Tsui Hark cements his reputation
as the Asian George Lucas, except it looks like he's
been smoking crack, too. Black Mask 2: City of Masks is a wacky hodgepodge of a comic book film, mixing extreme
wirework, lots of CG, blisteringly bad acting, and a
plot device stolen from the eighties TV show "Manimal".
If all of that sounds like your bag, then seek out a
copy of the film pronto.
When we last left Black
Mask (Jet Li in the original), he had escaped the clutches
of assassin group 701 and was setting off with pals
Karen Mok and Lau Ching-Wan. Well, scratch all that.
Now Black Mask is embodied by newcomer Andy On, a sculpted
bohunk who could stop traffic with his chiseled chest.
He's on the run from an evil organization dubbed Zeus,
who gave Black Mask the genetic treatments which caused
his superpowers. Their number two product, Lang (Scott
Adkins), has been sent to retreive Black Mask so they
can use his skills as a corporate assassin. Black Mask
would just as soon become human, and seeks out geneticists
to cure his mutation.
After a nifty action sequence
where Black Mask grapples with his foes on some moving
cars, the film shifts to a wacky wrestling organization
which employs genetically enhanced wrestlers as their
main attraction. It's here that amateur quack Moloch
(Tobin Bell) uses genetic treatments to give his wrestlers
the ability to transform into animal/human hybrids.
However, the treatments prove fatal, and the one called
Iguana (Andrew Bryniarski) goes postal on the sellout
crowds. He also terrorizes a young kid named Raymond
(Michael Bailey Smith) with his cheesy rubber iquana
mask, though it's supposed to be his transformed face.
Tsui Hark mixes CG effects with extreme makeup to make
his mutated wrestlers come to life. The resulting mix
is hideously silly.
Black Mask saves the day, but
not before opening up a whole new can of worms. Moloch
now wants to use Black Mask as a animal/human hybrid
and even finds a way to inject a cheetah formula into
him. Meanwhile, Black Mask tries to get the help of
a pretty geneticist named Marco Leung (Teresa Maria
Herrera), who has the inexplicable quirk of freezing
up when touched by a male. She's shrill and annoying,
but Black Mask wants her help anyway. He also befriends
the young Raymond, which means that Black Mask now has
a potential sidekick. Tsui Hark should have steered
clear of that overdone cliché, but he apparently
listened to his inner voices and left it in the film
anyway. Not surprisingly, the kid should be shot.
The rest of the film involves
Black Mask trying to cure himself of his unwanted cheetah-transforming
curse, while the other wrestlers (named Claw, Snake,
Thorn and Chameleon) grapple with their screwy transformations.
Lang finally shows up too, and attempts to beat up Black
Mask and explode a genetic bomb in downtown B City (that's
where the film takes place). Meanwhile, the audience
lights up another one, and Chinastar orders psychiatric
counseling for Tsui Hark.
Calling Black Mask
2 incoherent would be unfair. It happens to have
a much more understandable plot than Tsui's last SFX
wonder, The Legend of Zu. However, that film
attempted a sort of martial arts mythology which was
muddled, but at least had some sense of epic wonder. Black Mask 2 is just plain silly. Instead of
sticking with the sci-fi cyberpunk storyline of the
first, Tsui went wacky on us and installed this strange
animal genetics subplot which practically encourages
his assortment of actors (some of which are actually
professional wrestlers) to overact like mad. They come
through for Tsui, which is unfortunate for the rest
of us. "Subtle" is not a word that could be
applied to this film's acting, as shrieking, funny faces,
and hyperactive activity all come into play.
However, this is a comic book
film, which encourages this sort of egregious histrionic
display. It's clear that Tsui Hark was aiming for a
fluffy action pic, and the film does contain
some entertaining bits. The production design can be
occasionally engaging, and the jazzy camerawork helps
out some. Still, the script is blisteringly bad, the
characters completely uninteresting, and lead actor
Andy On a total rock. This is a bizarre B-movie, where
everything is so outlandish and the script so completely
leaden, that it's nearly impossible to connect to anything
happening in the film. Is this really from the guy that
made Peking Opera Blues?
At least the action can
be entertaining. Yuen Woo-Ping knows his stuff, and
the wire-assisted fu has energy to spare. If you can
ignore the obvious CG sequences and concentrate on the
bone-crunching stuff, then some fun can be had. You
will, of course, also have to ignore the egregious script,
nonexistent acting and annoying characters. And, you'll
have to ignore the fact that Tsui Hark directed this
picture, or that disappointment could cripple your livelihood.
Give Tsui some credit; he uses technological advances
to exercise his gonzo imagination, and doesn't stick
to the tried-and-true. Too bad his experiments have
yet to produce anything truly good. (Kozo 2002)