Jean-Claude Van Damme had already made a handful of movies by the time Black Eagle was released in 1988. There's that famous shot of him dancing as an extra in Breakin' and a couple of other background parts, plus his breakout role as the bad guy in No Retreat, No Surrender. Heck, even Bloodsport came out the same year as Black Eagle, setting him on what would be his career path for the next 30 years. The gears of the Van Damme machine were already in motion: like Arnold Schwarzenegger before him -- coincidentally another immigrant who was well known as an athlete before going Hollywood -- he was going to be a movie star through sheer force of will.
I bring all of this up because if he hadn't already been on his way, I suspect Black Eagle would have put him on our radar. As the movie's top evil henchman Andrei, Van Damme is the thing that pops off screen most: he's handsome and charismatic and has a couple of good fight scenes and busts out his trademark splits a couple times. As much as I enjoy Sho Kosugi movies Van Damme wipes him off the screen.
Sho Kosugi is like the Japanese Chuck Norris: a good fighter with a ton of training and very little presence on screen. The movies in which I've liked him best are Cannon's Ninja trilogy. In the first, Enter the Ninja, he's the villain and hardly speaks; in the second, Revenge of the Ninja, his stilted acting style feels of a piece with the rest of the movie around him; in Ninja III: The Domination, he takes a supporting mentor role for which he's well suited. The majority of his other movies seem to swallow him up, which is the case in Black Eagle. I love his sincerity and the fact that he casts his kids is very sweet, but all of them read as totally flat on screen. It's the mistake of not really establishing a screen persona for Kosugi and trying to make him an American-style action star: he lacks the humor of a Jackie Chan and the stoicism or intensity of a Jet Li, meaning we're left with "guy who fights." The '80s had a lot of those guys, and while few of them could fight better than Sho Kosugi, nearly all of them are better on screen.
Though it's been available on Blu-ray for some time in the UK, Black Eagle is making its Region 1 Blu-ray debut as part of MVD's "Rewind Collection," which contains titles as varied as Return of the Killer Tomatoes, The Return of Swamp Thing, and Savannah Smiles. There doesn't seem to be much rhyme or reason to what becomes part of the Rewind Collection, but they're doing a nice job bringing the movies to Blu-ray. In addition to two cuts of the movie -- the 93 minute theatrical cut and an extended cut that runs 104 minutes -- the disc contains a number of really cool featurettes: "Sho Kosugi: Martial Arts Legend" interviews the star and his kids; "Tales of Jean-Claude Van Damme" features people who worked on the movie sharing stories about Van Damme (who is nowhere to be found in the supplements of the disc); "The Script and the Screenwriters" talks to director Karson and the film's writers," and "The Making of Black Eagle" is a really fun retrospective doc that runs about 35 minutes and catches up with most of the major participants. There are also a couple of deleted scenes and the original theatrical trailer, as well as a standard def DVD copy of the movie and a collectible poster contained inside the disc case.
Blu-ray release date: February 27, 2018
2.0 PCM/Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Blu-ray Bonus Features:
Featurette: "The Making of Black Eagle"
Featurette: "Sho Kosugi: Martial Arts Legend"
Featurette: "Tales of Jean-Claude Van Damme"
Featurette: "The Script and the Screenwriters"