Black Mask

Jet Black

When Jackie Chan finally became a star in America, there was a rush to retool and release his back catalogue, with mixed results. Now that his role in Lethal Weapon 4 has raised awareness of Jet Li, we can expect the same treatment of his old features.

This is the first, although it’s atypical of the usual Jet picture. It’s a sci-fi action fest that has Jet playing a former member of a group of super-soldiers called 701 Squad, who left the team when they became too ruthless for his tastes. He goes into hiding and takes a job as a mild-mannered librarian. However, his friendship with police detective Lau Ching-Wan draws him back into opposition with 701. The Squad is wiping out drug lords in a complicated plan to earn a serum said to cure a side effect of the super-soldier formula (they only have a few years to live). Not wanting to expose his new identity, Li dons a mask and black uniform to fight the 701, which leads to inevitable comparisons with the Green Hornet’s sidekick Kato.

Though most Jet Li films are more akin to old fashioned Westerns with fantastic martial arts (as in the Once Upon A Time in China series), this one has a much harder edge and is full of blood & guts, despite being cut to earn an R rating. The super-soldiers are all super-strong and near impervious to pain, which means they get shot, stabbed, and sliced up numerous times and still come back to dish out the same. Scenes in which the disguised Li kidnaps his librarian girlfriend in order to protect her have a definite bondage theme. The kung fu, though enhanced by wirework, is terrific, directed with campy finesse by Daniel Lee.

I’ve heard other critics complain of bad dubbing in this film, but most people think of all dubbing as “bad”. This film actually has better dubbing than most I’ve seen, with mouth movement closely matching dialogue, and some of the actors dub their own voices.

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