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Black Mask

Lionsgate Home Entertainment // R // September 2, 2008
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted August 23, 2008 | E-mail the Author
After Jet Li kinda/sorta broke
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through in the U.S. with Lethal Weapon 4, Artisan Entertainment swooped in and imported one of his Hong Kong action flicks over to these shores, hoping they could rake in the same box office that Dimension and New Line had with Jackie Chan's Rumble in the Bronx and Supercop. Black Mask isn't exactly one of Li's prouder moments, but it's pretty much an hour and a half straight of shit exploding and hyperviolent kung-fu, so if you're into that sorta thing...hey, there you go.

I guess there's a plot. Jet Li stars as Simon/Michael/Black Mask, who was part of a government super-soldier program that went half to hell after pretty much all of 'em went nuts. The 701s were thought to be dead, and Michael -- who thought he was the only survivor or something -- settled into a quiet life as a librarian. Since all that happens in a long, rambling, exposition-y flashback and there are still an hour and twenty-something minutes to go, it kinda goes without saying that a bunch of the other 701s are still kicking around too. Hyperstrong, unable to feel pain, and...uh, prone to leaping around on rollerblades, the 701s resurface, butchering a bunch of the local badniks, hacking into a police database, and holding the government hostage for the antidote to the super-soldier serum that's slowly killing them. Since the cops -- including his pal Rock (Lau Ching Wan) -- don't have the firepower to take down the 701 crew and since Kato's not returning his calls, Simon graps a chauffeur's hat and a crepe paper mask to play superhero.

But...yeah. Black Mask isn't exactly a top-heavy movie, and what passes for a plot is really only there for an excuse to string together forty or fifty different action scenes. I mean, you're lookin' at surgically implanted bombs, S&M razor-slashing, an 8 year old's legs in a box, a nutjob who lops off his own hand and then winds up getting his legs crushed by an out of control bulldozer, another prick impaled on rebar, death-by-compact-disc, lamp-fu, subterranean power line-fu, a bunch of cops playing hot potato with a severed arm... C'mon, the bad guys all swoop around on rollerblades, and the climax even throws in a few mounted laser cannons. Black Mask is pretty much completely incoherent, and the dubbing and Ummm-Anglocized-I-Guess rewrites don't help. The story hits all the marks every action flick is supposed to throw in, including an romance with an annoying broad who's kind of just there to be rescued and the obligatory fight to the death
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in an abandoned construction site. The action scenes are ridiculously violent and sopping with blood -- and, yes, that's a good thing -- and the neverending fight with the 701's Chief Badnik at the end seems like the writers brainstormed twenty or thirty ideas for a big finale and decided to just throw all of them in.

Black Mask isn't good in the sense of being...y'know, good, but it's so cartoonishly violent and so far out there that it's still kind of a blast to watch. It's one of those movies that I think'll play better if it's a quarter after two and you're kinda just half-awake, and Black Mask really doesn't cry out for a second spin, but I guess it's ridiculous enough to shell out a couple of bucks to rent.

Video: Dunno if this encode has been sitting around for a while or what, but Black Mask is the first MPEG-2 disc I've seen from Lionsgate in a pretty long while. The movie still looks alright in high-def, though. Contrast is kind of flat and anemic, but detail's still decent enough. I guess the rough-'n-tumble photography leaves the 1.85:1 image looking kind of inconsistent; the movie'll go from one shot that's sort of crisp and detailed and then cut to something soft and muddy, and the weight of the film grain can vary pretty wildly. The video is fairly soft overall, and there's a bit of light speckling too. The bitrate is lower than usual, and I could see some artifacting if I walked up close to the screen, although it wasn't enough to grate at a normal seating distance. Mediocre but good enough, I guess.

Since the movie's so short and there really aren't any extras, Black Mask sticks with a single layer Blu-ray disc.

Audio: Black Mask has gotten a 24-bit, 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio spit-'n-polish on Blu-ray. It's spastic, hyperaggressive, and kinda overcooked, but that's exactly what a flick like this screams out for. The mix is packing an inhuman amount of bass. The soundtrack is nothing but blaring, thumpin' hip-hop, and since Black Mask can't go more than three minutes without a twenty megaton explosion, a couple hundred machine guns firing, a bulldozer plowing through a concrete wall, a fucking wrecking ball...y'know, the subwoofer doesn't really have a chance to lean back and twiddle its thumbs. Black Mask pretty much strings together one action scene after another for an hour and a half straight, so the surrounds get a helluva workout too.
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It's just kinda funny thinking that this is a bleeding-edge remix on a shiny, newly-minted Blu-ray disc, but this is still a shaky import from Artisan back in the day: the dubbing is howlingly, "Gamera-is-a-friend-to-all-children" bad, and all the "whoosh!" "peeessk!" fighting sounds were probably lifted from the same chop-socky library as Monkey Kung-Fu thirty-whatever-many years ago. Clarity and detail really aren't all that great, but it's still a couple notches better than I went in expecting, and...hey, 'sgood enough for me.

There aren't any other soundtracks, although Lionsgate has packed on subtitles in English (traditional and SDH) and Spanish.

Extras: Oh...nothing, really.

The flipside of the case rattles off a few extras, but none of 'em really amount to anything. "Wushu Technique" crams an entire art of self-defense down to three sentences, and "Wushu in Action" is just a stack of excerpts from the flick showing...well, y'know. There's also a trivia game about Black Mask's fighting technique, and a wrong answer serves up a clip of Jet Li getting the shit kicked out of 'im.

...and that's it. The only other extras are plugs for some other Lionsgate discs.

Conclusion: I mean, we're talkin' about a 12 year old Jet Li flick where he slaps on a Kato mask and dukes it out against a half-battalion of genetically-augmented, psychopathic superbadniks on rollerblades. Big. Loud. Dumb. Ree-diculously over-the-top. Black Mask is kinda fun in a deliriously stupid sort of way, but...yeah, that's about it. Rent It.
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