Black Mask 2: City of Masks (Tsui Hark, 2002)

On paper Black Mask 2 might appear to be the best movie ever made. A super-powered martial arts expert dressed in the iconic Kato mask and driver's cap battles a gang of wrestlers who have been turned into monsters while a cyborg villain plans to drop a DNA altering bomb on the city. Featuring a cast including Scott Adkins, Traci Lords and Tobin Bell, directed by Tsui Hark and with fights choreographed by Woo-Ping Yuen it would appear there is enough talent to make the wonderfully insane concept a reality. Alas the movie never quite reaches it potential.

The first Black Mask (Daniel Lee, 1996) featured Jet Li as the super soldier turned hero battling equally powerful villains. It was a showcase for Li's mix of traditional martial arts and wire-fu taken from the usual context of turn-of-the-century China and dropped into the super-hero genre. It was fun, but nothing groundbreaking. The sequel appeared on my radar not long after but aware that it no longer starred Li I unfairly dismissed it. However, a copy of the movie caught my eye recently primarily because the cover featured some cool looking monsters. A little deeper investigation lead me to the discovery that the film promised to be loaded with cool practical beasties. I took the bait and although it falls short of what it could have been it still proved to be a fun 100 minutes.

The various monsters, ranging from a snake-creature, a lizard-man and a werewolf, all look great. There are some battles, the showdown in the zoo for example, that rely on practical effects and work really well as a result. Where the film falls down, however, is when it relies on decidedly under-cooked CGI. As such the fight with the lizard man, Traci Lords' chameleonic creature and the weird squid-headed thing all end looking like animatics for a much more exciting movie.

The final battle, where Black Mask fights off some regular henchmen before going up against a barely recognisable Adkins (who looks a lot like the rebooted Action Man's arch-enemy Doctor X) works so much better than any of the fights before because it involves barely any CGI. Unfortunately by this stage the cool monsters have taken a back seat and don't get to see much of the action.

In terms of story or character it is difficult for me to comment. I saw the film on a Chinese DVD release with English subtitles that, as tends to be the case, seemed to be a best guess as English rather than an accurate translation. As a result there was a steady supply of unintentional gems which kept me going in-between actions scenes. I therefore can't comment on how the movie works when dubbed or accompanied with more reliable subtitles.

There are a lot of great elements in the movie, however a little more faith in the practical effects would have made this a wonderfully ridiculous kung-fu monster mash. As it stands it is a bit of a CGI mess with the occasional moments of brilliance.

And you do get to see a superhero fight a werewolf on top of an elephant.

Not just any werewolf. THIS werewolf.


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