Micheal, a former test subject of a project to create supersoldiers, is forced to escape with his comrades after the project was cancelled. Months later, he is trying to have a quiet life as a librarian with a tough cop as his best friend. However, a string of vicious gangland murders begins that has all the markings of his former compatriots who seem to have turned to violent crime. Realizing that the police are helpless to fight these soldiers, Micheal decides to take them on himself. Donning a mask to protect his identity, Micheal must fight these powerful villians as the mysterious superhero known only as Black Mask.
Directed by: Daniel Lee
. Starring: Jet Li
, Ching Wan Lau
, Karen Mok
, Françoise Yip
, Kong Lung
, Anthony Chau-Sang Wong
, Xin Xin Xiong
, Moses Chan
, King-Fai Chung
, Ken Lok
, Lawrence Ah Mon
, Henry Fong
, Mei-Yee Sze
. Music by: Teddy Robin Kwan
, DJ Revolution
, Ben Vaughn
American audiences saw Asian martial arts superstar Jet Li kick around Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in director Richard Donner's "Lethal Weapon IV." The success of the third "Lethal Weapon" sequel and Jet Li's performance as a resilient Oriental villain prompted Artisan Entertainment t dust off a 1996 cliffhanger that Li had made for executive producer Tsui Hark. Happily, Artisan has provided a new, surprisingly well-synchronized English language dub of the original Chinese dialogue. Of course, most of the voices still sound dubbed, but the words match the lips for the most part. Further, Artisan has saturated the high-octane action with a funky line-up of gangstatechno rap rhymes that accentuate the rhythm of the movie. Connoisseurs of hyperkinetic Hong Kong actioneers should get a kick out of Jet Li's first starring role in the U.S. Altogether, "Black Mask" qualifies as a must-see melodrama that showcases Jet Li's skills and personality.
Basically, "Black Mask" depicts the life and death struggle between a mysterious superhero and the forces of evil in a by-the-numbers, formulaic action thriller. As a member of an elite commando unit, Michael (Jet Li) is a top-secret, super-soldier from Project 701, a scheme designed to turn out biologically enhanced assassins virtually immune to pain. According to the introductory voice-over narration, the Red Chinese have injected these people with serum that triggers some unhappy side effects, such as psychotic rages and an abruptly abbreviated life span. Washing their hands of the ill-fated experiment, the government then tries to kill the warriors. Michael and many of his cohorts escape captivity on mainland China and flee to Hong Kong. At first, Michael believes that nobody, including his old girlfriend, Yuek-lan (Francoise Yip of "Rumble in the Bronx"), had survived the ordeal. Masquerading as Simon, a mousy Clark Kent type librarian, Michael resolves to re-educate himself about all things normal and hides out in the book stalls. Along the way, he befriends a stubborn police detective (Lau Ching Wan) with whom he plays chess.
Unfortunately, Michael learns to his chagrin that several 701 survivors have embarked on a murderous killing spree, knocking off high profile Hong Kong drug lords and corrupt government officials. These project 701 ruffians are fortune cookies not easily cracked. They take a licking and keep on ticking. Bullets don't faze them. Their methods appear as unsavory as they are resourceful. One defiant drug dealer shows the authorities a box containing the severed legs of his daughter. Evidently, the hoodlums mailed the box to him to ensure his support. Another crime lord discovers that the villains have implanted a bomb in his chest near his heart. When surgeons try to defuse it, they cannot distinguish between the wires and the arteries. When they do cut the wires, half of the hospital vanishes in an explosion. These fiends plan to blackmail the government into supplying them with the antidote for their illness.
Donning a cardboard mask, a fedora, and a chauffeur's suit, Michael retaliates in classic vigilante "Death Wish" style. He relies on his wits, his athletic grace, and his mini-discs which he spins through the air with the same effect as throwing stars. (Anybody remember the 1990 movie "I Come in Peace" where Dolph Lungren faced off with aliens who used compact discs as lethal killing devices?) The bad guys often refer to Michael as 'the compassionate one.' Along the way, Tracy (Karen Mok) finds herself drawn into a vortex of action when she survives a deadly massacre in the library. Michael takes her hostage, but the bizarre relationship takes a turn, and she becomes his girl Friday. Meantime, audiences get to sneer at the devilish Commander Hung, a long-haired psycho villain played to perfection by Patrick Lung Kang.
A quartet of scribes has assembled an entertaining but formulaic script that bristles with more action than most Hollywood action franchises. Based on their work here, Tsui Hark, Koan Hui, Teddy Chen, and Joe Ma could have written a better "Batman" epic that the idiots that churned out "Batman Forever" and "Batman and Robin." Admittedly, "Black Mask" looks like a hodgepodge of B-movie protagonists. You can spot the plots of "Batman," "Universal Soldier," "Solo," "Bullitt," and "The Terminator" in the wildly fluctuating storyline. Ostensibly, this rapid-fire yarn look like an Asian version of any Alexander Dumas costume tale about mistaken identities. The scenarists refuse to restrict themselves to one genre. Instead, they shift gears, alternating between a horror chiller, an apocalyptic sci-fi thriller, a comic book superhuman escapade, a screwball romance, and a 1940's neo film noir crime story. Sure, all of this is silly, shallow, and superficial when it isn't drenched in blood and gore. Nevertheless, "Black Mask" delivers these elements with such style and artistry that you cannot help but enjoy it.
Martial arts champion Jet Li brings his boyish charm along with a dancer's fluid locomotion to create quite a hero. He combines Jackie Chan's agile athleticism with Chow Yun-Fat's dramatic talent. When he goes into action against the villains, look out! As Michael's pal, Lau Ching Wan turns in a solid performance as a stubborn HK cop named Rock who initially thinks that Michael has nothing to do with Simon. Sophomore HK helmer Daniel ("What Price Survival") Lee slackens the pace occasionally to accommodate a screwball romantic subplot between Karen Mok's ditzy librarian Tracy and Michael. Wisely, Lee never takes these supercharged, adrenaline-laced antics too seriously. The library scenes have a sitcom quality, which differ from other scenes. Several critics have observed the resemblance between Jet Li's Michael and the late Bruce Lee's Kato from the ABC-TV series "The Green Hornet." The filmmakers bring up the same point when Tracy admires Michael.
Make no mistake, "Black Mask" is pretty gory stuff. Daniel Lee directs in much the same twister fashion as Michael Bay of "The Rock" and "Armageddon." Lee rarely lets his camera linger on shot. "Black Mask" is outrageously plotted, often campy, but exciting, ultra-violent pulp nonsense.
Review by zardoz-13 from the Internet Movie Database.