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The Gratuitous B-Movie Column: Black Eagle

January 2, 2019 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
Black Eagle

The Gratuitous B-Movie Column Issue #491: Black Eagle

Ninja New Year!

Hello, everyone, and welcome once again to the internets movie review column that has zero interest in going deep sea diving, The Gratuitous B-Movie Column, and I am your host Bryan Kristopowitz. In this issue, issue number four hundred and ninety-one, I celebrate Ninja New Year with a look at the somewhat bizarre action flick starring the ninja hisself, Sho Kosugi, Black Eagle, which hit movie screens back in May of 1988.

Now, there are two versions of Black Eagle out there, a 93 minute version, which is known as the theatrical cut, and a 104 minute director’s cut. I am reviewing the 104 minute director’s cut. I do remember seeing the 93 minute version many years ago but, for the life of me, I couldn’t tell you what’s specifically different between the two cuts of the movie. I just don’t remember it. I can’t imagine it being “better,” though.

Black Eagle

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Black Eagle, directed by Eric Karson, is a shockingly low key, low stakes action flick. Despite having two real deal martial artists in starring roles and the promise of a major fight between them, not to mention the prospect of war between the two major superpowers (the United States and the Soviet Union), the plot never seems to rise above a minor international incident. Black Eagle is also more of a spy movie than an out and out action movie. That’s a strange strategy for a movie with Sho Kosugi, the ninja, and Jean-Claude Van Damme in it.

Kosugi stars as Ken Tani, a badass American agent pressed into service during his vacation to retrieve a super-secret laser guidance system that was part of a fighter jet that crashed into the sea near Malta. Now, as part of his agreement to work for the government Tani gets two weeks of vacation where he can’t be asked to do an assignment because he’s with his two sons, Brian and Denny, played by Kosugi’s actual sons Kane and Shane. Because the laser guidance system thing is so damn important, the government insists that Tani do the job during his vacation, and to make sure he goes through with it Tani’s CIA handler Dean Rickert (William Bassett) brings Tani’s kids to Malta and places them under the care of badass female agent Patricia Parker (Doran Clark). As you’d expect, Tani is not happy with this arrangement at all as it completely violates his working agreement. Plus, having his two sons anywhere near where he’s working is potentially dangerous, and Tani doesn’t want his sons anywhere near danger. Despite being royally pissed off about all of this, Tani agrees to the mission and heads for Malta, where he meets up with his sons, Patricia, and local American asset Father Joseph Bedelia (Bruce French), an American agent that “retired” from the game and became a Catholic priest.

While all of that is going on, the Soviets are in Malta, too, also looking for the crashed plane and the super-secret laser guidance system. Under the watchful eye of the shifty Colonel Vladimir Kilmenko (Vladimir Skomarovsky) and his main henchman Andrei (Van Damme), the Soviets ride around the Mediterranean in a series of boats “fishing” and whatnot. The local government knows that both the Americans and Soviets are operating in Malta for some reason, but the government doesn’t know why their presences seem to be ramped up at the moment.

So Tani starts looking for the crashed plane and the guidance system. Tani, whose cover is that of a world renowned marine biologist, goes deep sea diving (without the help of an oxygen tank, just to show you how badass he really is). The Soviets get wind of Tani’s deep sea excursion and try to stop him. When Tani and the Soviets meet, they don’t exactly clash/fight, but they do sort of acknowledge each other’s existence. They both know they’re in the area and looking for something. Who will get the guidance system first, though?

The story moves along at a somewhat lackadaisical pace. Tani takes his kids sightseeing, checking out local museums and shit, and then has to step away to chase and kill some Soviet agents. Tani also argues every so often with Patricia (he doesn’t like the idea of leaving his kids with a woman he doesn’t know) and with the priest (how the hell did he become a priest? And why? And if he left the agency why the hell is he working for it again now?). And while all of that is going on, when Andrei isn’t trying to figure out who Tani is via the pictures he takes of him, he orders around the henchmen directly underneath him, looks dapper walking around in a suit when no one else is, and tries to get with Natasha (Dorota Puzio), a female Soviet agent who seems to be upset with her lot in life. Or something. I’m confused about what it is she’s upset about.

So some stuff happens, a bunch of people get killed, there’s a pretty nifty car chase through the narrow streets of Malta, and Tani’s kids go to the beach and find out what it is their father does. Tani also explains what the hell “Black Eagle” means (it’s Tani’s CIA codename and it’s also an old Japanese folklore thing). Tani’s kids eventually get kidnapped, which pisses him off even more than before, and suddenly the mission is about way more than some secret laser guidance system. Tani wants to kick ass and take names.

And, yes, Tani kicks major ass.

The movie ends as you expect it to, with Tani taking on the Soviets all by himself (well, to a degree) and having a one-on-one fight with Andrei. In fact, Tani and Andrei have three encounters in the course of the movie. The first encounter lasts about five seconds and is more of a “they meet one another so the movie can establish that, yes, they’re going to have a huge fight at some point” kind of thing than anything else. Their second encounter, which is their best encounter, has Tani and Andrei trading blows, blocking blows, and ends with each one of them bleeding a little bit. Seeing both Tani and Andrei bleed may be the coolest moment in the movie. Their final encounter, the most dramatic of the three, starts out well and then just peters out for no reason. It’s also weird how the fight is set up (the priest shows up and deliberately creates a ring of fire for Tani and Andrei to fight in. Is it cool and cool looking? Yes? But it’s also ridiculous).

The other action in the movie is okay. Again, there’s a great car chase through the narrow streets of Malta, and the foot chase that Tani initiates so he can kill three Soviet agents following him is generally well done. The rest of the action is underwhelming. The non-Van Damme fights are also kind of lame. Kosugi looks good, as always, kicking ass, but his fights could have been (and should have been) longer and more elaborate. The fights might be “more realistic,” but they’re just not entertaining.

The movie also could have used more in the way of tension surrounding the Americans and Soviets looking for the laser guidance system. Finding it is supposed to be a big deal. Some of the characters say that finding it is a big deal. And, yet, there’s no real, natural sense that finding it is a big deal. In fact, around halfway, I forgot what it was the Americans and the Soviets were looking for. And then there’s the whole “local politics of Malta” thing. Why isn’t Malta’s government pissed off that the two super powers are in town and looking to start shit? Sure, it’s not like Malta could do anything about keeping the Americans and Soviets out, but you’d think the president of Malta or the chief of the national police would be more upset.

The main cast is great. As usual, Sho Kosugi rocks hard as the Black Eagle, Ken Tani. He’s a top notch agent and the most badass guy in the world, a trained killer you don’t want to mess with, but he’s also a family man that would rather spend time with his kids than kill more bad guys. Tani is also not afraid of being a nerd, which shows you just how truly badass he is. His deep sea diving without an oxygen tank is fucking awesome and insane. The only disturbing aspect of Kosugi’s character is his willingness to wear a speedo. Yes, wearing one helps him blend in with the local population (every European dude in this movie is wearing a speedo at the beach) but, for the love of God, do we really need to know just how gigantic Kosugi’s wang is? I don’t think so. At least he only wears that thing once.

Jean-Claude Van Damme does a decent job as Andrei, the main Soviet henchman. Andrei is mysterious throughout the movie. The only things we know about him is he can do a mean fucking split (Van Damme does a bit where he throws knives at a target while doing a killer split, and he does it while fighting Kosugi), likes to wear a suit, and has a thing for Natasha. Why does he have eyes for her? Why does he want to have a relationship with her? We never find out. It’s just something that happens. Andrei is Van Damme’s second villain role after his performance in No Retreat, No Surrender, and he knows how to do the “somewhat arrogant bad guy sneer” thing like a pro. Black Eagle came out right after his big hooha starring role in the classic Bloodsport and I remember it being kind of a big deal on pay-per-view because of it. I wonder how many people got annoyed with the movie because Van Damme wasn’t the hero.

Doran Clark is outstanding as Patricia Parker, the badass female CIA agent charged with helping Tani complete his mission. She does her best to keep Tani’s kids happy and occupied and only really gets upset when Tani starts giving her shit. Her scene with Tani in the casino is filled with all sorts of tension it’s amazing that they didn’t kill one another in the hotel hallway. Clark also gets to do a little action, which she’s fairly adept at. I was surprised the movie didn’t have Parker and Tani falling in love at the end of the movie.

Bruce French is amazing as the priest, Father Joseph Bedalla. French was a prolific TV actor back in the day and, before Black Eagle, he wasn’t known for being an action star or an actor in action movies. And after Black Eagle, French really didn’t try to do more. I have no idea why. He should have, though. He keeps up with Kosugi, not an easy job, and looks credible shooting a gun and being a badass. Fascinating.

William Bassett is a true piece of shit as Dean Rickert, the CIA handler that gives Tani the mission he doesn’t want to do. Rickert knows about Tani’s working agreement and yet doesn’t give a shit. He wants Tani to do the job because Tani is the best, and that’s what’s going to happen. It’s too bad Tani didn’t break his goddamn neck. Rickert would have deserved it.

Kosugi’s kids, Kane and Shane, do their usual bang up job as Tani’s kids Brian and Denny. Brian actually has some nice scenes being both a kid trying to come to terms with the scary job his father does and a kid who can kick ass, too, because he knows martial arts just like his father. Pay very close attention to the back flip scene. Incredibly important.

Black Eagle is a weird action movie. Despite a killer cast including two action stars, it tries to be a spy movie and doesn’t really succeed at it. The movie is still worth checking out, though. Sho Kosugi, the ninja hisself, is in it, doing his usual great job, and he’s fighting a young Jean-Claude Van Damme. That makes Black Eagle worth tracking down and checking out. I wish it was better than it is, but, again, it’s still worth checking out.

See Black Eagle. See it, see it, see it.

So what do we have here?

Dead bodies: 23

Explosions: Several, both big and small.

Nudity?: Almost.

Doobage: A plane lands, military plane radio chatter on the soundtrack, capture, multiple punches to the face, neck breaking, multiple grenade attacks, soldier killing, a helicopter ride. Underwater neck breaking (I assume), parachute hooey, multiple museum tours, a microscope with secret info in it, deep sea diving sans an oxygen tank, a downed jet in the water, picture taking, multiple uses of the metric system, a beach trip, an impromptu back flip session, a foot chase, forced bullet to the gut, tricking a guy to fall off a cliff to his death, multiple instances of video surveillance, a quick trip to the casino, serious door kicking with glass smashing, a quick street fight, really poor shooting, a car makeout session, a big Soviet meeting, hang glider hooey, rocket dismantling, gut punch, gut kick, exploding boat, a pretty good car chase on the narrow streets of Malta, a nice flip, impromptu youth street thugs, a hat ruse, more neck snapping, face slapping, rifle butt to the face, metal pipe to the back of the head, a cold blooded gun death, repelling down a wall hooey, grappling hook hooey, a random knife fight, split hooey, a weakened spine, dueling chokes, blood, dead body removal, a great bit where Sho Kosugi disappears behind a truck, a ceremony, crossbow hooey, more grenade attacks, a ring of fire, chain hooey, bullet to the leg, a guy gets sucked into a boat’s engine (I assume), exploding boat, and a poignant ending.

Kim Richards?: Almost and implied.

Gratuitous: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Jean-Claude Van Damme getting off a plane while wearing a suit, a framed picture of Lenin on the wall, people openly using the metric system, wine or coffee, Sho Kosugi, Sho operating undercover in the Middle East, a loud street parade, Sho Kosugi using a parachute, Jean-Claude Van Damme doing a split and throwing knives at a wall for some reason, Sho Kosugi wearing a speedo, a glass Coca-Cola bottle, beach soccer, Sho Kosugi explaining what the hell “Black Eagle” means, Kane and Shane Kosugi, a TV news report on the two guys Sho Kosugi just killed, Sho Kosugi kicking a fucking glass door in, Sho Kosugi using a hang glider, a Catholic ceremony, Sho Kosugi using a video camera, an old man drinking tea in the foreground while cars race by in the background, Sho Kosugi and Jean-Claude Van Damme using a grappling hook, crossbow hooey, Rome, Italy, and a poignant ending.

Best lines: “I’m gonna love Malta this time of year,” “Dean, make it happen now!,” “Do you enjoy wasting your time?,” “Are you in pain? Kiss my ass!,” “You want a raise? You’re talking to the wrong guy,” “I’ve heard that Japanese pearl divers who lower their heart rates so they can stay underwater. Tell me about it some time,” “Do you like this job?,” “Terpidity?,” “Get me a hang glider,” “What happened to the gymnastics and karate lessons?,” “Aww, that sounds like science fiction. It sounds like faith,” “Mathematics, here I come!,” “You can’t hide a gun in that outfit!,” “You must have me confused with someone else, Colonel,” “What do you know? We came up a winner,” “I can’t take it anymore. I’m scared. Relax. Don’t panic,” “Dad, is someone trying to hurt you?,” “There’s a lot I can’t tell you,” “You father knows how to take care of himself, Brian,” “Dean, tell your man to put his gun away. Just because I’m a man of faith doesn’t mean I won’t punch his fucking lights out,” “I’ll take a look at the navigation circuitry.”

Rating: 7.5/10.0

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Things to Watch Out For This Week

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Johnny Gruesome: Finally, the best movie of 2018 hits DVD via the fine folks at Uncork’d Entertainment. Written and directed by Gregory Lamberson (and based on his novel of the same name), Johnny Gruesome is a terrific zombie revenge/horror comedy that will, hopefully, be the first of many Johnny Gruesome adventures because the character has “franchise” written all over it. The DVD has a commentary track on it plus three behind-the-scenes featurettes. Check out my full review of the movie here, and then pick yourself up a copy (and a copy for a friend or loved one who likes horror flicks). See Johnny Gruesome, because Johnny Gruesome is awesome!

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Malevolence 3: Killer: I actually got to see the first Malevolence in a movie theatre and, for the most part, I thought it was pretty good. It wasn’t a modern classic or anything but it was entertaining. The second one, Bereavement, came out in 2010. I missed that one but read some good reviews for it and have been meaning to see it for years. Well, now there’s a part 3 out to “complete the trilogy,” and it’s something I definitely want to see. Adrienne Barbeau is in it, and, heck, it’s the next entry in a low budget horror franchise, something we don’t have enough of in the world. So I’ll have to track down Bereavement before I see part 3 but, man, make sure to check out this flick, too. Anyone out there see Bereavement?

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The Dawnseeker: This mega low budget sci-fi action flick, also from the fine folks at Uncork’d Entertainment, looks amazing. A movie about mercenaries going to a far off planet to retrieve a precious mineral only to be attacked by a killer alien robot thing. Why wouldn’t I want to see that movie? And check out the post-apocalyptic set design in that one brief section of the trailer. A definite must see (or, at least, a must rent).

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The 1970’s TV thriller Kolchak: The Night Stalker is first up! Check out what I think about the show with the links below!

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… and coming soon: Street Hawk!

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What’s coming to The Gratuitous B-Movie Column in 2019?

2018 was a banner year for The Gratuitous B-Movie Column, at least it felt like it. I reviewed plenty of classic B-movies, like the Death Wish franchise starring Charles Bronson, I did a month of movies featuring cyborgs (Cyborg September, which will be coming back in 2019), and the recently completed Van Damme December was a big success. So what will you see in 2019 in this column?

Well, obviously, more of the same, in general. This column will continue to celebrate the B-movie world and all of its various genres (action, horror, sci-fi, and the hybrids of those genres). The column will feature a mix of older movies and newer ones, although I’m not entirely sure of the ratio of “old” to “new.” I will also strive for more of a balance between action movies and horror movies. It won’t Look like I’m doing that the first few months, but, as the year progresses, the mix of movies should balance out. That’s my hope, anyway.

And, come early March, this column will hit 500 issues. 500 issues? That seems insane. I started this column back in 2008 with reviews of a Michael Madsen movie called Afghan Knights that was terrible and a fairly decent low budget Stephen Baldwin movie called Greenmail. Those reviews, as I understand it, no longer exist. I still have them on a floppy disk somewhere (at least I think I do). I’m thinking about including them in the eventual issue #500, along with my review of the very first Walking Tall movie. We’ll have to see how that all works out.

I have planned out the first four months of the column for 2019. Three of those months will be “themed.”

January

January will see reviews of The Last Sharknado: It’s About Time, the action flicks I Am Vengeance starring Stu “Bad News Barrett” Bennett and Gary Daniels and Outlawed starring Adam Collins, and the insane low budget Italian sci-fi horror flick Shocking Dark.

February
February will be the first themed month of the year and will feature iconic B-movie stars, one female, one male. Those stars? Debbie Rochon and Reb Brown. I’m going to call the month “Debuary Rebuary” and will review two movies from each star. I know the two Reb Brown movies I’ll be checking out, Yor, the Hunter from the Future and Strike Commando. I’m still trying to figure out the Debbie Rochon movies.

March

March will be devoted to the Walking Tall franchise, with the original Walking Tall starring Joe Don Baker, Walking Tall: Part II and Final Chapter: Walking Tall starring Bo Svenson, and the Walking Tall remake starring The Rock. I know that there are other Walking Tall movies out there (Kevin Sorbo made a few of them, Cynthia Rothrock did one), and I do plan on getting to them at some point in the future (maybe 2020?). So, you know, be on the lookout for that.

April

And April will be devoted to the Billy Jack franchise starring the great Tom Laughlin as the badass “half-breed” American Navajo Indian, Green Beret Vietnam vet, and hapkido master Billy Jack in The Born Losers, Billy Jack, The Trial of Billy Jack, and Billy Jack Goes to Washington.

After April?

For the most part, I’m not sure. I know that I’ll do a Chuck Norris movie for the first week of July (Forced Vengeance will likely get the nod). As I said earlier, Cyborg September will return with four more cyborg centric movies (I’m thinking about doing something with Robocop 3 but that isn’t set in stone yet). October will be devoted to horror movies, as usual. And December will be all about movies starring action star Michael Dudikoff (Dudikoff December!).

So that’s what you have to look forward to for 2019. I also plan on doing more regular reviews throughout the year, along with more editions of Cult TV. Street Hawk is up next on that front. I would also like to look at the Wes Craven produced horror show Midnight Café, Tremors: The Series, and The Master starring Lee Van Cleef and Sho Kosugi. We’ll see how it all plays out.

Thanks for continuing to read the column every week. What do you think of the upcoming review schedule?

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Check out my Widow’s Point set visit report!

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Read it here!

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Who is the Douchebag of the Week? Go here and find out!

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Next Issue: The Last Sharknado: It’s About Time!

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Well, I think that’ll be about it for now. Don’t forget to sign up with disqus if you want to comment on this article and any other 411 article. You know you want to, so just go do it.

B-movies rule. Always remember that.

Black Eagle

Sho Kosugi– Ken Tani
Jean-Claude Van Damme– Andrei
Doran Clark– Patricia Parker
Bruce French– Father Joseph Bedelia
Vladimir Skomarovsky– Colonel Vladimir Klimenko
William Bassett– Dean Rickert
Kane Kosugi– Brian Tani
Shane Kosugi– Denny Tani
Dorota Puzio– Natasha

Directed by Eric Karson
Screenplay by A.E. Peters and Michael Gonzales, based on a story by Shimon Arama

Distributed by Taurus Entertainment Company. Imperial Entertainment Corporation, Image Entertainment, Sterling Home Entertainment, Best Film & Video Corp, Trinity Home Entertainment, Moonstone Entertainment, and MVD Distribution.

Rated R for violence and language
Runtime– 104 minutes

Buy it here or here


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