When you watch and review as many films as we do, you really appreciate a film that lets you write something new, something you couldn't write about any other film. For instance, only in a review of Godmonster of Indian Flats could you write:
The eight foot tall mutant sheep dances with a hippie.
And only in a review of A Very Merry Muppet Christmas could you write:
In this movie, David Arquette is actually pretty funny.
And it is only in a review of Black Mask 2: City of Masks that you will read:
Time to switch HMOs.
In one scene, Black Mask kung-fu fights a tarantula monster atop a herd of elephants.
That line will be coming up later, look for it.
Black Mask 2: City of Masks is a nominal English language sequel to 1996's Hong Kong actioner Black Mask, which starred Jet Li as a surgically-enhanced mercenary who dresses like Kato to kill off the other members of his secret military unit who were likewise enhanced. Other than certain fashion choices by the main character in each film, we can't honestly say they're connected. The Black Mask in Black Mask 2 has a new origin and a new nemesis to go along with it. And while Black Mask was a little loopy, Black Mask 2 goes for out and out surrealism.
"Yes, I do think adding 'Elizabeth'
to my screen credit increases
Genetic research scientists all over the world are being assassinated. In Japan, Black Mask (Andy On) attempts to contact the next targeted scientist, but is too late. The scientist is killed by Dr. Lang, a super-powered soldier created by Zeus, a sentient computer. Zeus created Black Mask as well, and he wants his prodigal son to return. But after a super-powered kung fu fight Black Mask escapes, apparently because he parked his motorcycle at the top of a tree. (And this is the relatively realistic part of the film.)
The story now moves to B-City. The B apparently stands for Bogus, because the entire city is computer generated. B-city also goes for professional wrestling in a big way, judging from the huge stadium they have devoted to the sport, complete with huge statues of the top wrestlers outside. The wrestlers turn out to have a drug problem that makes the WWF's problems with steroids look like a mild fetish for Diet Coke. A scientist named Moloch, working with promoter Mr. King (Jon Polito... no, really), has genetically enhanced most of the wrestlers in such a way that they can become man/animal hybrids when they get excited. It's an Island of Dr. Moreau for the 21st century!
"Hey! That's cheating!"
Naturally, something goes Horribly Wrong with the animal/man hybridization process, and one of the wrestlers (the imaginatively named "Iguana") goes nuts, tearing apart the stadium and (ulp) its inhabitants. Things come to a head when Iguana grabs a young boy (the son of his -- apparently unaltered -- nemesis, Hellraiser), and starts climbing a nearby office tower.
Just to interject for a moment, why exactly is it that monsters on a rampage like to climb towers? These structures are dead ends by their nature, so this practice doesn't make much sense as a means of escape. Do rampaging monsters simply like to have a nice look at the city? Have they become disoriented, and need to get their bearings from a bird's-eye view? Or do they all ultimately become suicidal, and therefore need a precipice from which to fling themselves?
Returning to our movie, we see that Black Mask arrives in the nick of time to kick Iguana's ass and save the kid, who will naturally become Mask's sidekick later in the film. Iguana takes a tumble, leaving behind his distraught tag-team partner, Chameleon (everyone's favorite reformed underage porn actress, Traci Lords), who must naturally swear revenge against Black Mask yadda yadda yadda.
Before Dr. Poole helped this man,
they didn't give Nobel
Prizes in dermatology.
The plot in such kung fu movies even tangled sci-fi kung-fu movies like this one is always secondary to the action. All we really need is to get our heroes and villains from one fight to the next, and if we happen to get a little story entertainment in the bargain, so much the better. We suppose the story of Black Mask 2 is entertaining sometimes, but more often it's distracting.
What are we to make of Dr. Marco (Teresa Herrera), a pretty scientist to whom Black Mask sends a blood sample? (He took courting tips from Van Gogh, apparently.) The gift of genetically mutated plasma, along with his interruption of her autopsy of Iguana, would seem to be enough plot justification for her to tag around with Black Mask. Yet she's given two more bizarre character traits. For the first half of the movie she goes stiffly catatonic whenever she is touched by a man, a circumstance that leads to Marco being posed like a contestant on Whose Line is it Anyway? The second half of the movie conspires to keep her dressed in bizarrely inappropriate streetwalker clothes. That's right ladies, all you need is the right man and it's straight down the path from scientist to slutsville!
Another thing that particularly confused us was Moloch's habit of giving super powers to his enemies. When Moloch wants to bring Black Mask into the fold, he doses our hero with a serum that will turn him in to a tiger hybrid. Basically, the only result of this is that Black Mask kicks butt faster, and announces that "It's grrrrrrreat!" when he's done. When Dr. Lang tries to steal info from Moloch's computer, he finds that the console is booby-trapped with a dart that gives Lang the powers of an electric eel. Does Moloch also leave alien rings of power or radioactive spiders lying around while he's at it?
We thought the new Tablet PCs
would be smaller than this.
The bizarreness of the movie started to get to us after a while. In one scene, Black Mask kung-fu fights a tarantula monster atop a herd of elephants. By that point, however, we were so numbed to the surrealism of the film that all we could think was, "Huh. Elephants."
Black Mask 2: City of Masks was directed by Tsui Hark, who apparently decided to take some time off from explaining to English speakers how to pronounce his name and take a more active role in the sequel to the movie he produced in 1996. Hark's more recent output has been typified by great cinematography and preposterous situations. Jean Claude Van Damme being rescued from the exploding tiger/landmine/Mickey Rourke coliseum trap by a vending machine comes to mind as an example of the latter. Hark seemed to have found a way to make the weirdness serve the story in the incredible Time and Tide, but now he's back to old tricks.
The opening credits credit Yuen Woo Ping as the action director, but we only detected the master's style in the last couple of fights. These fights are also the lightest on the CGI and special effects, proving that when it comes to martial arts fights nothing is more essential that a bunch of athletic guys beating the stuffing out of each other. Black Mask 2 does deliver a lot of kung-fu action, but not nearly enough to compensate for its twist-heavy script or wooden acting.