Black Mask, Blu-ray (2008, Original release 1999)

by | Aug 25, 2008 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Black Mask, Blu-ray (2008, Original release 1999)

Starring: Jet Li, Karen Mok, Lau Ching Wan
Director: Daniel Lee
Studio: Lionsgate [Release date: Sept. 2, 08]
Video: 1.85:1 anamorphic/enhanced for 16:9, 1080p HD
Audio: DTS HD Master Audio 7.1
Extras: Black Mask Interactive Trivia Game, Featurettes, Trailers
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Length: 102 minutes
Rating: **1/2

Comic book/Graphic novel/Superhero movies are all the rage these days, so this Blu-ray release of Black Mask starring martial arts superstud Jet Li comes as no real surprise. One of his many Hong Kong-based ventures, and obviously originally intended only for the Asian market, the film suffers from a multitude of problems. Along with a rather patchy plot construction, the film has been dubbed into English in an entirely haphazard manner, and there are some pretty glaring “Anglicizations” that were apparently intended to make the film a more comfortable watch for Western audiences. And while the film has no shortage of high energy martial arts action sequences with lots of bombs and explosions, it comes up ultimately lacking in the kind of relatively good direction and acting chops that Jet Li would exhibit in later (and much better) films like Romeo Is Bleeding.

The shaky plot basically revolves around a group of genetically engineered “super soldiers,” the 701s, who possess nearly superhuman strength and are almost impervious to pain. The experiment, of course, goes awry, and all the 701s are terminated (or so the government thinks). Jet Li, as Simon, is one of the 701s who manages to escape, and he quietly settles into society as a librarian. As time passes, it becomes obvious that other 701s also survived, and they’ve begun to collectively reek mayhem on the public. This triggers a reaction in Simon, and he soon dons a mask and chauffeur’s cap and becomes the “Black Mask” (not at all unlike Bruce Lee as the Green Lantern’s sidekick Cato) in an attempt to eliminate the bad 701s and restore order. The story line is extremely thin at best, and really only serves to showcase an almost nonstop series of martial arts action sequences.

From a technical standpoint, the Blu-ray’s video quality is a mixed bag, to say the least. The image quality varies wildly throughout, with heavy grain frequently apparent. And the image also alternates frequently from almost razor sharp to really soft, and there were numerous instances of speckles and dirt. The audio, on the other hand, has been given a major upgrade to DTS HD MA 7.1, and the soundtrack, which is a mostly bombastic hip-hop affair, benefits significantly, and will give your subwoofer and surrounds a substantial workout between all the explosions and heavy mix of hip-hop beats! The relatively superb audio quality easily lifts this disc to two and a half stars.

Black Mask is not a total loss; however, its gaffes are numerous, and its appeal is obviously directed at the martial arts/action crowd. Fans of Jet Li will not want to miss this one, but for the rest of us, it’s definitely just a rental.

— Tom Gibbs 

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