Blu-ray Review: Black Eagle (MVD Rewind Collection) | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Sunday, February 28th, 2021  

Black Eagle

Studio: MVD Rewind Collection

Mar 08, 2018 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Special Agent Ken Tani, code name “Black Eagle” (Sho Kosugi), is the American government’s only hope to recover an experimental tracking device shot down by the USSR in the ocean near Malta. A crack squad of KGB operatives that includes a deadly martial artist named Andrei (Jean-Claude Van Damme) are tasked with keeping the device out of American hands. Complicating matters is that Tani’s young sons (Shane and Kane Kosugi) happen to be vacationing in Malta, so Black Eagle must split his time between breaking necks and being a supportive dad.

Black Eagle featured a pairing of two of the 1980s’ most iconic martial arts stars: one at the start of a meteoric rise to fame, and the other whose Hollywood hot streak was tapering off. Shot before the release of the star-making Bloodsport, Black Eagle would be the last time we’d see Van Damme in a supporting villain role until The Expendables II almost a quarter-century later. It was already evident to the filmmakers at the time of production that Van Damme was destined for fame, and so his character’s role was exponentially expanded just before shooting began. Van Damme’s Andrei isn’t just your run-of-the-mill KGB muscle character, but gets his own love interest, sympathetic portrayal, and even a heroic death. In an era where Russians were often depicted as over-the-top, moustache-twirling baddies, Black Eagle sports a rare, conflicted Soviet villain that audiences could root for.

Of course, Black Eagle features Van Damme’s signature splits. His fight scenes (and even a non-fight scene) feature many of them, whether it makes tactical sense or not, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Released at the end of his decade-dominating string of badass ninja movies for The Cannon Group (Enter the Ninja, Revenge of the Ninja, Ninja III: The Domination) and Trans World Entertainment (Pray for Death, Rage of Honor), plus the wacky 9 Deaths of the Ninja and a recurring role as the bad ninja of the short-lived NBC series The Master, Black Eagle is a notable change of pace for Sho Kosugi in that he is not playing a ninja. Viewers hoping to see the silver screen’s leading practitioner of ninjutsu slip into a black shozoko and flick a shuriken between the eyes of a Soviet baddie may be somewhat disappointed. In this movie, Kosugi is more of a slick 007-type. You get the sense that Kosugi hoped to break out of his pigeonhole with this movie. His style of martial arts film would soon be overtaken by men in foam rubber turtle suits, with adults rapidly favoring the brand of kickboxing exemplified by his co-star, Van Damme. By the time Black Eagle was finished, Bloodsport had made Van Damme the bigger box office commodity and the two shared equal billing on the movie poster.

MVD Rewind’s dual-format edition of Black Eagle – their third release – cements the newly-launched retro label as one for collectors to keep an eye on. Housed in a slipcase that resembles the early '80s Media Home Video tapes, the set includes both the theatrical and extended cuts of the film in prints that are a significant step up from the old DVD releases. Also included are deleted scenes and many newly-recorded interviews with cast and crew. Most noteworthy is that MVD were able to rope in Sho Kosugi for a number of features; the ninja icon is famously averse to discussing his past work, with Arrow Video’s releases of his two TWE flicks being the only other times in recent history where he’s been willing to look back on his legendary action movie career.

Van Damme’s Lionheart is coming up on MVD Rewind’s docket, and it’s been announced that the Muscles from Brussels himself will be participating in its extra features – and that’s worth getting really excited over.


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