Black Mask can be described with one word: Gratuitous. The Black Mask is gratuitous in its use of blood, gratuitous its use of violence, and gratuitous in its use of the camera. What isn’t gratuitous in the film is its level of adrenaline.
After a good US introduction with Lethal Weapon 4, it was only a matter of time before the studio heads in Hollywood started to try to cash in on Jet Li’s previous films. Jet Li is fast, really fast. Watching his martial arts onscreen is a joy because it’s not just a matter of enjoying it, but of trying to keep up with his hands and feet. Pair Li up with one of the best martial arts choreographers around, Woo-Ping Yuen (who did the choreographing for The Matrix), and you should have a hell of a film, right?
Wrong, nothing can save this film from the horrible editing and directing. And although not many Hong Kong films have a good story, most of them at least have good characters not Black Mask. Put together the bad editing, directing, and the lack of a good character and the whole movie is nothing more than repetitive scenes of people beating each other to a bloody pulp. After the first few action scenes of this it just got boring. The repetitiveness of the action was a real downer. By the end of the film during the final show down, when the hero goes up against the evil boss, I was left to look at my watch and wonder when the hero was finally going to beat the living daylights out of the evil boss and get the movie over with.
Obviously, there was a lot of money put into this film when it was made in 1996. The production design is tremendously polished, the sets are well done, the costumes are generally well done, and the level of explosions is high. None of this saves the film either. Maybe there was a lot that was lost during the transition from being a Hong Kong film to being an English film – sometimes horrible cuts are made to films when they make this transition – but, I’m not sure if this is true with Black Mask or not.
The one thing that I liked about the film was the creative casting of the voice talent. Yes, the lines and the voice acting quality of the dubbing were terrible, but the actors that the casting director selected were hilarious. I’m not sure if it was intentional or not, but the choices were great.
One has to be a huge Jet Li fan to actually pay to see this film. I’m still annoyed that I paid, even at matinee, to see this piece of bad filmmaking. A flat, monotonous, and uninteresting film that is all looks but lacks punch, Black Mask earns the dubious award of being a Skip, Skip, Skip film. Skip this film at matinee, Skip this film on video, and definitely Skip this film if it’s being shown at full price.