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Black Mask 2: City of Masks

Andy On is the new Black Mask in Black Mask 2: City of Masks.
Chinese: 黑俠 II  
Year: 2002  
Director: Tsui Hark  
Action: Yuen Woo-Ping, Yuen Bun
Cast: Andy On Chi-Kit, Tobin Bell, Jon Polito, Teresa Maria Herrera, Tyler Man, Andrew Bryniarski, Scott Adkins, Rob Van Dam, Sean Marquette, Oris Erhuero, Robert Bonecrusher Mukes, Michael Bailey Smith, Silvio Simac, Terence Yin, Blacky Ko Sau-Leung, Traci Lords
The Skinny: Long-delayed sequel to the 1996 Jet Li film arrives without Jet Li, but with Tsui Hark at the helm. The result is a bizarre comic book movie which has flashes of entertaining action and some nifty visuals. It's also soulless and annoyingly silly, with crappy effects and even crappier acting. Tsui Hark: please make good movies again.
by Kozo:

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)

Notes: • Black Mask 2 was released in Hong Kong in early January 2003, and featured a dubbed Cantonese soundtrack with many HK celebrities in the main roles. Most notably, Andy Lau was the voice of Black Mask and Jordan Chan voiced bad guy Lang. In an amusing turn, Cecilia Cheung provided the voice of Raymond (!), the annoying little kid. Other roles were filled out by Louis Koo, Lau Ching-Wan, Cherrie Ying, Chapman To, Michael Tse, Patrick Tam and Raymond Wong Ho-Yin.
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Mei Ah Laser
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and English Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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image courtesy of Columbia/Tri-Star Home Video Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen