Black Eagle (1988)

Starring Sho Kosugi, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Doran Clark, Bruce French, Vladimir Skomarovsky, William Bassett, Kane Kosugi, Shane Kosugi, Dorota Puzio, Jan Tríska, Gene Davis, Alfred Mallia

Directed by Eric Karson

Expectations: Sho Kosugi. JCVD. I heard it’s bad, but I gotta see it!

On the general scale:

On the B-Movie scale:


Hot off the heels of the amazing Bloodsport, Jean-Claude Van Damme landed the main villain role in this Sho Kosugi vehicle, and regardless of whatever flaws the film has, it definitely delivers on the schoolyard playground promise of “Sho vs. JCVD!” They face off a few times throughout the film, with two major battles occurring during the closing half hour. I’m getting a bit ahead of myself, but Black Eagle is the type of movie that doesn’t lend itself much to beating around the bush.

Basically a low-budget version of the James Bond film Thunderball (but with better underwater sequences… fuck Thunderball‘s torturous underwater filmmaking), Black Eagle sees Sho Kosugi as the title character: a covert CIA operative capable of fucking up any evildoers holiday plans. An experimental plane went down off the coast of Malta and even though it’s Sho’s scheduled family vacation time, they force him to do the job. How does the U.S. government do that exactly? By picking up his kids and flying them directly into harm’s way in Malta, and then using their presence there to force him into a position where he has no choice but to agree, that’s how! Stand up guys those CIA suits. Of course, he’s not the only one looking for the plane, and this is where JCVD and all the requisite Russian baddies come from. It’s the Cold War as told through a mediocre James Bond rip-off starring two of the screen’s favorite Western martial arts stars.

It’s not all the fun and games it makes itself out to be though. Mostly it’s a slow-moving and somewhat boring film, but whenever it breaks into action (be it car chase, foot chase, fight scene, exploding boat, etc.) the film becomes exciting and thoroughly enjoyable. It’s just tough to make it through some of the down sections of the film to get to the highs. Judged against other films of the era the highs aren’t all that high either, so despite the presence of both Sho Kosugi and JCVD, this one is a definite minor entry in their filmographies.

The acting isn’t anything special, with more than a few horrible moments of stilted line delivery. Who cares though? This is the 80s, when men were shirtless, glistening beasts practicing the splits over barrels on the decks of ships whilst showing off their deadly knife throwing skills. All that should genuinely matter about an 80s action film can be answered in two simple questions: 1. Is it awesome? and 2. Does it kick ass? There are moments in this film when the answer to both questions is a resounding yes, so that’s enough for me to firmly recommend it to fans of 80s action.

The best action comes tightly packed into the final half hour of the film, where you will be treated to everything from a car chase through Malta’s finest back alleyways and side streets to a daring rescue and two exciting fights between Sho and JCVD. Say what you will about the first half of the film (which does feature some good moments of tension and action), but when the two leads finally come together to throw down, the film hits a wonderful stride that makes me wish the whole thing was this good. The fight that comes at the end of the rescue sequence is my favorite of the film and featuring some great choreography which allows JCVD to unleash a cocky, self-assured attitude in every kick. You’d be cocky too if you could dodge Sho Kosugi’s blows by dropping into the splits.

By this point in the film I had completely lost track of the over-complicated narrative, but thankfully by the time I realized this Sho Kosugi was slapping black warpaint over his naked flesh and stealthily sneaking onto the villain’s cargo ship. This leads to the final battle between Sho and JCVD set against the backdrop of burning oil drums on the ship’s deck. The two fighters seem quite equally matched and share the screen well. JCVD has lots of fast moves and high jump kicks, reminding me that he was always the most agile and impressive of the American martial arts film stars.

Black Eagle is shot in a very average and mediocre way, without a shred of artistry to be found beyond a few dutch angles here and there. Obviously this film doesn’t need artistry and no one is realistically coming to this expecting it, but it would definitely help make the film more memorable. Even still, the battles between Sho and JCVD are enough to make me recommend this to fans of both stars. The overall film might take a while to get going, but it definitely delivers in the final act.

Wow, I love this trailer! I wish the whole film was actually this exciting!

2 comments to Black Eagle (1988)

  • A JCVD film I haven’t seen? Must…. resist…. urge…. to….. scream…. with….. delight!

    On a somewhat related note – can’t wait to see him in Expendables 2. JCVD always struck me as the poor mans Schwarzenegger, a label I thought was a tad unfair. Still, it’s hard to argue against if you’ve ever seen that godawful project he did called The Legionnaire.

    • Hahaha, it’s more of a Sho Kosugi movie, but if you’re a big fan you should check it out.

      Yeah, JCVD is a big reason why I’m pumped for Expendables 2 as well. I never thought we was a substitute Schwarzenegger, just a contemporary working in a similar genre. They each delivered different things in their respective movies.

      I haven’t seen The Legionaire, but I have heard it’s a stinker. I will watch it one of these days though!

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