Six years after Jet Li played a superpowered hero, a new star’s attempt to breakout is marred by a ridiculous story and a very mixed bag of action courtesy of the duo behind the original film.
Kan Fung, involved in the same experiment that once created the 701 Squad, has decided to escape and look for a cure. However, as he searches for a clue, he fights crime donning a black mask and is known simply as Black Mask. The higher ups sends someone of its equal, Lang, to find Black Mask and bring him back. However, for the new Black Mask, that’s just a tip of the iceberg as he may have found a cure and finds the scientist responsible, Dr. Marco Leung.
Meanwhile, King, a major wrestling promoter in Bangkok, decides to make a spectacular show with some of his top performers. However, he has been working in cahoots with Moloch, a scientist who has been using animal DNA to fuse with human DNA. When one of the performers, Iguana, slowly transforms into the half-human/half-iguana monster, Black Mask shows up in time and even goes as far as attempt to help Iguana, who rather sacrifices himself to the chagrin of his girlfriend, Chameleon, who blames Black Mask for the whole ordeal. Soon Black Mask learns that before he can cure himself, he must stop not only Moloch and the wrestlers, but his old arch enemy Lang as well.
When Jet Li’s 1996 original Black Mask was a hit in Hong Kong and performed decently in its 1999 U.S. run, Tsui Hark decided to make a sequel. While the likes of Louis Koo and Raymond Wong (not to be confused with the star/producer of the All’s Well Ends Well films) were in the running for the role of the new Black Mask, Tsui found his new lead in American-born Taiwanese actor Andy On, who had virtually zero martial arts experience when he was cast but as you can see by his films today, On is one of this generation’s top names in Hong Kong’s action cinema.
The problem with this sequel is that On seems to have been cast at the time only for his looks and athleticism, and yet with having to train for the film, he is still given a limited performance in the action department. It seems like On is relegated more to just bouncing off walls with the occasional kick. It is truly a far cry not just from Jet Li in the original, but even compared to his action performances today, it is clear that On suffered from “rookie syndrome”. Thankfully, after this film, On underwent great martial arts training and soon broke out with roles in Star Runner and New Police Story and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Why screenwriters Jeff Black and Charles Cain decide to use professional wrestling as an output for our hero will definitely never be answered, but the film’s use of international stars does help a little. Rob Van Dam already has had experience in Hong Kong films, with his roles in two 1990’s Seasonal Film productions, Superfights and Bloodmoon. For his third and final Hong Kong production, Van Dam perhaps has the most experience in that department but like On, is relegated to more CGI effects and not enough groundwork. Traci Lords, Oris Erhuero, and Robert Mukes try to make the most of their roles as the other infected wrestlers with future Leatherface actor Andrew Bryniarski, with doubling by co-star Silvio Simac, makes the most of his limited appearance as the first infected star, Iguana.
Yuen Woo-Ping’s action on this film is a far disappointment from the original. However, it is fair to say that the climactic action sequence, in which Black Mask has his final confrontation with the wrestlers and his old nemesis Lang, played by another action hero today, Scott Adkins, is truly the best action of the entire film. While the CGI may tend to mar some of it, On does find himself more grounded facing the likes of the aforementioned Silvio Simac, who unleashes his nice kicking skills against On before On takes on Adkins, who gives the viewers a taste of what he will unleash just two years later in his breakout role in 2003’s Special Forces.
If you like both Andy On and Scott Adkins, two great action stars in today’s films, then check out Black Mask 2: City of Masks to see where these two started and get ready for a long-awaited reunion as these two will be together in the upcoming film Twilight Zodiac. However, don’t expect anything grand as this is truly an inferior sequel. But don’t discredit On and Adkins as they made the most of it.
WFG RATING: D
China Star Entertainment presents a One Hundred Years of Film Ltd. Production in association with Film Workshop. Director: Tsui Hark. Producer: Tsui Hark. Writers: Jeff Black and Charles Cain; story by Tsui Hark, Laurent Courtiaud, and Julien Carbon. Cinematography: Horace Wong and William Yim. Editing Marco Mak and Angie Lam.
Cast: Andy On, Scott Adkins, Tobin Bell, Jon Polito, Rob Van Dam, Traci Lords, Oris Erhuero, Robert Mukes, Sean Marquette, Teresa Herrera, Michael Bailey Smith, Silvio Simac, Blacky Ko, Terence Yin, Andrew Bryniarski.