Black Mask

Black Mask (黑俠) Blu-ray cover

It was not a minor undertaking, a group of operatives known as Squad 701 who “in a certain country up north” were subjected to surgery to remove their nerves, making them invulnerable to pain; conceived as invincible warriors, after they proved uncontrollable the project was declared a failure and the decision was made that the remaining agents were to be destroyed, a plan doomed to failure even as it was conceived, for who can kill an indestructible supersoldier save another indestructible supersoldier?

A survivor of Squad 701, Tsui Chik lives an anonymous life as a librarian, regarded by his colleagues as a quiet but decent guy who neither smokes nor drinks but enjoys playing chess with his close friend Shek Wai-Hai, a police inspector, but there is trouble afoot in the city with around thirty drug lords killed in the space of a week, Tsui Chik recognising the handiwork of the more unstable of his former associates and aware the police will be powerless against them.

Black Mask (黑俠); librarian Tsui Chik (Jet Li), enjoying a good book in peaceful anonymity.

Originally released in 1996 and now presented on Blu-ray by Eureka from a 2K restoration which features the fully uncut “Hong Kong” version alongside the alternative US and Taiwanese edits as well as extended version incorporating all the unique footage from each of the different releases, Black Mask (Hak hap, 黑俠) sees Jet Li in the dual role of Tsui Chik and the title character, effectively The Six Million Hong Kong Dollar Man (worth around $766,000 at the current exchange rate) and Lau Ching-wan as Inspector Shek Wai-Hai.

Directed with manic energy by Daniel Lee, the script for Black Mask lies on the border between nonsense and madness, aimed at an audience which either doesn’t question or doesn’t know any better, with scenes abandoned and sense secondary to action, the LED timer on a surgically implanted bomb read by x-ray (how?), a shootout in a warehouse involving a zipwire assassin who can only cross overhead on a single axis (why?), and the last drug lord standing, Anthony Wong’s King Kau, keeping his daughter’s legs in a wooden box (what?).

Black Mask (黑俠); chaos descends on the city with explosions, high kicks, zipwires, toxic waste and torture dungeons!

Karen Mok’s simpering fellow librarian Tracy an unlikely love interest, kidnapped by Black Mask for her own protection and moving through Stockholm Syndrome from hostage to maid in the same ambiguous timeframe which allows funerals to be conducted and headstones placed while enemy agents presumably pause in their campaign of chaos, the stunt work is undeniably impressive but accompanied by a limited palette of sound effects, every supersoldier punch, kick, slap and headbutt producing the same sound, and a soundtrack which seems to be Silent Night played on a Casio keyboard.

A film in which no idea other than narrative coherence seems to be too much to be included, oddly fascinating in that it demands attention if only to see what it will come up with next, the new double disc edition of Black Mask is generously supported with two new commentaries from Frank Djeng of the New York Asian Film Festival on the Hong Kong version by action cinema experts Mike Leeder and Arne Venema on the US version, new interviews with stuntman Mike Lambert and assorted genre experts and an archival featurette.

Black Mask will be available on Blu-ray from Eureka from Monday 22nd April

Black Mask (黑俠); best friends Shek Wai-Hai and Tsui Chik (Lau Ching-wan and Jet Li) continue the tradition of their nightly game of chess.



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