Kim Dong-weon’s high-flyin’ and very slick Korean blockbuster “Black Eagle” (aka “R2B: Return to Base”, before it adopted “Soar Into the Sun” briefly, and is now “Black Eagle” for International consumption) is parts wacky comedy and parts “Top Gun”. The film follows a fellow name Tae-hoon (“Ninja Assasin’s” Rain), a hotshot Air Force pilot who does hotshot stuff like perform illegal aerial stunts, buzz the tower (that old thing), and look totally awesome in black aviator shades. And of course, he cruises around on a motorcycle, though he must have sold that motorcycle because once we get the gratuitous shot of Tae-hoon riding around on it early in the film, we never see the bike again. Gee, I hope he didn’t crash it or anything, cause that was one sweet looking bike.
Being the renegade pilot he is, there is of course friction between the, ahem, “maverick” Tae-hoon and his own version of Ice Man, the more by-the-book Major Lee (Yoo Joon-sang). Though you might be forgiven for not paying too much attention to this rather perfunctory side plot, since the film shows such a lack of commitment to it that you have to wonder why they even bothered bringing it up in the first place. While we learn just why Major Lee is such a stickler for the rules (he had his own Goose, let’s just say), the film barely addresses it and gives the film a “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” mentality. It’s nothing you couldn’t just ignore, even if it does end up in a fistfight in the locker room (with both guys half-clothed, natch).
Anyways, as I was saying. “Black Eagle” is parts wacky comedy, complete with an eclectic cast of doofuses — at least, for its first hour. Eventually, those wacky North Koreans start causing trouble and send a Rad Baron-type across the DMZ to cause a little havoc. In the film’s best and signature aerial action sequence, Tae-hoon and longtime buddy Dae-seo (Kim Sung-soo) pursue the commie bandit with disastrous results. Whole city blocks are shot up and skyscraper windows blown to smithereens. You wouldn’t think such mayhem could be wreaked by a single North Korean fighter jet, but you’d be wrong.
This little event at the film’s midway point leads to all-out war between Tae-hoon’s squad and some North Korean military type determined to launch a missile that could potentially start war with not just the South, but also with the United States. That North Korean fiend and his ominously red-tinted underground bunker! It’s all very generic and exists solely to give Tae-hoon something to do other than lust after laconic Air Force mechanic Se-yeong (Sin Se-kyeong), of course. Can’t say as I blame Tae-hoon for his infatuation, as Se-yeong is pretty darn cute. She has a whole backstory about how she wanted to be a pilot, too, but let’s face it, she’s just darn cute, especially when drunk.
There’s nothing in “Black Eagle” that you haven’t seen before (comparisons to “Top Gun” are warranted, but not entirely accurate aside from some “borrowed” tropes that could be viewed as more of an acknowledgement of that movie’s existence rather than straight-up copying), though it’s a lot funnier than I had expected. As I said, the first hour is really one big silly romantic comedy, and the film probably includes about a half dozen too many characters (even for a film that clocks in at almost 2 hours). There’s also a bumbling junior pilot and a member of a search and rescue team on base that gets a cursory side plot, though you’d be hardpressed to remember the SAR guy’s name, even though both figure prominently into the film’s Third Act.
While Tae-hoon’s pursuit of Se-yeong is by-the-numbers, there’s actually a surprisingly complicated romance between two other pilots going on in the background that you’ll wish the film had spent more time on. For an expensive big-budget blockbuster-type film with almost unlimited resources, “Black Eagle” only has one truly exhilarating aerial stunt in the entire film that you’ll remember much later (this would be the city dogfight). And although the final 20 minutes of the film is all action, it feels too rushed and rather blah. Also, not giving Tae-hoon the chance to take out the Red Baron at the end? That was pretty dumb. Never, ever deny your hero the chance to take out the main antagonist. I thought every screenwriter in the world knew that.
Kim Dong-won (director) / Sang-hoon Ahn, Dong-won Kim (screenplay)
CAST: Rain … Captain Jeong Tae-hoon
Sin Se-kyeong … Sergeant Yoo Se-yeong
Yoo Joon-sang … Major Lee Cheol-hee
Kim Sung-soo … Major Park Dae-seo
Lee Ha-na … Captain Oh Yoo-jin
Lee Jong-suk … First Lieutenant Ji Seok-hyeon