Color, 1992, 96 mins. 10 secs.
Directed by Michael Kennedy
Starring Billy Blanks, Jalal Merhi, James Hong, Priscilla Barnes, Master Pan Qing Fu, Harry Mok, Matthias Hues, Mike Chow
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Fox (DVD) (US R1 NTSC), Legacy Entertainment (Canada R0 NTSC), Boulevard (DVD) (UK R2 PAL)

After scoring a hit with Talons of the Eaglethe straight-to-VHS action series Talons of the Eaglestarter Tiger Claws in 1991, Canadian-based producer and frequent star Jalal Merhi started cranking out more martial arts bonanzas at record speed with a frequent stable of regular actors. Among them was the lively and very athletic Tae Bo creator Billy Blanks, with whom he teamed up in 1992's Talons of the Eagle and immediately afterward in the following year's TC 2000. Shown on a few screens a month before it hit tape from MCA/Universal, this one has remained one of the more readily available films from the cycle over the years since it hits all the action beats you could possibly want. Barely a five-minute interval goes by without someone getting chased, kicked, or shot at, so if you're an action fan, proceed with confidence.

New York cop and ugly tie aficianado Tyler Wilson (Blanks) is an expert at going undercover to bust cocaine dealers, even if it's in the middle of a nightclub complete with a martial arts fight. After a big bust he ends up getting temporarily shipped off to Toronto where narcotics are flooding in through a system set up by the nefarious Mr. Li (Hong), who naturally recruits his men from local dojos. Upon arrival he meets his new partner, Detective Michael Reed (Merhi), with whom he engages in a high-speed chase from the airport after some armed luggage snatchers. To go undercover at a martial arts tournament scouted by Li, Talons of the Eagleboth Talons of the Eaglemen end up being trained by Master Pan (Qing Fu), an expert at the "eagle talon" method (which bears a certain resemblance to tiger claws, of course). Cue the training montage with Pan bouncing on the guys' tummies on the beach, after which they're ready to strut their stuff and enter Li's inner circle. There they encounter Cassandra (Three's Company's Barnes), a fellow undercover agent who may have turned, as well as master fighters including Khan (Hues) and Niko (Mok). Now they have to protect their cover and bust skulls if necessary to take down this international drug ring once and for all.

It's too bad indie action films couldn't find a home the drive-in anymore by this point since Talons of the Eagle (a product of the beloved '90s genre factory Shapiro Glickenhaus) is tailor made for that audience, complete with bickering cop heroes, elaborate fight scenes, an enjoyably over-the-top villain, and goofy plot twists. It's fairly stylish, too, using the familiar Toronto locations well with lots of flashy, colorful lighting and crisp, atmospheric night scenes. On a technical level it does have one Talons of the Eaglenotable issue, a clearly defective camera used early on the results in visible registration issues during certain shots Talons of the Eaglescattered through the film. That flaw wasn't as obvious on the VHS release or the two mediocre DVDs that came out later, but seen in pristine condition thanks to Vinegar Syndrome's gorgeous 4K scan from the original camera negative, it's tough to miss. As usual this VSA Blu-ray edition (limited to 5,000 units complete with a double-sided, fold-out poster) is a great way to appreciate a film that wasn't really available in good quality before and likely won't get any better unless they decide to go the UHD route down the road. The Ultra Stereo mix is nicely replicated here as well with a DTS-HD MA 2.0 English track that most gives the front and rear separation to the pounding electronic score. Optional English SDH subtitles are also provided.

As for extras, Merhi contributes another audio commentary that's pretty sparse (lots of dead space here) but interesting as he chats about the decisions of balancing kung fu with a cop movie, the casting process, working with Blanks for the first time (in his first hero role), working with his own studio space in Toronto, and the Talons of the Eaglechallenges of working as an actor, producer, and fight choreographer at the same time. Much funnier and more energetic is "Blood, Talons of the EagleBlades and Blanks: Sculpting Talons of the Eagle" (27m13s), a new featurette with Blanks, Merhi, Hues, Mok, and Michael Chow fondly recalling their work on the film, their entries into martial arts, the goofiness of having to shoot two love scenes, the glory of the VHS and early DVD eras, and the practical feats and training required for the film. All of them are great company here and full of entertaining stories. Finally the original trailer is also included.

Reviewed on April 8, 2022