Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Jet Li, Karen Mok, Lau Ching Wan, Francoise Yip
Director: Danny Lee
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Widescreen 1.85:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Features: See Review
Length: 102 Minutes
Release Date: November 30, 1999
Black Mask is as fast and
furious as they come. If you want action,
action, and more action, youve come to right place.
Theres probably more action in the first 30 minutes of this film than many
other movies in the genre have in their entire running length. And each sequence is explosive and powerful enough
to be any other pictures climactic sequence. By
the time this movie reaches its climax, you have a feeling youre in for
something spectacular. And youd be
This is an action film that mixes comic book superhero mentality with
almost non stop, gruesome violence. Its
kind of like The Phantom meets Quentin
Tarantino. It stars Asian martial arts legend
Jet Li as Michael, a member of an experimental group of trained warriors known as Squad
701. These are men and women who have been
physically altered via a serum to the cerebral cortex.
They possess incredible strength, speed, stamina and durability. They feel virtually no pain or fear. But when they grow out of control, the government
decides to end the experiment and destroy them. Michael
escapes (in the opening credits sequence, which is as exhilarating as anything Ive
seen in action), and later assumes a new identity as Simon, a quiet, peaceful librarian. He has no idea if any of his old cohorts survived
As he learns from his cop friend, Rock (Wan), a strange war has
erupted in Hong Kong between the drug lords. They
seem to be killing each other off in rather brutal ways.
But when a kingpin is found with a digital time bomb sewed into his chest cavity,
Simon recognizes the work of his old mates. Its
a particularly grisly sequence, by the way, whereby the doctors supposedly cant tell
the wires from the arteries as they try to remove the bomb.
Knowing the 701 is seeking revenge against the government that
created, then tried to destroy them, Simon must return to the violent past he put behind
him. He dons the black mask, and as a one man
death machine, goes after his one time friends who are now out to see him dead.
Most American audiences got their first glimpse of Jet Li as the
villain in Lethal Weapon 4. In Hong Kong, hes a major star, and for
good reason. He may be the fastest human
being alive. To watch him fight, climb, jump,
and fly, is as much poetry in motion as Fred Astaires dancing. He is an absolute action marvel, and a vibrant
As mentioned, the film is almost all action. It rarely slows for any kind of exposition, and
when it does, those moments are satisfying
particularly the relationship between
Simon and Rock. Rock is a hard nosed, edgy
detective whos seen a little too much in his day and is always ready, almost eager
even, to use his fists. Simon is the quiet
peaceful type, and the irony that Rocks soft spoken friend is the deadly Black Mask
is a nice touch in their chemistry.
The film boasts an occasional laugh, but without the constant
wisecracking of most American action films. My
favorite is when Rock cuffs one of the 701 members to a rail. Feeling no pain, the crazed assassin pulls out a
big knife, and whacks off his own hand to free it from the cuff. Rock stares at him blankly and remarks, I have a key.
Or the humorous play between Simon and Tracy (Mok), a fellow librarian who stumbles
blindly into the mayhem. Thankfully, the film
doesnt indulge itself in a real romantic angle as other such movies would do. Nothing throws the action off track.
And the climax
well, youve never seen the like. A long, brutal, bloody battle between Simon and
his former commander in the underground hideout of the 701.
One particular segment involves the use of live electrical cables as weapons. Given their genetically altered nature, you know
neither man will go down easily.
But I cant stress enough
Black Mask is a lot more gruesome than most Asian
martial arts pictures. The violence is harsh,
and theres a lot of blood, guts, severed limbs and more. Not even John Woos signature style of
picture comes close to the sheer, unabashed and audacious violence this film has to offer. This is not like a Jackie Chan movie, in other
If that prospect doesnt bother you, and you love good action,
then this is one of the most explosive, over the top, and jaw dropping spectacles that
will cross your screen. You can do better
story wise, but not much better for pure, adrenaline pumping energy.
This is a quality anamorphic offering from Artisan of their best, in fact, in terms of transfer. This is possibly the best looking Asian film Ive seen on disc. Images are sharp, and colors are natural, well defined, and contained, with excellent detail throughout. I noticed no grain, nicks, or scratches, which doesnt happen a lot with often poorly preserved Asian pictures although this particular one is only three years old.
The 5.1 soundtrack is dynamic and explosive! One of the best
moments is the aforementioned battle with electrical wires, as the sparking cables explode
and sizzle against everything they came in contact with.
The sounds race from channel to channel in all directions smoothly and with plenty of
sharpness. The .1 channel also delivers nicely during some of the intense action
scenes. This is also easily the best dubbing job Ive ever seen for an
never distracting, and often so perfectly matched that you completely
forget about it. Though as usual, I could
have done without the Americanized touches of rap and rock music in the soundtrack.
The disc contains a trailer and numerous TV spots, cast and crew
info, a music video, production notes,
information on Lis fighting style, and an uninspired trivia game.
Jet Li looks to take his place amongst other popular Asian stars who have made names for themselves in the United States, like Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan, Chow Yun Fat and Michelle Yeoh. With an explosive physical style and a great screen presence, theres reason to look forward to much more from him. In the meantime, action fans shouldnt pass up the chance to see him at his best, in this fast, furious, relentless thrill spectacle now featured on a quality DVD.