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Director Daniel Lee makes his feature film debut with this Jet Li (Lethal Weapon 4) vehicle. Li, who made his American debut in Weapon, is an internationally renowned martial arts master who has starred in dozens of Chinese chop-socky films. Here he plays a superhuman soldier with the 701 Squad who goes by the name of the Black Mask. Undercover in Hong Kong, he collaborates with the police to solve a series of murders.
For more about Black Mask and the Black Mask Blu-ray release, see Black Mask Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on September 3, 2008 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.0 out of 5.
Starring: Jet Li, Lau Ching Wan, Karen Mok, Françoise Yip, Patrick Lung Kang
Director: Daniel Lee
» See full cast & crew
Black Mask Blu-ray Review
Lionsgate's most recent release isn't worth owning.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, September 3, 2008
The government scientists had taken away our sense of pain, our fear, our feelings, much of what it meant to be human. Now they wanted our lives.
Black Mask is a rather silly yet oddly entertaining 1996 Hong Kong action extravaganza, framed by a rather quirky story that takes some of its cues from the 1992 Jean-Claude Van Damme/Dolph Lundgren American action flick Universal Solider. Directed by Daniel Lee, Black Mask doesn't have much of a plot. It relies on some high-flying, old-fashioned action sequences, these replete with plenty of blood, explosions, bullets, mayhem, and, of course, the martial arts expertise of international superstar Jet Li (War). Frankly, I had no idea what to expect from this movie as I nestled into my couch and turned out the lights to give it a spin. While neither gripping nor meaningful, nor emotionally or psychologically fulfilling, Black Mask does offer action lovers a reprieve from the doldrums of American Action like Maximum Risk or 7 Seconds, or even the aforementioned War. Black Mask is neither decidedly superior nor inferior to any of those movies; it settles somewhere right in the middle of the pack when it comes to everyday action flicks that gather dust at the corner video store.
Simon (Li) is a 30-year-old librarian by day and masked crusader by night. A product of a government experiment to create a super solider impervious to pain at the height of a drug war between China and Hong Kong, Simon was scheduled to be terminated along with his fellow "701s" once it became clear they were uncontrollable. Simon escaped his execution and fled to a new life, one amidst the comfort found in the stacks at the local library, where he plugs away alongside an eclectic group of co-workers, including the attractive Tracy Lee (Karen Monk). Simon's friend Rock (Lau Ching Wan), a police detective, has recently begun investigating a series of murders and bizarre attacks. When Simon surmises that the attacks his friend is investigating may be linked to members of his former 701 unit, all of whom he thought decommissioned, he springs into action as the super hero "Black Mask."
That's your basic plot, and it serves no other purpose than to have some frame of reference around which to build the film's interesting yet goofy action sequences. Black Mask features comic book violence and over the top action. It's a blast to watch but don't a expect a life-changing experience or a film that will challenge your mental acuity. We have some ridiculously silly sequences, like doctors removing a bomb from someone's chest with wires mistaken for arteries. The scene still remains a bit tense and entertaining, but in a mindless, laugh-out-loud sort of way. Violence and gore are to be found aplenty. For example, a super solider simply chops off his own hand to escape a handcuff, and then continues on with the fight as if nothing had happened. Simon will use compact discs against enemies as if they were saw blades (though it just doesn't have the same effect as when John Matrix used the real thing to scalp a bad guy in Commando). Bullets rain down from every direction. If there is a brief lag between explosions and bedlam, it only serves to point out an extraneous bit of plot or character development. Black Mask also relies on real-life stunts to wow audiences, even if it means some plainly visible wires holding up characters. It's all in good fun and is gloriously entertaining, but it's also vapid and not worth watching more than once, especially considering its thin plot and the fact that the film engenders in its audience not one ounce of sympathy for the characters. They're all there to do their jobs and nothing more, which, in a way, is kind of refreshing.
Black Mask Blu-ray, Video Quality
Black Mask arrives on Blu-ray with the old MPEG-2 video codec. Framed at 1.85:1 and presented in 1080p high definition, Black Mask offers a subpar high definition experience and will probably rank near the bottom of discs you would use to show off your home theater's Blu-ray capabilities. Pops and speckles are seen all over the print. Black levels and flesh tones are moderately good, but definitely lacking. The image is flat and uninspired with some shots exhibiting a rather heavy amount of grain, while others look like there is a layer of fog over the movie. The transfer offers just enough detail and sharpness to appear to be high definition at a glance, but that's about it. Colors are a bit dull, but the transfer gives no hints that it could look a whole lot better than it does here. Having never seen the film before, and barely knowing of its existence before today, I can only surmise what's going on here, but it does look like the film is intentionally dull and poorly lit in many shots. It doesn't look all that good next to something like Saawariya (then again, what does?) or even a mediocre Blu-ray transfer like The Perfect Storm, but it has its moments and I suspect fans of the film who know the material inside and out will not be too disappointed with this one as it still looks a bit better than your average unconverted DVD, taking into consideration its generally dark and drab nature.
Black Mask Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Lionsgate goes all-out with the audio, bringing Black Mask to Blu-ray with an English DTS-HD MA 7.1 surround sound lossless audio track. Please note that this track is a dub and is the only audio option available. It seems a nice opportunity was missed by not including the original language track, and limited research suggests that this track features different music as well. Purists will probably want to avoid this one, but in any case, the full-fledged 7.1 dub offers some tasty sonic moments sure to work your home theater system hard. This audio is dynamic and intense. We are treated to a fantastic barrage of action sequences throughout the movie, beginning after the first minute or so and never relenting. The first of such scenes features loud and powerful gun shots that come from every direction, and heavy explosions that create a low frequency presence. Each subsequent action sequence is just as dynamic. There are times when this one seems loud just for the sake of being loud, sacrificing clarity and definition for volume. Discrete effects are often found in various speakers across the soundstage, but there is a gimmicky feel to some of it. The track does create a nice atmosphere in many scenes, with solid ambience that surrounds the viewer with some niceties that increase the quality of the track. The dubbed dialogue is clear and intelligible. While this may not be the best defined or more precise track of all time, it fits the material perfectly, is a blast to listen to, and its over-the-top sound design suits the film perfectly.
Black Mask Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Black Mask fans will be disappointed by the miniscule quantity and low-grade supplements found on this disc. Wushu Technique is nothing more than a text-based paragraph describing Wushu. Wushu in Action is a series of nine clips from the movie, and oddly enough, the sound is downgraded to Dolby Digital 2.0. Black Mask Trivia Game asks a series of multiple-choice questions about fighting techniques. Finally, the usual assortment of Lionsgate trailers is available, including Bangkok Dangerous, Forbidden Kingdom, War, and that old Lionsgate standby, Crank.
Black Mask Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Black Mask fails to make a name for itself amidst the constant barrage of action movies released around the world on a weekly basis, but for those who enjoy a decent, blood-soaked, and loud movie, this one fits the bill nicely. Jet Li is always fun to watch, and while his co-stars play second fiddle and don't impress, they're good enough to move the story along, which is all that really seems to matter with Black Mask. Lionsgate, a studio on the upswing of late with some top-notch Blu-ray discs to their credit, falters on this one. Released with the old MPEG-2 video codec, the transfer is remarkably dull and boring, offering little in the way of high definition eye candy. Likewise, while the audio track is loud and immersive, the lack of the original language track is a major disappointment. Rounding out a rather poor package is a set of throwaway extras. Unless you're a diehard fan of Hong Kong action, Black Mask is a rental at best.
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