You’ll get no kicks out of this one

By Darby Sawchuk

When sitting down to watch Black Mask, the new martial arts import from Hong Kong, I didn’t expect to come away from the experience with a sense of revulsion. I anticipated a campy but fun adventure featuring some fancy fist and footwork from Lethal Weapon 4’s Jet Li. I didn’t think Black Mask was destined to be gorier than the most shameless slasher picture. I guess Jackie Chan has spoiled me.

Black Mask opens with Tsui (Li) escaping his life as a biologically altered super-soldier in a flurry of bullets and blood. Eager to regain the humanity robbed of him through his transformation into an unfeeling assassin, Tsui, a year later, works quietly within the walls of a library.

Tsui is drawn out of this passivity when he learns that Hong Kong’s drug lords are being executed in manners indicative of his former fellow assassins. The police force
has no chance against this squad of warriors and so Tsui, as though none of us had ever heard of Batman, dons a black mask to preserve his anonymity as he battles the new terror of Hong Kong.

This oft-repeated premise held potential for some exciting martial arts sequences, but Li’s expert timing was marred by a seemingly epileptic cameraman who later took his trembling hand to the editing room. This left little opportunity to view Li’s handiwork which would have been the film’s one redeeming quality.

Had the martial arts received proper treatment, further shortcomings would have kept Black Mask from cinematic respectability. Though I don’t expect dazzling dialogue from a Hong Kong import, this was a script unfit for potty training a pet. With juvenile jokes and hackneyed tough-guy lingo, Black Mask’s dialogue could not have kept even the lowliest lobotomy patient interested.

The obvious melodramatic moments of the film were also too much to bear. Saturday morning super hero cartoons show less adherence to formula than did some of Black Mask’s scenes.

Further filmmaking atrocities included the acting, the tragically incongruous dubbing, the paper-thin characters, and the strangely ubiquitous hip-hop music trailing the action.

All these deficiencies, however, were overshadowed by the sickening level of violence in the film. Leaving nothing to the imagination, director Daniel Lee made certain that his audience would witness every drop of blood and every shattered bone. Such gore may be a selling point for some. I, on the other hand, derived no pleasure from it.

This review, however, should be taken with a grain of salt. I was among the notable number who left the theatre early. My time (and yours) is not worth wasting on such foolish filmmaking.

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