Black Mask (US - BD RA)
Gabe Powers takes a belated look at superhero Jet Li in high definition...
A superhuman commando unit code named Squad 701 is marked as too dangerous to continue service, and set for termination. One member escapes to a life of solitude as a librarian, but the easy life is shaken with Hong Kong’s most notorious drug lords begin to be murdered by Squad 701 like operatives. Against his better judgement the librarian dawns a new identity, the Black Mask, and takes measures to stop his former colleagues.
Hong Kong superhero movies are almost undoubtedly fun even when they aren’t very good. The definition of a Hong Kong superhero films is a pretty difficult one to pin down I suppose considering all flying kung fu masters could be considered superheroes, so for the sake of this argument we’ll only be referring to flying kung fu masters with Western comic book origins. My personal favourite is probably Johnny To’s Heroic Trio (Anthony Wong eats his own fingers), but Daniel Lee’s Black Mask is still a pretty fun time, though not quite as much fun as the Tsui Hark directed sequel, which is like some insane episode of Power Rangers.
Black Mask suffers and succeeds in the same ways most of Tsui Hark’s more recent (I’m thinking post Iron Monkey) productions. Hark and French producer extraordinaire Luc Besson both have this tendency to not put a lot of effort into the movies they don’t physically direct, creating medium budget actions films with a few good set pieces and an overwhelming lack of logic. I find it very hard to believe more than a weekend’s worth of work was put into The Black Mask script. The whole thing is a mish mash of wushu, Sam Raimi inspired camera work (a constant favourite of Hark’s[/i], ‘90s Hollywood comic book visual clichés, vague cyber punk elements, some vague elements of The Green Hornet, and some surprisingly graphic violence. The general weirdness and extremity of the violence is the best reason to watch the film.
Now I could have sworn that the box art and opening titles said Lionsgate, but this Blu-ray disc is a maltreated Dimension release at heart. Following the success of Lethal Weapon 4 certain Hollywood types thought it would be a good time to introduce Hong Kong superstar Jet Li to American audiences. The Black Mask was chosen, even though it was already three years old, it was dubbed into English (with a new soundtrack), and cut by something like ten minutes. Thus, as is the fate of so many lamely re-edited Hong Kong films, a non-sequential film is made almost impossibly random.
Lionsgate’s Blu-ray record is still pretty spotty. They get the new releases right, but so far their catalogue titles do not impress. This appears to be an upconverted 1080p transfer, not true HD. The colourful film appears muted, the edges bleed a bit, the hue separation is average at best, and contrast is kind of dim. Details are sharper than the old DVD version, and edge enhancement has been lessened a bit (as I recall, it’s been a while), but the soft and muted look is quite disappointing overall. I can say that the more garish pinks and blues that infiltrate the frame when ever something ‘supernatural’ occurs are very pretty, but that’s pretty much the extent of the transfer’s impressiveness.
Th3 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio impresses with it’s liveliness, and general noise levels, but the Hollywood remix is awkward and inconsistent. Most of the impressive sound effects are of the canned variety, and most of the stylized, ‘zippy’ sound effects were obviously made using less than state of the art means, which kind of depletes a bit of the over-the-top fun of the mix. The musical cues (most of which I believe were added for the US release) are rigidly obnoxious, but move very effectively though all channels. Honestly though, I could go several days without hearing any more gratuitous record scratching. The English dubbing isn’t too bad, but Lionsgate really should’ve included the original Mandarin and/or Cantonese tracks for the fans.
These extras are lame, taken directly from the ancient DVD release. ‘Wushu Technique’ is a silly little text essay on the ins and outs of kung fu. ‘Wushu In Action’ is a series of shortcuts to ten of the film’s fights (in Dolby Surround?). This is followed by a text and clip based trivia game and a series of Lionsgate trailers.
Being released in the states after Blade seemed like too little, too late at the time, but thanks to an attachment to hip-hop culture Black Mask did play an important part in bringing Jet Li successfully to America. It’s just too bad he didn’t make a Western film worth a good god damn until he went to France to hook up with Luc Besson. Fans will be disappointed by the half-assed hi-def video of this disc, and the extras aren’t any more interesting than they were last time.
*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Release Date: 2nd September 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Extras: Wushu Techniques, Wushu in Action, Quiz, Trialers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Daniel Lee
Cast: Jet Li, Ching Wan Lau, Françoise Yip, Karen Mok, Anthony Wong
Length: 102 minutes
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