Black Mask (1996)
Reviewed by: Arshadnm6 on 2005-04-12
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