Black Eagle Blu-ray Review

Kosugi versus Van Damme

Sho Kosugi and Jean-Claude Van Damme brawl three times in Black Eagle, their final round backed by flames, ignited by a grenade blast. It’s that kind of movie.

Black Eagle uses a plethora of shifty Russians to kick off its plot. Star Kosugi kicks a bunch of them for stealing American military tech, all while protecting his two sons who inevitably end up as dramatic props. It’s hardly a film of surprise or cinematic intrigue.

An unofficial entrant into the ’80s ninja action genre, Kosugi doesn’t dress in full ninja garb; he coats himself in oil to remain hidden in the darkness, but that’s it. He just performs ninja-like stuff. Hired by the American government, Kosugi trots off to Malta, knocking off faceless goons while Black Eagle holds off the starring confrontation, featured prominently on the cover art.

It’s delightfully hokey and stunted, often barely comprehensible, even as direct-to-video ’80s larks go. Kosugi struggles with his accent and Van Damme barely speaks – he was added to Black Eagle late in the process. Mostly, Van Damme stares blankly, a bodyguard to the helpless Russian leader. Ditzy government types swoon for Kosugi, the one-man-army trope Black Eagle relies on.

Malta serves as a bigger star than either of the two headliners

The scenery is nice though. Malta serves as a bigger star than either of the two headliners. That’s beneficial, the only thing separating Black Eagle from the standards of a two-part ’80s TV episode. That static look and plain cinematography pairs well with the video store shelf aesthetic, forever linked to action duds like Black Eagle.

Maybe “dud” isn’t entirely fair. Black Eagle does have energy once it’s in motion. Van Damme, here in his physical prime, throws a kick like few can. Kosugi brings a bit of his Eastern martial arts into an American power fantasy. Kosugi performs a behind-the-back gut stab, the precise bit of absurdity expected from Black Eagle, a bit of corny choreography that gives this flick some flair.

Otherwise, it’s a meandering travelogue. Kosugi keeps rushing to meet up with his kids (his real life sons) at tourist locations, then takes off to track down the Russians. Maybe he paraglides, maybe he swims; in any manner, he’ll get there. Then Black Eagle can finally have some fun.

Video

To date, MVD’s Rewind collection produced a difficult-to-transfer D.O.A. and a gorgeous print of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. Black Eagle isn’t so fortunate. While a touch of grain remains on this low resolution scan, detail is wiped away by filtering. Ocean scenery looks like oil, and Malta’s concrete buildings appear as if part of an oil painting. At distance, people smear into the background, their features drained by the mighty hand of digital tampering.

Black Eagle’s print shows notable signs of wear, with scrapes, dirt, and scratches abound. Clean-up wasn’t part of the digital transfer process. Degradation of color saps the energy, leaving images pale. With the lack of resolution, Black Eagle struggles to meet any basic standard.

Black levels reach adequate levels, not true black but close enough to maintain depth. Sun-lit exteriors clip detail, a sign of age or this transfer; it’s impossible to know which. At least it’s not a VHS upscale.

Audio

Both the original and extended cuts are included, with different audio choices. The primary track is PCM mono. With the original edition only, a Dolby Digital 5.1 track is offered in addition.

The mono track is certainly diluted and dulled. A few lines of dialog sound crushed by ambiance when at sea. However, the murky accents survive any quality concerns. Strained fidelity adds an analog feel to Black Eagle, appropriate considering the VHS origins.

Extras

Making up for the lackluster A/V, MVD includes a number of newly produced bonus features, all of them insightful. Star Sho Kosugi features in Martial Arts Legend, a 21-minute interview covering his entire career. Cast and crew discuss working with Van Damme in Tales of JCVD, a 19-minute featurette with anecdotes and set stories.

Screenwriter Michael Gonzales speaks for 27-minutes about the scripting process, including the random chance that led him to the job. A making of runs 35-minutes and encompasses all of the above for a complete rundown.

Some deleted scenes (most of them part of the extended cut) run 11-minutes.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

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Sho Kosugi and Jean-Claude Van Damme come to blows in Black Eagle, a highlight in this otherwise dreary ’80s action flick.

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