Black Mask 2: City of Masks (2002)

Rating: C-

Dir: Tsui Hark
Star: Andy On, Teresa Maria Herrera, Jon Polito, Scott Adkins

This has not aged well. The prospect of Adkins appearing in a movie directed by Hark, with action choreography by Yuen-Wo Ping is quite mouth-watering, but the execution is poor in a number of areas. In particular, the editing is haphazard, destroying any sense of flow, and leaving it quite impossible to admire the physical talents of the fighters. It would make sense if this was to hide stunt doubling or poor technique. But two decades later, we know very well that Scott Adkins doesn’t need to be concealed in this way. Mind you, he is also concealed behind a startlingly steam-punk pair of goggles, and the most ridiculous facial hair in his filmography (see the poster below).

The plot starts off making reasonable sense, and then… We begin with good genetically engineered warrior Kan Fung (On), going on the run, seeking a scientist who can cure him. His master sends evil genetically engineered warrior Lang (Adkins) to kill off all the appropriately qualified researchers before Fung can get to them. In particular, there’s Dr. Marco Leung (Herrera), whom Fung saves. So far, so almost logical. However, the film then diverts into a wrestling federation run by Jigsaw, which seems like a poorly considered idea… Okay, it’s pre-Saw Tobin Bell, who is mixing animal DNA into his wrestlers to enhance their skills. Fung, in his secret identity as Black Mask, is blamed for a wrestler’s death, and the rest vow to take revenge on him.

It feels like something a child would come up with, while hopped up on three times the recommended daily intake of Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs, except the execution is often non-family friendly. On the other hand, the make-up looks to have strayed in from a Ninja Turtles reboot, and the cameraman appears to have received no advance warning as to where he should point the camera, leaving him to play catch-up. There are a lot of names and faces here you’ll recognize – not least Traci Elizabeth Lords – and it feels like Hark was trying to make a film that would appeal to the Western market, based on third-hand reports of what audiences here like. The net result is about as ugly a crossbreed, as any of the animal/wrestler hybrids.

From a technical point of view, it’s clearly not cheap, and there is a sense of scale to proceedings which means it never stops being watchable. I can’t condemn the quantity of action here either: it feels almost non-stop. This again likely speaks to the lack of thought put into the story-line, with set pieces replacing any significant development, rather than enhancing it. The net result wasn’t enough to stop my interest from ebbing away, and there’s little here to indicate this was directed by one of the most respected and renowned men in Hong Kong cinema. He’s certainly the only one to have appeared on a Sparks album

This review is part of Project Adkins, covering the movies of Scott Adkins.

[Original review] There’s no messing around here: inside three minutes, we discard the original, and from then on the film largely goes berserk. This isn’t necessarily a good thing, when some sequences and monsters smack more of a lacklustre Power Rangers episode than anything else, but there are certainly moments to make you go “cool!” and reach for another handful of popcorn. No Jet Li this time, he’s replaced behind the mask by Andy On (who should make a film called Prepositions, with Heroic Trio director Johnnie To) as the enhanced human who fights for what is right. Here, he’s up against – get this – a wrestling federation run by Tobin Bell, whose athletes (including Lords and WWE regular Rob Van Dam) have been spliced with animal DNA, and now transform sporadically into their wild counterparts. After Black Mask gets infected, he needs to find a cure – enter unconvincing scientist/love interest (Herrera).

Yuen Wo Ping choreographed the action, but you’d be pushed to tell, with a lot of wire- and CGI-work. The best is a fine finale, pitting On against Scott Adkins, who impresses in both acting and martial arts – though what his character is actually doing in the movie is anyone’s guess. And who is the target audience? Various impalements merit a high certificate but a lot of it is, frankly, juvenile, most obviously the irritating kid sidekick, guaranteed to annoy anyone who’s hit puberty. On the other hand, there’s some nice satire, such as the way the promoter creates a Black Mask wrestler, complete with merchandising. The result is all over the place – making it right in line with the rest of Tsui’s recent work. I leave it to you whether to take that as a recommendation. C+