Two of martial arts’ filmdom’s biggest names are pitted against one another in this Cold War spy thriller with two superpowers in a race against time. A cinematic cocktail that should send actions fans all a flutter.
Sho Kosugi is Ken Tani a CIA agent struggling to balance family life with his role as a clandestine CIA operative on a deadly mission. Determined to stop Tani at any cost is KGB agent Andrei played by Jean-Claude Van Damme, whose focus on the mission becomes somewhat distracted by fellow agent Natasha (Doroto Puzio).
Aiding Tani in his covert mission are William Bassett as supervisor Dean Rickert, Doran Clark as agent Patricia Parker and Bruce French as Father Joseph Bedelia, a former operative drafted out of retirement.
Many of Sho Kosugi’s films have featured his sons and “Black Eagle” is no exception. Kane and Shane Kosugi make an appearance as Tani’s sons Brian and Denny.
When a US F-11 jet carrying a prototype laser tracking device crashes into the Mediterranean off the coast of Malta the CIA call on their best agent Ken Tani (aka Black Eagle) to retrieve the device. The KGB send in their team led by Colonel Vladimir Klimenko (Vladimir Skomorovsky) and behemoth agent Andrei to snatch the device before their US counterparts do.
Some have claimed this film to be the weakest of the two performers’ body of work. This is somewhat disingenuous especially for Van Damme since at the time, this was only his third film and therefore was still learning the trade of a genre that remains in a constant state of change. “Black Eagle” works in many ways with director Eric Karson (“The Octagon”) making good use of the Maltese location with medieval buildings and ruins, providing the perfect backdrops for chases, and an exchange of explosions, gunfire, as well as a standoff or two.
Kosugi as Ken Tani is the perfect spy, unassuming and ordinary yet formidable in action. As always Kosugi has plenty of demonstrable skill and there is sufficient on show for the purposes of the story. Although not cast as a ninja (which he is usually famous for) the script lends an appreciable air of mysticism around Tani’s character usually associated with them such as deep sea diving without an oxygen tank. As his nemesis KGB agent Andrei, Van Damme fares well returning to his ‘Ivan the Russian’ persona fresh from his “No Retreat No Surrender” outing – only this time deadlier and more thoughtful. All the trademark moves are present from those extraordinary helicopter kicks to those iconically eye-watering splits.
When Kosugi and Van Damme meet, there is an exciting feel for their presence on screen and the two face off in some highly watchable fight scenes. The two contrasting styles, Van Damme’s flexible and athletic Kickboxing looks impressive against Kosugi’s more grounded Shindo Jinen Ryu Karate. Both are fast and all the contact looks authentic enough with an added “David and Goliath” feel to the final showdown.
Auxiliary characters Patricia Parker and Father Joseph convey more than just support but prove integral to Tani’s mission and each with a surprisingly deadly trait. When Sho Kosugi’s sons make an appearance, Kane is granted his own fight scene and as the onscreen older brother is not only giving his father a hard time but doles out some hefty punishment on some street bullies -we get a glimpse of the grown up action star in little Kane.
“Black Eagle” would have benefitted from a bigger budget and longer running time to include more elaborate action. It has some classic hallmarks of a Bond film and some interesting character insights such as Tani’s increasing estrangement from his children and Andrei’s romantic distraction affecting his priorities, could have been explored further. That said however, this is an entertaining film worth watching just to see Kosugi and Van Damme on the screen together.
- Eric Karson goes on to direct another European kickboxing champion, namely Olivier Gruner in “Angel Town.”