Black Mask 1996
Still trying to get back into the swing of things with this DVD that I’ve had on loan from the library for almost a full month before actually getting around to popping it in the DVD player and watching it. It’s one of those films that I had known of for quite some time but never really looked into what it was about, I had always just assumed that it was a typical martial arts movie with a masked superhero aspect to it. And to a certain extent, that’s what it was though it was a lot gorier than I expected. Which is probably just on me as I’m not too familiar with a lot of martial arts movies of the era, instead just a handful of the watered down American knock-offs from the 90’s or so. There are a few versions of this movie, but the one I watched was the US home video version from Artisan where the main differences are the English dub, the hip-hop soundtrack, and a few scene differences. As far as the actual movie goes, it’s an odd sort of crime movie with the super-powered criminal organization that’s too powerful for the cops and so they need the help of an ex-member of this super-powered organization who has been reformed. The plot is rather complicated, but the action is great considering it’s from the fight choreography of Woo-Ping Yuen, likely most well known as the guy behind the Kung Fu of the Matrix.
Jet Li plays essentially a super soldier after the program was scrapped due to the occasional psychotic break. But he’s ok and is making a life for himself as a librarian until the rest of the gang start wreaking havoc and he’s the only one who can stop them. Overall, it’s a basic lone wolf hero going after a terrorist organization. It has a few interesting angles as the group initially goes after several of the smaller crime rings first and one of the remaining ones tries to get protection from the police while he casually shows off his collection of body bags which are all members of his family and friends. There’s also a bit about how the head police detective is Jet Li’s friend but initially doesn’t know that he’s the vigilante in the black mask.
One of the more fun moments of the movie are all the scenes with Li’s fellow librarian co-workers. There’s a great moment when he thinks his work has been infiltrated when they were actually throwing him a surprise party only for him to quit. And yet, the one over-reacting woman of the group ends up getting mixed up in the whole thing and becomes her pseudo-prisoner-in-order-to-supposedly-protect-her. It’s still a fun dynamic where she is initially frightened of him, then grows to like him, until she’s willing to work with him until he reveals his identity to her when he goes off to the final battle. She plays most of it very over the top, but it gets toned down as the movie plays out and it ultimately works quite well without her being a true romantic interest. Especially with the other potential romantic interest with the other member of the super soldiers and also someone that Li had saved early on in their career, presumably pre-psychotic break. She also works well as a pseudo-brainwashed character that breaks through her conditioning because she really cares for Li as a person.
But while there are some good characters here and there, the movie is really just a flimsy excuse to string together a whole bunch of fights with occasional bits of gore thrown in and way too many hand removals. The fights themselves are quite impressive and there are a lot of them. There’s plenty of hand to hand fights that are thrilling to watch as well as some variety with different locations, props, and quite a few guns mixed in with the martial arts. The problem is that the threads tying these fights together are rather flimsy and convoluted. It’s very difficult to follow exactly what the villain’s ultimate plan is as they are going against the criminals but also hacking into the cop database and selling it to some other criminal organization or something along those lines. And the cops have some elaborate trap at one point that’s not very well explained or executed and they all end up down in the sewers with bombs and a laser rifle for some unknown reason.
All in all, this wasn’t a bad film to watch. It’s difficult to follow, and the addition of the hip hop soundtrack was an odd choice for the American cut of the film. The English dub itself wasn’t overly distracting along the lines of more classic martial arts film dubs, but it wasn’t anything special either. Black Mask is worth it to watch for the fight scenes alone, other than that nothing else really matters in the long run. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.