Director: Daniel Lee
Producer: Tsui Hark
Stars: Jet Li, Francoise Yip, Lau Ching-Wan, Anthony Wong
An unnamed foreign power takes a group and does experiments to make them not feel pain, thus becoming the invincible "Squad 701." When it becomes apparent that Squad 701 cannot be controlled, they are targeted for termination. Their leader (Li) finds out about the plan and escapes, eventually settling in Hong Kong and taking the name Tsui. Tsui lives a quiet life, working in a library and playing chess with his only friend, police inspector Shek (Lau). Shek thinks Tsui is kind of a simple wimp, but after Tsui saves him from a bomb, he realizes something's up and asks Tsui to help him with his current investigation. It seems that someone is killing off all of Hong Kong's drug dealers. While protecting the last major dealer, King Kau (Wong), Squad 701, led by Tsui's former student (Yip), attacks and Tsui switches into his alter ego -- the Black Mask. It's up to Black Mask to stop Squad 701 before they can take over the world's drug market.
While Black Mask's plot has a ton of holes (Who's the foreign power? Why didn't they kill Squad 701? Where the hell did Anthony Wong go?) and the characters are generic, it's still nonetheless a fun ride. Producer Tsui Hark must have pulled a lot of strings, because the film obviously had a large (at least for HK) budget. The sets and costumes look great, and there's some cool (but kind of obvious) CGI effects. Acting-wise, there's nothing extraordinary here, though Li is quite endearing as Tsui/Black Mask, Anthony Wong is great as the sleazy Kau (though he's only in the movie for a painfully short time) and you get to see Francoise Yip in a leather S&M outfit (yikes!). The action scenes are well staged and fairly exciting, combining gun-fu, kung-fu and wire-fu, though they may get too violent at points for some viewers (the Squad 701 members have a nasty habit of continuing to fight after their limbs are cut off).
Overall, a good action movie that should make a nice introduction to a "real" Jet Li movie for US audiences.
Note: The US version is changed somewhat from the HK version. It's dubbed, of course; most of the voices (especially Li and Lau's) are done well, but a few (Mok's in particular) are just horrible. The dubbing also adds a lot of profanity which wasn't in the HK version which makes the script seem weak in parts, also some of the homosexual references towards Lau's character (which were pretty funny without being "offensive") have been omitted. However, on the plus side, the dubbed introduction does explain Squad 701's creation and purpose a bit more clearly. The soundtrack has also been changed, favoring rap instead of guitar rock, which is not necessarily bad, but it does tend to overpower the viewer at times. Some people have also said that there has been more violence added for the US release. I didn't really notice anything new, but the brighter colors of the US print make the blood and gore stick out more. The US version of Black Mask is still well worth seeing, especially if you can catch it on the big screen.
A review of the DVD for this movie (US version) can be found here
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This DVD is available for purchase at www.hkflix.com