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Black Mask

Reviewed by: STSH
Date: 10/30/2010

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: ewaffle
Date: 02/26/2007

“Black Mask” has a dream cast led by Jet Li as a reluctant hero, imbued with super powers that would rather not use and including Lau Ching-Wan as the tough cop who is his only friend, Anthony Wong as an insanely maniacal (even by his very high standards) criminal, Francoise Yip as the S&M loving former platonic friend of Li’s character and Karen Mok as the scared but plucky potential love interest. That it is merely good and not something more noble is due largely to the hyperactively moving camera of Daniel Lee and the misuse of Jet Li by (one assumes) Yuen Wo-Ping who is one of three action directors listed.

The characters and their relationships are introduced early on and with laudable economy. Jet Li works in a library—he seems to be the only member of the staff who does any work while the rest of them gossip and plan their evenings. He doesn’t gamble, drink or smoke, spends almost no money and enjoys being surrounded by books. He is also an escapee from Unit 701, a super-secret military unit made up of highly trained soldiers who have been altered so as not to feel pain. He and others of his group escape when he realizes that their creators have decided to shut down the unit and kill everyone in it. The approach of “Black Mask” on this issue is interesting—generally a story like this, which is something of a standard in science fiction, is told from the point of view of the creators of the barely human killing machines, their realization that their handiwork has developed consciousness, emotions or self-awareness and now threatens those who constructed them. In this case the super warriors come to the realization that because their makers forgot to build in proper controls that Unit 701 is slated for destruction. A lot of them escape but Jet Li is the only one who is willing to accept his fate –a human form that can feel neither pain nor emotion and has a very short life expectancy. The others, led by the Commander, are determined to find a cure for their unique aliment. While it isn’t made clear, it seems as if, like vampires, the members of Unit 701 must have their blood replenished occasionally in order to stay alive. Karen Mok as Tracy has developed an intuitive understanding of this—when Black Mask is injured she breaks into a hospital blood bank and steals several units of blood for him.

The commander of Unit 701 devises a plan to raise the money needed for the medical treatment to reverse the havoc done to their bodies. He first kills all the drug dealers in Hong Kong, the last one in a very creative and spectacular fashion that also wipes out an entire floor of a hospital. Having gotten the attention of the drug producers in the world—he has especially piqued the Columbians by destroying a significant part of their market—he then offers them a deal. He will supply the identities of all the undercover anti-drug agents who have infiltrated the cartels in exchange for an enormous amount of money. The drug lords agree, various police agencies around the world are convinced to send their most secret data to the Hong Kong police and the Commander starts downloading it.

This creates a useful structure—Lau Ching Wan and the Black Mask have to stop the transmission of the data to Hong Kong before the bad guys can get it. That there is only a certain amount of time to do this is underlined by occasional shots of computer systems with tape drives whirring and digital clocks counting down. Neither the police commissioner nor his very large IT staff has any idea they are being tapped. In the hoary tradition of narratives that pit one man against the unfeeling power structure only Inspector Shek knows the real story.

Jet Li as Chui Chik isn’t given much to do, unfortunately. He is effective and affecting in his initial guise as a mild mannered librarian who simply wants to immerse himself in the daily minutiae of his job. He isn’t given a chance to do what he does best—jaw-dropping martial arts moves—but is often suspended on a wire or simply firing a gun. Karen Mok is quite winning as the woman in peril. When she saves Jet Li from falling from a towering industrial structure it proves to be an epiphany of sorts for another character and leads to an important turn in the plot. We are first introduced to Francoise Yip Fong-Wa while she is trussed in a very uncomfortable looking S&M harness and hung from the ceiling by Anthony Wong, the last surviving drug dealer in Hong Kong. Since she shares superhuman powers with the other Unit 701 personnel she doesn’t stay there for long. Anthony Wong is a drug dealer who keeps the bodies of his family in what looks like suit bags on hangers. When we first encounter his King Kau he has just received a present—the legs of his daughter, nicely boxed. This is quite a role, essentially an extended cameo, and Wong is note perfect in his insanity. Lau Ching-Wan is Chui Chik’s only friend. A gruff police officer nicknamed “the Rock” because he is so dark and hard, he is concerned that Chui is too naive, too nice a guy, for the ways of the world and tries unsuccessfully to toughen him up. Their relationship is close enough that Tracy and her fellow employees in the library think that he and Chik are a gay couple.

The only failure, but it is a significant one, in “Black Mask” is that the action is much too frenetic—the camera is never still so that it is impossible for the audience to really see what is happening. Huge machines smash through walls, explosions rock entire neighborhoods, bombs show up from nowhere. It is all a bit too much. There are some
excellent grisly touches—when Inspector Shek tries to disarm a criminal armed with an automatic weapon and who is riding in the scoop of a huge front loader, he does so literally. Leaping onto the moving piece of construction equipment he smashes the gunman from behind a couple of times and then handcuffs one of his wrists to the machine. Without missing a beat the gunman, clearly now a member of Unit 701, frees himself by chopping off his own wrist and hand and continuing his murderous spree. Lau Ching-Wan’s expression when this happens is priceless but no more than we have come to expect from this exemplary actor.

It is only at the very end of the movie when Black Mask finally faces off against the Commander that we see him in his wonderfully iconic moves, stances and looks. Not every movie that stars Jet Li has to be an action extravaganza but using him simply to drive cars, shoot guns and fly on wires is a waste.

Recommended but not very highly due to the missed opportunities

Reviewer Score: 6

Reviewed by: j.crawford
Date: 05/08/2005
Summary: hard to pin a label on this movie.

Tsui Hark made Jet Li the star he is today with his Wong Fei-hong films and this reunion was highly anticipated. It is hard to pin a label on this movie because it borrows from 4 maybe 5 genres. Thrown into the mix is action director Yuen Wo Ping who has also been successful with Jet Li in his career.

Jet Li is cast as a renegade soldier from a experimental "superfighter" unit called Squad 701. This is borrowed from Devlin & Emmerich's Universal Soldier that starred Jean-Claude Van Damme [more on this guy later]. After his escape from the military, Jet must re-learn his "human" emotions. He takes the job of librarian to read and learn while quietly observing his co-workers and neighbors. Karen Mok co-stars as the unlucky in love yuppie who falls for the nebbish with the dark secret. Some people have found Ms. Moks performance annoying but I found her work endearing and sensitive.

Master Yuen has constructed some fabulous fighting sequences for Ah Kit and the gang. Doing battle against his former squad members, Jet is in one kick-ass fight after another as the super-human terrorists try to stop him. There are lots of hi-tech weapons to blow things up with firery explosions. The final fight with Commander Shung is really outstanding!

Co-starring with Jet Li and Karen Mok is Franciose Yip, the girl from Rumble in the Bronx. In Black Mask, she plays Yu-Lan, a member of Squad 701 and Jet's honey in his 'former' life. She does a scene with wildman Anthony Wong where she is bound in full S&M gear and hung up like a piece of meat. Then while all hell is breaking loose around them, Ms. Yip gives Wong the thrill of his life then slashes his face with a razor! I would love to have been at the pre-production meeting when the silver-tongued Tsui Hark ran this scene down to the cast members.

I'm glad to see that the old gang has re-united. Black Mask is a lot of FUN! I recommend that you see it. It may be Tsui Hark's last real "Hong Kong movie"! After this film the director made his first "American" film, Double Team, with Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Copyright 1997 John Crawford. All rights reserved.

Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: Arshadnm6
Date: 04/12/2005
Summary: Jet Li unleashed into futuristic mahem, pity he doesn't know it!!.....

This futuristic action tale is based on an artificially and biologically enhanced group of assassins called ‘The 701 Squad’. Tsui (Jet Li), the former captain of the squad, escapes on a secret mission but ends up yearning to discover human feelings again. On the outside he befriends several librarians at his workplace, one of who is Tracey (Karen Mok) and forms a strong friendship with Inspector Shek (Lau Ching-Wan), both of whom remain dedicated to their daily work. All of a sudden, when Tsui’s life is improving the villainous 701 Squad reek havoc everywhere and is bent on total world domination over the drug-trafficking business and worse still, they are under new management. Tsui realises that no-one (including the police or SDU) can stop the 701 Squad but him because of their ultra-superior technological tactics, evasion manoeuvres and fighting skills and becomes the black mask to oppose them.

This movie also features Anthony Wong (‘Beast Cops, Hard Boiled) as a deranged crime-old and drug baron and Xiong Xin-Xin (‘Double Team’, ‘The Blade’, ‘Once Upon a Time in China and America’). The movie rocks and has a cool re-mastered soundtrack and unbelievable martial arts delivered by action choreographer, Yuen Woo Ping. Since this movie was written by Tsui Hark it carries a standard action-adventure tale in the backdrop of another period with touches of black-comedy and humour and some minor romance to exaggerate the matter of what it feels like to have feelings? This issue is not very philosophical tackled by Tsui Hark but the movie does aim at delivering action and is no Wong Kar-Wai in any sense (regardless of his one-off ‘The Blade’). Moreover, the environments are very sterile and closed-off from other crowds which make the move look low-budget (which it certainly is not!). Moreover, the shy role suits Jet Li and he never seems to shrug it off throughout the movie even when his secret association with the 701 Squad is exposed.

Moreover, Lau Ching-Wan delivers some great energy and leadership throughout the movie. Although
Karen Mok was not such an influential actor at the time of this movie’s release she does offer a top-notch nerdy performance. Also, the action is very retro and hyper-unrealistic focussing more on style and innovation (as in ‘The Matrix trilogy’) than the traditional methods seen in Yuen Woo Ping’s older works (‘Once upon a time in China 2’, ‘Iron Monkey’). This movie is also not too deep in terms of storyline and offers very few subplots and twists apart from a single expected double-crossing. Moreover, this feature relies heavily on all of the characters’ past setting the backdrop for the movie.

Overall, this movie is very exciting in parts and has its moments but it is sadly no ground-breaker and will not do any benefit to those involved in the movie (actors and movie production staff). This movie does not show any of Jet Li’s physical prowess since most of the action is based on wire-work and special effects to perform death-defying stunts. Nevertheless, the final fight scene near the end of the movie is reasonably innovative where the main nemesis fights better than acting and never convinces anyone of his realism or character development.

Overall Rating: 7.4/10

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: mrblue
Date: 09/18/2003

An unnamed foreign power takes a group and does experiments to make them not feel pain, thus becoming the invincible "Squad 701." When it becomes apparent that Squad 701 cannot be controlled, they are targeted for termination. Their leader (Li) finds out about the plan and escapes, eventually settling in Hong Kong and taking the name Tsui. Tsui lives a quiet life, working in a library and playing chess with his only friend, police inspector Shek (Lau). Shek thinks Tsui is kind of a simple wimp, but after Tsui saves him from a bomb, he realizes something's up and asks Tsui to help him with his current investigation. It seems that someone is killing off all of Hong Kong's drug dealers. While protecting the last major dealer, King Kau (Wong), Squad 701, led by Tsui's former student (Yip), attacks and Tsui switches into his alter ego -- the Black Mask. It's up to Black Mask to stop Squad 701 before they can take over the world's drug market.

While Black Mask's plot has a ton of holes (Who's the foreign power? Why didn't they kill Squad 701? Where the hell did Anthony Wong go?) and the characters are generic, it's still nonetheless a fun ride. Producer Tsui Hark must have pulled a lot of strings, because the film obviously had a large (at least for HK) budget. The sets and costumes look great, and there's some cool (but kind of obvious) CGI effects. Acting-wise, there's nothing extraordinary here, though Li is quite endearing as Tsui/Black Mask, Anthony Wong is great as the sleazy Kau (though he's only in the movie for a painfully short time) and you get to see Francoise Yip in a leather S&M outfit (yikes!). The action scenes are well staged and fairly exciting, combining gun-fu, kung-fu and wire-fu, though they may get too violent at points for some viewers (the Squad 701 members have a nasty habit of continuing to fight after their limbs are cut off).

Overall, a good action movie that should make a nice introduction to a "real" Jet Li movie for US audiences.

Note: The US version is changed somewhat from the HK version. It's dubbed, of course; most of the voices (especially Li and Lau's) are done well, but a few (Mok's in particular) are just horrible. The dubbing also adds a lot of profanity which wasn't in the HK version which makes the script seem weak in parts, also some of the homosexual references towards Lau's character (which were pretty funny without being "offensive") have been omitted. However, on the plus side, the dubbed introduction does explain Squad 701's creation and purpose a bit more clearly. The soundtrack has also been changed, favoring rap instead of guitar rock, which is not necessarily bad, but it does tend to overpower the viewer at times. Some people have also said that there has been more violence added for the US release. I didn't really notice anything new, but the brighter colors of the US print make the blood and gore stick out more. The US version of Black Mask is still well worth seeing, especially if you can catch it on the big screen.

Reviewed by: Chungking_Cash
Date: 01/25/2003

Jet Li stars as a science project gone awry. He turns his past into his future as a masked vigilante with super powers. By day, he's an emotionless librarian named Tsui whose only friend is a hard-boiled detective who in a twist of irony is on the trail of Tsui's alter ego Black Mask. Most if not all of the film is standard fare, but it never bores, and never tries to be anything more than the comic book that it knows it is.

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: Tatus
Date: 04/06/2002
Summary: The man with the corigated cardboard mask!!

What can i say about this film - well it has more severed hands in it than the evil dead series..........erm
it's violent and gory - but not in a wincey, sickening way but in a bright red jet of unconvincing gunge kinda way.
I know it's based on a comic book and that makes the pure cheese of the film a tad more acceptable - a tad.
it's not a bad film it's just a bit too stupid and believe it or not the last fight is just too long, never thought i would get bored of a fight sequence but there you go.
Jet Li isn't bad in it but isn't great-
and the bad guy is just ridiculous
a chinese ozzy ossbune style old fart.
watch it if you must but don't expect too much.

Reviewer Score: 5

Reviewed by: Inner Strength
Date: 02/17/2002
Summary: Average

I got tired of these 'Jet Li bouncing up and down on a wire movies'. I don't know why I watched this again recently, it's pretty bad in my opinion. Some of the action scenes are pretty good, as is the good combination of actors, but unfortunatly nobody can keep the film together. Some of it is all over the place, and seemed rather rushed I think.

Still, I have seen plenty worst films before, but I don't recommend this one to many people.

Rating: 2.5/5

Reviewer Score: 5

Reviewed by: Kncklz2000
Date: 06/27/2001
Summary: Damn camera work

The movie itself wasn't too bad. It's the camera work that made me despise it.

There's your typical dumb female who falls in love with Jet, and he has to save her at some point in the movie.

And you also have your typical wire-fu- because it's Yuen WO Ping in the mid 90's.

The choreogrpahy wasn't too bad. I actually liked it. But it was the damn way of directing the fights that pissed me off. Because the camera was moving soooooooooooooo much, it was difficult to follow along. I couldn't tell what the fighters were doing at some points in the movie!!!!

I don't know- I'm sure a lot more poeple would enjoy the movie if there was less camera shaking.

Reviewed by: pjshimmer
Date: 06/18/2001
Summary: I saw the dubbed version

Not a very good movie, especially if you see the English dubbed vhs. Among Jet Li's less enjoyable work.


Reviewed by: Sydneyguy
Date: 05/05/2001
Summary: Pretty good

This is all action and little of anything else!! Good to see Jet Li and Lau China WAu together but this movie lacked a bit of a plot which makes the movie suffer. It also could of been made better if they took more time developing a plot. Yes plot is important but i am not saying this is a bad movie..........


Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: RLM
Date: 04/29/2001
Summary: Pure martial arts fun...

Hkcinema gives a good overview of the plot. I enjoyed the martial arts in this film as much as I did that in Fist of Legend. Be sure to see the original HK DVD version and not the pathetic dubbed version which is annoying as hell. To be sure, the story line is somewhat hokey but the action scenes more than make up for that flaw. This movie has heavy handed directing and is moody in a brooding sense a lot of the time which brings it down a notch in my book. My significant other got bored with the numerous fight scenes and lack of depth in the characters and she left after 30 minutes, so it is by no means a chick flick. I thought it well worth the watch. 8/10

Reviewed by: Souxie
Date: 10/16/2000

I'd give this movie 8/10. I've only seen a few of Jet Li's movies but this is the best one to date after 'Hitman'. His performance is good, he does what he can with some corny lines, and the fight scenes still impress me (because I haven't seen many films that fit so many in!).
The only gripe I have is that because I'm waiting for my DVD from Amazon I had to watch this the first time in odly dubbed English/New Zealand (?) voices - not the way to go!
Rent it - enjoy it! A good way to waste ninety minutes.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: Warnerl
Date: 08/25/2000
Summary: Don't watch the DVD for Country Code 1 (US/Canada)

I've seen three versions of this movie. The Malaysian (VCD)release, editted out alot of the "objectionable" scenes, the HK Version (Best VCD release), and the Dubbed version on DVD release in US/Canada. What ever you do, don't watch the Dubbed version, because scenes have been moved. ie where reminisses about his female counterpart is moved to the beginning right after he gets blown out of the door during the credits, the "Green hornet" theme music is replaced with RAP music, and the ending where the photo is taken (There was problably more, but I didn't really pay attention).

Reviewed by: resdog781
Date: 07/31/2000
Summary: Lots of flash, not a whole lot of substance

More than a little artistic design stolen from the "Batman" series, but not too bad. Jet Li as a "retired" superpowered secret agent known as (surprise!) Black Mask, who's forced to return to action as his old squadron returns to HK to knock off all the gang leaders and take the power for themselves. Some great fight scenes choreographed by The Man: Yuen "I Action-Directed The Matrix" Woo-Ping, especially the one between Jet and Francoise Yip on top of the tower, and Jet's fight against the boss guy at the end, with those cool EMP guns from "Eraser". Phatness in motion =) Halfway-decent special effects (for an HK film), Karen Mok as Li's goofy sidekick/girlfriend, and Lau Ching-Wan in a pretty cool role as a cop known as "The Rock" (no relation to the WWF guy) made this one a pretty good "turn off your brain and enjoy the ride" type of movie.

Just one question: Where does Black Mask parachute *from*???

Reviewed by: grimes
Date: 04/09/2000

Jet plays a supersoldier whose ability to feel pain has been turned off. He wants to find out how to be a normal human being so he goes to work in a library and plays chess with cop buddy Lau Ching-Wan. However, the rest of his supersoldier unit comes to town and starts making trouble so Jet gets involved (but wears a black mask to conceal his identity). Meanwhile Karen Mok chases after him because he's not like other guys.

This is not Jet Li's best film (not even close). It has a kind of a weird comic book feel to the whole thing (which is good) but it didn't pull it off very well (which is bad). Karen Mok was in it (which is good) but her character was pretty one-dimensional (which is bad).

Jet wears a mask and talks in a funny voice for a good portion of the film (think Michael Keaton in Batman) which kind of took away a lot of the fun for me. It could have been anyone in many of the scenes. Karen Mok has nothing to do but squeal. Lau Ching-Wan almost manages to create a character from the weak script, but even his talents can't quite pull it off. There are some decent action sequences but nothing that you can't find in other, better, Jet films.

Reviewed by: Fhrx
Date: 03/30/2000
Summary: Good effort from Jet Li...

Jet Li stars as a former member of "Squad 701", a team or military professional killers who, thanks to brain surgery, no longer feel pain or emotion. When it is discovered that some of these assassins are still capable of feeling it is decided to "exterminate" the whole squad and forget about the project.

Some of them escape, one of which is Li.

He’s starts to live another life under the false identity of Tsui Chik and works as a librarian. He is soon befriended by a cop named Shek (Lau Ching-wan) who known to his fellow cops as "Rock" because of his cold attitude.

The trouble starts when the group is reformed under the leadership of the 701 Squad boss and starts killing every major Hong Kong drug dealer in order to control the whole territory themselves. When Shek is unsuccessful in stopping them, Tsui steps in under the identity of Black Mask but this time fighting for justice - HK comic book style.

The action scenes are quite good and while containing quite a bit of wire work, they still contain some really good techniques and exchanges. Li looks very good in all of the fights scenes and flies around a bit ( but that’s ok because its out of a comic book ) and the beautiful Francois Yip (Rumble in the Bronx) does a good job of kicking but as well! A fight between her and Li up on top of a tower is a great rush and last scene where Li delivers some of the fastest leg kick combinations I’ve ever seen is quite good as well. Not to mention some steel whip chain techniques with a live power wire.

Towards the end the character development loses it a bit and Li’s female sidekick is a bit annoying at times but over all, Black mask, along with First strike, are probably two of one of the best HK action films of 1996.

I give Black Mask 7/10

Reviewed by: hktopten
Date: 12/21/1999

YET ANOTHER FILM that could have been better made if more thought was put into it. Although the characters are interesting, they are not linked well together. Character Development all of a sudden became a terminal illness that cost the lives of many films that had the possibility to be really great. Anyway, Black Mask had a good premise, the story moved along at a good pace then stalled. Plot lines that could have been develpoed more by Black Mask's past and his relationship with his best friend cop (Lau Ching Wan with another convincing performance) were dropped quickly for action, some of those are eye catching, others like the final fight simply drags, like Scripture with No Words. OK if you are bored.

Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/08/1999

A wee bit on the artsy side for me, especially in the first half of the film. I came away thinking there could have been so much more done with the past of Black Mask, but wasn't. If the director spent as much time on the story as he did on trying to make the movie look "different" it would have been a lot better. Yuen Woo Ping comes through, again, in a big way by directing the martial arts sequences only the way he can. He would be my first choice as favorite director, martial arts or otherwise, without a doubt. The last thirty minutes of the film shows his brilliance very effectively, but unfortunately it wasn't tied into to the rest of the movie by the director well enough.


[Reviewed by Dale Whitehouse]

Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/08/1999

This movie was better than i had expected. After seeing Dr. Wai, i was highly disappointed and feared the utmost for Jet Li's future career. To my surprise, i actually wanted to sit through the whole movie and waited patiently to see what happened next. The story was kind of farfetched but they didn't overdo it. The "no feelings" aspect and all the explosions and gun shootings reminded me of The Terminator. Jet Li had a couple of good fighting scenes but there weren't any real "innovative" fighting techniques, i.e. using an umbrella or a light pole. There was a good scene where him and Francois Yip were fighting on top of a tower, i think that was the only scene that kept me on the edge of my seat. His acting was OK and this movie did not do Lau Ching Wan any justice. Lau Ching Wan is a great actor but somehow he didn't come through in this movie. Maybe it was his character in this film. Tsui Hark should maybe stick to the period pieces because that's where his best work is. What he did in this movie was really nothing special. What i liked the most was believe it or not the soundtrack. It had like a James Bond or a Batman like theme. It really matched the scenes and the attitude the film was trying to take on.

[Reviewed by Fannie H. Ip]

Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/08/1999

The "Squad 701" is a team of professional killers who, thanks tobrain surgery, no longer feel pain, or any emotions. When it is discovered that some of these assassins are still capable of feeling, it is decided to "exterminate" the whole squad but some of them manage to escape in time, one of them is "Black Mask" (Jet Li) . He go into hiding in Hong Kong where, under the false identity of Tsui Chik, he find employment in a library. He is soon befriended by a cop named Shek (Lau Ching-wan) also known in the force as "The Rock" (because of his cold attitude). In the meanwhile, a group of assasins leaded by one member of the late "Squad 701", is killing every major Hong Kong drug dealers in order to control the whole territory. Upon realising that Shek is unsuccessful in stoping them, Tsui will decided to bear, once again, the identity of Black Mask but this time in the name of justice. Adapted from a HK comic book and slightly inspired from BLADE RUNNER, BATMAN and STRANGE DAYS, BLACK MASK is more satisfying that Li's previous flick DR. WAY but not as good as MY FATHER IS A HERO or FIST OF LEGEND. I was also disappointed by some of the action scenes for two reasons; speeding up some of the fights too often and I also felt they lacked imagination. Let me be clear on this, those fights were very satysfying but it's nothing we haven't seen before. The acting is alright but both Lau Ching-wan and Karen Mok have done better performances in the past. The most impressive things in this film are the technical credits which make this film look like a big budget Hollywood production Despite some of my negative comments, BLACK MASK is probably, along with FIRST STRIKE, one of the best HK action film of 1996. But anyone who is familiar with what's been released in HK that year will know that this comment is not as complimentary as it sound (If you want to know more about what I meant by this, read my review of BIG BULLET).

[Reviewed by Martin Sauvageau]