. With a plot reminiscent of a James Bond film, a secret operative for the United States government codenamed Black Eagle (Sho Kosugi) is enlisted to find a lost experimental black ops tracking device before a group of KGB agents (Van Damme among them) find it first.
Directed by Eric Karson (who also helmed the Chuck Norris vehicle The Octagon), Black Eagle is, for all intents and purposes, substandard and fairly unremarkable. It tries hard and wants to be a mainstream action film so very badly, but it only manages to reach mediocrity. Besides the main plot itself, you also have Black Eagle’s two kids (played by Sho Kosugi’s real life sons), who are in need of a father figure. It’s a lame attempt at making us care about the characters, but the lack of chemistry and poor performances renders it null and void. It doesn’t help that Kosugi barely speaks any English, meaning that most of his dialogue is unintelligible.
Everything else about the film is flat, including the action scenes, the cinematography, and the performances. All of it feels like straight-to-video type of material. Even Van Damme isn’t given enough to do other than to do his trademark splits move, which he does several times over. On top of that is a story with an unclear goal and no forward momentum. As such, Black Eagle doesn’t warrant much of a rewatch once you’ve seen it. Bigger and better things were to come for Van Damme, but this action vehicle did little to boost his career in either direction.
The MVD Rewind Collection presents the film on Blu-ray for the first time in the U.S. in both its theatrical and extended versions, which have been available overseas for some time now. Unfortunately, these aren’t sourced from new transfers. Each presentation contains fairly heavy DNR, but not to the point that everyone looks like wax figures. Some grain and film debris is leftover, as well as mild instability. The color palette is a bit flat, leaning more towards a green slant than anything while skin tones aren’t particularly natural. However, deep black levels with decent shadow detail are on display, as well as satisfactory brightness and contrast levels. The audio selection features English 5.1 Dolby Digital and English 2.0 DTS-HD for the theatrical version and English 2.0 DTS-HD for the extended cut. The 5.1 is a little more spread out than the 2.0, obviously, but it doesn’t have any real immersive qualities. Dialogue on both tracks is fairly-well rendered, although it tends to be muffled from time to time. Sound effects and score don’t have all that much power due to a lack of bass support. Unfortunately, there are no subtitle options either, which this film is definitely in need of.
Where this release really shines is its extras selection. Included is Sho Kosugi: Martial Arts Legend, a new 21-minute interview with the actor about him and his career; The Making of Black Eagle, a 36-minute featurette with Sho Kosugi, director Eric Karson, screenwriter Michael Gonzales, actors Doran Clark, Shane Kosugi, and Dorta Puzio; Tales of Jean-Claude Van Damme, a 19-minute featurette with many of the same people speaking about their experiences working with Van Damme; The Script and the Screenwriters, a 27-minute featurette with Michael Gonzales and Eric Karson discussing the film’s development; a set of 11 deleted and extended scenes, all of which are in the extended cut and offer up a tiny bit more story and character development more than additional action or carnage; trailers for the film itself, D.O.A.: A Rite of Passage, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, and Savannah Smiles; a fold-out poster; and a DVD copy of the film, which offers up all of the same extras.
This new Blu-ray release of Black Eagle yields better extras than the actual film. It’s incredibly middle of the road, straightforward without any narrative thrust behind it. If you’re a fan of Sho Kosugi and Jean-Claude Van Damme, then this fairly low-key action spy film may have something to offer you. Otherwise, it’s questionable. MVD Rewind has done what they can with it. While not offering a substantial upgrade in the A/V department, it does include both versions of the film and some nice extras, which is a plus.
- Tim Salmons