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Besides the title and the presence of a man wearing Kato-inspired threads, “Black Mask 2: City of Masks” has little in common with the original “Black Mask” starring Jet Li. The original was produced/co-written by Hong Kong action mainstay Tsui Hark (“Time and Tide”), who has taken a more active role with the sequel by acting as director. The screenplay is by Julien Carbon and Laurent Courtiaud, both of who, it appears, have seen one too many Hong Kong films. As a result, “Black Mask 2″ is just as absurd and lacking in a coherent screenplay as many action Hong Kong films that have come down the pipe.
This time around Black Mask is a crimefighter in a futuristic city called B City (I guess creativity has gone down the drain in the future), while at the same time dodging an entity name Zeus. Zeus is an “entity” because we never see his face, only hear his voice. Zeus, we learn, was the one responsible for “creating” Black Mask, intending to sell Mask’s skills to the world as a mercenary. (This origin of Black Mask, obviously, doesn’t jive with the original’s version, which had Black Mask being the product of a failed military experiment.) Mask has gone AWOL and Zeus is intent on re-capturing him. He sends Lang (Scott Adkins), his next-best warrior to do the job.
Back in (the improbably named) B City, Black Mask has gotten involved with a shady wrestling federation owner name Moloch (Tobin Bell), who is injecting his wrestlers with a serum that adds animal DNA to their own, giving them superior strength but very bad side effects. When one of the wrestlers goes insane and actually turns into an iguana (also his wrestling name), Black Mask appears to stop the mayhem. All of this begs the question: since Black Mask knows that Zeus is waiting for him to resurface in order to capture him, why did Mask show up as himself, and not some other costumed hero? Also, why after Mask has shown up and gotten his face on TV for all the world to see does it take Zeus, supposedly all-knowing and possessing an amazing computer tracking system, at least a week to send Lang over?
Newcomer Andy On steps into the role vacated by Jet Li, although considering that this sequel has next to nothing to do with the original, it’s probably for the best that Li didn’t reprise the role and confusing us further. Alas, “Black Mask 2″ does fine by itself in the confusing screenplay department. There are straying plot threads that goes nowhere as well as plot threads that seem to go nowhere before resurfacing to prove themselves worthy, or at least undead. For example: the film opens with Zeus and Lang, and there is a brief sequence where Lang attempts to nab Black Mask, but fails. After this point, Zeus and Lang disappear completely, only to resurface with 20 minutes to go in the film!
Much of “Black Mask 2″ unfortunately turns into a big budget version of “The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” whenever Black Mask has to battle one of the wrestlers-turned-mutated-creatures. Even so, the film did manage to keep me somewhat entertained. Andy On does a good job as Black Mask; he’s taller and stronger than Li, and he has the right intensity for the role. But I couldn’t attest to On’s martial arts prowess, since the film is so heavily doused with extreme wirework and CGI effects that it’s impossible to tell if On knows anything. (This, incidentally, also proves that Tsui Hark still hasn’t gotten all the CGI nonsense out of his system with “Legend of Zu.”)
The love interest for Black Mask is played by Teresa Herrera, who actually brings the film some much needed humor. In a movie where large muscle-bound men morph into silly looking muscle-bound men dressed up in foam suits, Herrera’s Marco, a doctor who has a phobia about being touched by men (she goes stiff when this happens), is good for some laughs. The movie does explain why she has developed this phobia, and that explanation, and subsequent gags, are also good for a chuckle or two.
As an action film, “Black Mask 2″ is seriously in need of someone with the guts to slap director Tsui Hark and force him to go back to “grounded” wireworks and abandon this whole need to insert CGI into the most unnecessary places. Traci Lords co-stars as Chameleon, a female wrestler who can turn invisible. With 30 minutes to go, Lords’ character is completely replaced by CGI. It doesn’t work.
Unfortunately, “Black Mask 2″ is as silly and pointless as it sounds. But at least it’s a mildly amusing diversion, even if I kept getting images of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers while watching it…
(Note: The movie’s credit listing at IMDB.com has a number of errors. I hope I have corrected them here.)
Hark Tsui (director) / Julien Carbon, Laurent Courtiaud (screenplay)
CAST: Andy On …. Black Mask
Jon Polito …. Mr. King
Scott Adkins …. Lang
Traci Lords …. Chameleon
Tyler Mane …. Thorn