Black Mask [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Pat Pilon (23rd September 2008).
The Film

The first and only thing you should know about the crew of this movie, is that producer Tsui Hark is the last credit before the movie starts (usually reserved for the director). Although Daniel Lee is credited as director, I don't really know how much work he did. 'Black Mask' is arguably his most famous work, and is certainly his best-known work in the West. At least you can definitely see martial arts director Yuen Woo-ping's tremendous talent in the movie.

The movie is pretty simple: it's more or less a cross between 'Universal Soldier' and Tung Wai's 'Hitman' (not the video game movie), but the people doing the killing are on the bad side of things. Jet Li, as the good guy, tries to stop them. You see, he was part of a group that was experimented on. Some shady organisation took out their ability to feel pain, so now they're invincible fighting machines.

Well, apart from the movie being utterly and completely realistic from start to finish, it's a pretty enjoyable flick. Firstly, if you take away nerves, the person simply won't be able to feel, let alone feel pain. They'll just drop to the floor like a sack of potatoes. Their muscles would be able to move but they would no way of knowing if their foot is on the ground or not. Next, even if the experimenters could take away pain without taking away the rest of the feeling, taking away their pain threshold does not make these guys superhuman in any way. They'd just be as strong as anybody else, they just wouldn't flinch when you stepped on their foot.

So with that out of the way, the movie goes a long way with in the entertainment department. From start to finish, it's pretty much non-stop fun, with some nice character bits thrown in. You have Jet Li, with the always enjoyable Lau Ching-wan and Karen Mok to help him out. As the big bad guy, Xiong Xin Xin, though not great, is a menacing presence. The presence of Anthony Wong, at this time still in his disgusting maniac phase, is also very much appreciated. He's so gross and repulsive, you just have to watch him.

The relationships between the characters are very nice, but the friendship between Simon (Jet Li) and Rock (Lau Ching-wan) takes centre stage. Their arc is nothing new and rather simple, but it's nice to see these two guys together, and, of course, Lau Ching-wan is a lot of fun to watch. The action, however, is the star of this show, and Yuen Woo-ping delivers. The first action sequence may turn some viewers off, because its quick cutting and jump cuts are intended to make it look fast and spectacular. I just think it looks badly cut. Wait for the big action setpiece in the warehouse. That's when things kick off. Jet Li does some great hand-to-hand, with the help of some wires. The fights escalate until the climactic battle, where everything is hopped up on adrenaline. All the scenes are well shot and well choreographed. Even the wirework is magnificent.

After Jet Li turned heads in 'Lethal Weapon 4', Artisan picked up the rights to this movie (the most Hollywood-like movie in Jet Li's cannon at the time, I suppose) and released it. Before they did that, they cut about 10 minutes-worth of plot and dubbed the dialogue to cover holes and dumb down what happens. They also scrubbed the score clean and re-scored the movie with annoying but not completely inappropriate hip-hop/scratch music. The changes are annoying and I don't know why they happened, but I supposed they were made to make the movie more palpable for American audiences.

For those wanting a solid action flick, this the way to go. It's got a nice, but deathly simple story, a cutesy love story between Jet Li and Karen Mok and some great action pieces. Even if Tsui Hark didn't direct it, it's still worth watching. At any rate, it's infinitely superior to the sequel, which Tsui Hark did direct. Maybe it's a good thing he just stuck to producing this one.

Video

1.85:1 widescreen, using the MPEG-2 codec. Though this Blu-ray edition of the movie is much better than my Ritek DVD, it's still not a very good indication of what Blu-ray can do. The colours seem a bit faded with low contrast. The end result is a somewhat flat look. The picture is also a little bit soft with colours not being what they should, except in well-lit situations. Unfortunately, a lot of the movie is in darkness and shadow detail could be a bit better. The print is clean of problems, and the compression has no trouble handling the material. There are no compression artifacts, banding or edge enhancement.

Audio

The only audio track is an English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 dub. The track has its strong points and weak points. The music is very strong. The bass response is very deep, and the speaker usage for the music is very well thought out, using the 7.1 track very actively. The dialogue is strong and centered. The sound effects are funny because the new effects are so much louder than the original elements, and both can sometimes be heard at the same time. This makes for some strange sounds during the fights, but the separation and position of hits and gun shots are fairly nice, though typically action-movie-like. The track is generally good, but taking a mono track and blowing it up to 7.1 is always tricky.
I'd love to tell you that in a strange twist, there are Chinese subtitles, but unfortunately Lionsgate doesn't have that kind of sense of humour. Only English, English (HoH) and Spanish subtitle are here.

Extras

Lionsgate decided to port over all the old Artisan disc's extras. Wushu Technique is nothing more than an extremely short overview of the history and characteristics of Wushu. It overgeneralises and misleads what Wushu is, by the way. Wushu in Action is next. I'm not sure what the DVD producers over at Artisan thought 'Wushu' meant, but it's certainly not what you see here. 'Black Mask' was never intented or hailed as a wushu movie (such as 'Fearless', for example). You see the action sequences from the movie here. They are: 'The Escape' (2:16), 'The Bathroom' (1:36), 'The Drop Off' (4:42), 'Rock Saves the Black Mask' (1:00), 'The Set Up' (2:00), 'Hospital' (5:31), 'The Tower' (3:05), 'The Graveyard' (1:26) and 'Final Fight' (11:03).

The Black Mask Trivia Game is the typical game where you answer various questions about the action sequences. Answer wrongly and you get beat down, answer correctly, you move on to the next question. There are only a few questions, making this pretty pointless.

Also from Lionsgate is a bunch of trailers. 'Bangkok Dangerous' (2:16), 'Forbidden Kingdom' (2:11), 'War' (0:41) and 'Crank' (2:00) are here. These are also start-up trailers.

Packaging

This release contains about 10 minutes worth of footage taken out of the original version. The longest possible version out there is the Taiwanese cut, found on the Ritek/Thundermedia DVD. The running time is 99:59 (in a PAL-to-NTSC port), while the Lionsgate release has the running time at 90:10.

Overall

The Film: B+ Video: C Audio: B- Extras: D- Overall: C+

 


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