Lionsgate // 1996 // 102 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // September 2nd, 2008
"I like it here, it's quiet. Nobody ever bothers a librarian."
Jet Li's hyperactive superhero action headache lands on Blu-ray with a THWAP.
Tsui (Jet Li, The Forbidden Kingdom) is a mild-mannered librarian with a big secret -- he used to be a superhuman commando. Trying to put his violent life behind him, Tsui spends his days screwing around with the Dewey Decimal System and kicking it with his best friend, a cop with a temper problem.
But all that will change when his old commando unit returns killing cops and criminals alike, in an attempt to blackmail the government. With an endless supply of roided-out thugs to defeat, Tsui will have to rely on his fists of fury, some laser beams, a gun, and lots of wire-work to emerge victorious.
The parade of Blu double dips continue. Is the improved Black Mask worth your money? The capsule review: It's a migraine of a movie, not Jet Li's best by a long shot, and lacking the mind-blowing high-def treatment needed to hock these lower-tier catalog titles.
Fleshing this out a bit, the film is a disappointment. There are decent moments -- anything with an action god like Jet Li in it will at least feature a few scenes of coolness -- but overall Black Mask is as overwrought and brain-punching an action film as the lamest domestic twaddle that Hollywood poops out. I take no pleasure in saying that, as Jet Li is absolutely the man, but this movie has plastic laser turrets and a comical cooking scene for crying out loud.
Black Mask himself is a lame superhero. The cape, the hat, the mask that looks like it was stolen from the Eyes Wide Shut prop department -- no thanks. The character is saved only by the fact Jet Li resides behind the costume and knows how to kick real good. On the other side, the villains. These super-duper rogue commandos are astonishingly uneven in their levels of superduperness. One guy will take an inordinate amount of automatic rounds in the chest and still have enough horsepower to kill a few cops, and another gets himself impaled on a metal spike yet is still an aggressive foe. But then when the script calls for it, ten dudes at once will fall down dead and flailing, when Black Mask opens fire. The thugs of Squad 107 are either Terminators or Stormtroopers, depending on the action set-piece.
About that action. Black Mask tries to have it both ways, mixing gravity-defying acrobatics, impossible tumbles, Street Fighter II jump kicks, and the like with more grounded hand-to-hand exchanges. The latter is cool, choreographed well by Master Yeun Woo Ping and executed with typical flair by Jet Li, but the flying around is goofy and distracting. Then again, it's probably a cheap shot to smack around the "unrealistic" nature of the fighting in a movie where the main character wears a Fram air filter on his face.
Say you don't care and love the film dearly so "screw you action elitist snob." Well, I'm glad Black Mask provides you with such joy. But assuming you already own the DVD, I'm hesitant to recommend the Blu-ray treatment. It's an improved offering to be sure, sporting stronger clarity and poppier color work (those laser beams look even faker!), but the gulf in quality, frankly, isn't that wide. Which I'm fairly surprised at since Lionsgate has impressed me in the past with its high-def catalog releases. But there is an upgrade, albeit modest, in the visual upgrade and teamed with the aggressive 7.1 DTS HD master audio (pushing that horrible tacked-on hip-hop soundtrack), die-hard fans can rest easy knowing they've go the best sounding and best looking version of Black Mask available.
The extras are joke, though. A bunch of text about Wushu technique, "Wushu in action," is essentially a scene selection tool taking you straight to the movie's fight scenes, and a Black Mask trivia game? No thanks.
The HD treatment is sound but not mind-blowing. The sub-par action film that also comes with the disc doesn't help.
Guilty. Read a few comic books until you come up with a better disguise.
Review content copyright © 2008 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* DTS HD 7.1 Master Audio (English)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 1996
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Wushu Test History
* Fight Selection
* Trivia Game