Director: Eric Karson
Screenplay: A.E. Peters & Michael Gonzales
Starring: Sho Kosugi, Doran Clark, Gene Davies, Jean-Claude Van Damme
Running Time: 104 mins
BBFC Classification: 15
Black Eagle is very much a product of the time during which it was made – the eighties - when Cold War paranoia was high and when any old action movie would be green-lit, especially if it featured some dodgy-looking communists getting blown up by a square-jawed American patriot.
Sho Kosugi (Enter the Ninja) takes the lead here as a specialist CIA agent, Ken Tani (aka ‘Black Eagle’) who is sent across to Malta to prevent those dodgy commie types I just mentioned getting their hands on some kind of very special (read expensive) laser guided missile system that went down with an F11 plane that crashed in the sea off the island’s coast, after being allegedly shot down. Ken is reluctant to go since he’s got his annual leave planned with his two young sons, but when the CIA have the boys brought over so that he can spend some time with them when he’s off duty, he agrees to at least be involved with the surveillance side of the operation.
Things get a little more complicated with the arrival of a KGB team, which includes the infamous Andrei (played by JCVD), who are hell-bent on retrieving the tracking device, or whatever it is, before the yanks do. Not surprisingly, what follows is a pretty standard cold war action-thriller that gets bogged down with too many characters and a subplot involving Ken’s two sons, who get kidnapped part-way through – way to go CIA!
Black Eagle is billed as a Jean-Claude Van Damme film, but in fact it was only his second feature film appearance, following No Retreat, No Surrender (1986), and he only has 70 words to say (an improvement on the 20 he spoke in the earlier film) so don’t go expecting wall-to-wall Van Damme action – he’s more of a supporting player in this one. This is definitely Kosugi’s film, and although he does his best, his limited English vocabulary and thick accent make him a harder sell as a lead player in an American movie. However, the fight scenes are pretty decent and his stand-offs against JCVD are good, if rather short, but the dramatic scenes are not so impressive.
My main problem with Black Eagle is that it takes itself way too seriously and the pacing of the film is very up and down. When I first saw it back in the early nineties I remember being very disappointed with it and I can see why the younger version of me was frustrated with it. However, I think it’s improved with age and I’m more patient these days when it comes to tolerating the setting-the-scene plot contrivances before we get to the action itself, which is really why we watch films like this. But I’d still have to describe Black Eagle more as an espionage film rather than as a straight action film.
The film is nicely shot and the great Malta locations make it look like a more expensive film than it was. The score is a little bland and doesn’t really drive the action forward, and the acting is variable, to say the least. JCVD does his best, but still comes over as a little wooden, but you can see why he went on to become such a big action star – he oozes charisma and athleticism. The scene of him on the boat, doing the splits across two barrels, whilst also knife-throwing, is quite memorable!
Summing up, if you like your films to involve the KGB and CIA, spies pretending to be studying ‘torpidity in relation to fishing’ while really out looking for trashed planes, tough men in dangerously tight trousers/ shorts macho posturing to each other, and some arse-kicking action courtesy of Sho and Jean-Claude, then you could do a lot worse than checking Black Eagle out…
Oh, and if you wanted to know why Ken is also known as the ‘Black Eagle’ it has something to do with his ancestry and their family’s possession of an extra sixth sense that helps steer them out of trouble – it’s obviously not working here though!
Black Eagle has recently been released on DVD and Blu-ray and is being distributed by 101 Films. There were no special features on the disc. Boo!