Starring: Jet Li, Ching Wan Lau, Karen Mok, Francoise Yip, Kong Lung
Rated R for Strong Violence including Martial Arts Combat, Some Sexual Content and Language
A movie like "Black Mask" is hard to review. Things like plot, character development and acting aren't considered essential by either the filmmakers or the audience. They just exist to support the star attraction of martial arts extravaganzas: action scenes. So since the normal standards one would use to judge this movie don't apply, I must review the action. And on that level, "Black Mask" is a success.
Truth be told, there is a plot, although considering how little is done with it, it's surprising that it's engaging on any level. The government created a group of supersoldiers who are super fast and super strong, and who feel no pain. However, when one of them kills a group of policemen in a fit of rage, the government abandons the project. One of their number, Simon (Li) helps them escape, and goes off to live the civilian life. But when the city's crime lords are being murdered, Simon thinks they're behind it. The police, led by his buddy Rock (Lau), are helpless, so he dons a mask and goes after them himself.
It's not the pinnacle of originality, but it keeps things moving. I was able to accept it for what it was, and for a movie like this, that's all that matters.
To my horror, the film is dubbed, and even on Blu Ray, you can't watch it in its natural language. However, after a few minutes you get used to it and realize that that adds a degree of charm to the film. Like the early Jackie Chan flicks, there's a affectioinate level of silliness that the dubbing adds, particularly because it's so poorly done. The voice acting is flat, and for all I know, was done by only one or two people. It's doubly effective because the dialogue is at times very silly.
There's a reason why Jet Li was at one point considered to be second only to Jackie Chan in terms of martial arts master: he kicks ass like few other people. But in place of action mixed with comedy (or is it the other way around?), Jet Li is all action. Sure, there are times when he is obviously using wires to fly through the air, but he makes it work.
Simon may not be the most interesting individual, but Li has screen presence. Ching Wan Lau is effective as the obligatory best friend who is on his tail (the resolution to this conflict isn't exactly fresh, but it doesn't play dumb for as long as many other movies do). Karen Wok is hilarious as the ditzy love interest, and is responsible for some of the film's funniest scenes. And Kong Lung makes for a perfect villain in this context. "Campy" doesn't really cover it. Long hair, cheesy shades and a cape only begin to describe his character. I'm dead serious.
Great art, it isn't. Even without the dubbing. But as 99 minutes of undemanding testosterone, it gets the job done.