"...the viewer gets nauseous, or can't really see what's going on."
- James H.
Black Mask (1996)
Literally: Black Hero
Director: Daniel Lee Yan-Kong
Writer: Tsui Hark, Koan Hui On, Teddy Chan Tak-Sum, Joe Ma Wai-H
Producer: Tsui Hark
Action Director: Yuen Wo-Ping
Cast: Jet Li Lian-Jie, Lau Ching-Wan, Karen Morris (Mok Man-Wai), Francoise Yip Fong-Wah, Patrick Lung Kong, Xiong Xin-Xin (Hung Yan-Yan), Moses Chan Ho, Chung King-Fai, Ken Lok Tat-Wah, Lawrence Ah Mon (Lau Kwok-Cheung), Henry Fong Ping, Sze Mei-Yee, Roy Szeto Wai-Cheuk, Chan Suk-Yee, Michael Lambert, Caponio Nunzio, John J. Whitney, Glenn Peters, Winston G. Ellis, Charles Shen, Anthony Wong Chau-Sang
Running Time: 84/89/90 min.
Plot: Action has a new superhero, Black Mask, in this dazzling and explosive martial arts extravaganza! Following his harrowing escape from a secret, superhuman commando unit known as Squad 701, Black Mask takes on a new identity as a quiet librarian named Tsui Chik. His life of normalcy is shaken when a murderous rampage against all of Hong Kong's drug dealers is linked to Squad 701, forcing him to return as the Black Mask in order to stop their campaign of murder before it's too late!
Availability: This title is available at HKflix.com
NUMSKULL'S REVIEW: Let it be known, dear reader, that this review is for the uncut Taiwanese release of the film, not the more common Hong Kong version or the mutilated atrocity from Artisan Entertainment. The DVD is from the now-defunct Ritek, so the subtitles are "imbedded" and the only language option is a Mandarin dub. Surprisingly, the disc actually worked properly for me and I was able to watch it all at once without mishap. (While they were in business, Ritek never seemed to understand that DVDs are not supposed to freeze up and become unplayable two thirds of the way into the movie.)
So...meet Tsui Chik/Black Mask, Team 701 survivor, librarian extraordinaire by day, crime fighter with generic headgear for anonymity purposes by night. Like all remnants of the elite Team 701, his nervous system has been modified to make him immune to pain. Why is Team 701 referred to in the past tense, you may ask? (Go ahead, ask. I don't mind.) Because, without pain to let them know that their bodies had sustained damage, its members had a distressing tendency to overexert themselves and die trying to accomplish their super secret agent stuff. The project was deemed a failure, and most of its survivors were executed.
The library Tsui Chik works in is frequented...for some strange reason...by Traci, a bitchy, gold-digging floozy whose refusal to involve herself with working class men has created a long string of unhappy relationships. When the other library workers urge her to request the pleasure of Tsui Chik's company, she balks at the idea. Not only is he not rich, he's a spineless little weenie. His cop friend Shek can attest to that; he's always saving Tsui Chik from getting beaten up because he won't strike back in self-defense. Disagreements should be resolved peacefully, he says. Then, he secretly helps Shek in his current assignment (solving the murders of Hong Kong's drug dealers and protecting the last remaining big cheese) by tagging along with the cops who head over to the scene where the would-be assassins are at work and kicking their asses.
When the smoke has cleared, the other cops think that Shek is the Black Mask, and Tsui Chik has a big problem...his life and the lives of those around him are now in danger because of an encounter with former Team 701 comrade Yeuk-lan, working for the opposition. He quits the library but still ends up being responsible for Traci's safety, so after a scene in which he inexplicably phases through the floor of a vehicle getting perforated by gun-toting bad guys, he hides her unconscious body in a pile of trash...how appropriate. Later, he brings her to his hideout, and when he calls her on the phone using his regular Tsui Chik voice, she doesn't wonder how he got the phone number despite the fact that she has no idea that he and Black Mask are the same man.
Anyway...eventually, Traci decides that Black mask would be a good man to settle down with and leech money from, and both she and Shek learn his real identity. After another hostile run-in with him, Seuk-lin spares his life, remembering happier times, and is executed by her superior for it. Finally, Black Mask has his climactic showdown with the rebel Team 701 remnant commander, an Ozzy Osbourne look-alike (forgive me, but for a time the silly bastard's face was everywhere) with a few tricks up his sleeve.
I liked this more than I thought I would. The fighting, while not copious in quantity, is pretty good, and the plot is definitely not as flimsy as certain others in Jet Li's filmography. Anthony Wong is very enjoyable as the drug dealer whose reaction to garbage-bagged family members is almost no reaction at all, and even Traci wasn't TOO annoying after a while. Perhaps I'm getting soft in my old age.
NUMSKULL'S RATING: 6/10
YATE'S REVIEW: Not great, but very cool. The set designs of the film and Jet Li's Kato look really look great. Karen Mok is annoying, but whaddaya expect, she's Karen Mok. Alright action scenes, not great, but flashy. Lau Ching Wan is always cool. Goes good with the Heroic Trio films. Anthony Wong is also really cool in a small cameo as a drug lord. He really should have had a bigger part. Overall I enjoyed this film a lot and it is certainly better than the lot of Jet's recent movies.
YATE'S RATING: 8/10
PERKELE'S REVIEW: Yet another lackluster production that fights hard for the nomination of being Jet Li's worst Hong Kong film. But for it's own advantage, "Black Mask" doesn't quite succeed beating it's tough competitors [i.e. "Last Heron in China" & "Kung Fu Curd Masseur"]. In fact, it's the best HK science fiction movie I remember I've seen lately. Then again, it's the only one. Now before I start to smash this film down, let me point out that this is a review of the U.S. version [though I don't think that the original HK version would be much better].
So this US print sucks real bad. The sound effects are poor and the dubbing is at the level of the German version of "The Bold and the Beautiful". Also, that dude who invented that linking kung fu and rap music together would be a great idea should be tortured in most gruesome ways. Yeah, I like rap music to certain point [there are a few tight beats in "Black Mask"] but the whole goddamn score consists only of rap and it's getting really irritating! But you don't watch HK flicks for the music, now do you? It's the action that counts, but I'm sad to reveal that the action in "Black Mask" sucks as bad as everything else. There's one half-way decent bout between Jet and one western fighter at the end of the movie but otherwise, there's minimum martial arts! The final "big" fight between Jet and the clown-looking madman (who obviously isn't a real-life martial artist) [Black Mask vs. Gas Mask, hehe] is boring and too long [though sped up]. Shoot-outs are stupid as well and even the over-the-edge gory violence doesn't save this from being a complete waste of time.
PERKELE'S RATING: 2/10
S!DM'S REVIEW: Profanity laden and hyper-violent, this Jet Li actioner features excellent action scenes, many of them capped off with Hollywood style explosions, definitely Jet's most American style film. Good direction is muddled by a confusing script, though, and the violence at times can be repulsive. Stick around for the finale, where Jet battles Mike Lambert in an all out kickfest not to be missed. As always, Lau Ching Wan is great, but the rest of the supporting characters are weak. On a side note, the man who frees himself from the handcuffs at the beginning of the film, Russ Price, has an exclusive interview on my StuntFighters website. Shameless plug, I know, but I just had to!
S!DM'S RATING: 8/10
JAMES H'S REVIEW: "Black Mask" is an interesting film. Sure, the premise has been done time and time again, but the plot doesn't really matter here. Jet Li stars as a guy who has been trained to kill. He has even had an operation so he cannot feel any pain. Not to forget, he is also part of some elite killing squad. Something has gone awry and carnage ensues. Jet escapes and thinks he is the only one who has survived. Flash-forward a couple years and now Jet is working as a librarian and leading a normal life. One of his friends is a cop nick-named "The Rock". Suddenly, all of Hong Kong's drug lords are being killed off by the 701 Squad, Jet's old buddies. So, he does what any man in this situation would do. He dresses up as a masked superhero and takes the bad guys on himself.
The biggest problem with "Black Mask" is that it does not sustain the same mood throughout; it cannot make up its mind on what kind of movie it wants to be. It becomes a walking contradiction. Some scenes feature gory violence, others have campy special effects and even some comedic scenes. The comedic scenes are the ones that hurt it the most. They don't belong here at all. And to top it off, they're just not funny.
The action scenes are generally well done. The choreography is great, but the direction is lacking. Lee depends too much on shaky, "NYPD Blue" camera movement. Which means the viewer gets nauseous, or can't really see what's going on. There are some saving graces. The first fight when Jet is the Black Mask is really cool, as is the final one.
Jet Li puts on a good performance. He has a good screen presence, but it's just not as commanding as Chow Yun-Fat. The supporting cast is really good too, with the exception of Karen Mok. Mok is just an annoyance here, kind of like the two women in "Who Am I?".
"Black Mask" is interesting in that it looks good. I liked Jet's character, the trench-coat and hat looked really cool. It's colourful and fun, but still a little too violent (there are 4 severed hands in the film). It would have been just fine as a moderately violent superhero movie.
JAMES H'S RATING: 5/10