K-20: The Fiend with Twenty Faces (2008)

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Three of Japan’s top actors team up for this alternate history action piece that makes some interesting use of parkour-like action set pieces with a science fiction edge to it.

In an alternate 1949, World War II never happened. The United States and the United Kingdom forces have agreed to a peace treaty. Japan still lives under rules by class. Changing occupations is deemed illegal and the willingness to marry whoever you please has been deemed forbidden. Taito, the Imperial Capital, has been under attack by a mysterious masked man known as “K-20”. When K-20 has plans to steal a device created by Niklas Tesla, Detective Akechi is assigned to the case.

Heikichi Endo is a well-known circus performer whose mastery of illusion and acrobatics have wowed audiences. After a show one night, he is approached by a mysterious man who offers him a photography job for a tabloid. He is asked to take photos of Akechi and his chosen fiancee, Duchess Yoko Hashiba, whose father was a good friend of Tesla’s. When Heikichi learns he has been set up by K-20, he escapes and must hone his skills to learn to confront the real K-20. When he saves Yoko from the clutches of the mysterious masked man, she tries to convince her fiancee that Heikichi is innocent. Now, the race is on to find the real K-20 and put an end to his master plan.

Upon seeing this adaptation of a Soh Kitamura novel, one feels a vibe that combines V for Vendetta and even, The Mask of Zorro. Like the former, the film is set in an alternate Japan, where World War II never existed and still lives under hierarchy as well as a mysterious masked person who is causing trouble and is intent on destroying the capital city. The latter comes in terms of its set action pieces, which have a swashbuckling feel to it, but replace swords with parkour.

Takeshi Kaneshiro does quite well as Heikichi Endo, a top notch circus performer who finds himself framed as K-20 and sets out to clear his name the only way possible: match the real K-20 skill for skill. Some of his training sequences have the required comic relief of the film including returning to his mentor with chicken scratches all over his face in one scene. While there isn’t a love interest for our hero, Takako Matsu comes close enough as Duchess Yoko Hashiba, who while being a woman of influence, has aspirations to live a normal life and fly. She and Kaneshiro show great chemistry whether they argue on their differences of opinions to showing a level of respect for each other.

Toru Nakamura is pretty good to watch as Detective Akechi, the investigator who is in charge of the operation to stop K-20 and ultimately helps out the trio. Nakamura starts out as a cold stone cop but shows a more lighthearted side towards the climax. While the identity of K-20 is quite the mystery that needs to be solved, Kaneshiro sees Iron Chef‘s chairman himself, Takeshi Kaga, as the mysterious K-20 and sets out to go after him in a number of action pieces that relies more on acrobatics and parkour with a little dose of fighting, but not as much as one would expect. However, the mysteriousness of the title character makes this quite a watch.

K-20: The Fiend with Twenty Faces is a watchable adventure that boasts a great cast, but in all could have been cut down about twenty minutes. However, it is the mystery of K-20 that may make one want to watch this film.

WFG RATING: B

Toho Company presents a Nippon Television Network production in association with Robot Communications. Director: Shimako Sato. Producers: Chikahiro Ando, Takuya Kurata, and Kazuyoshi Ishida. Writer: Shimako Sato; based on the novel “The Story of Nijyumenso” by Soh Kitamura. Cinematography: Kozo Shibasaki. Editing: Ryuji Miwajima.

Cast: Takeshi Kaneshiro, Takako Matsu, Toru Nakamura, Kanata Hongo, Jun Kunimura, Yuki Imai, Takeshi Kaga, Toru Masuoka.

 

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