Directed By: Daniel Lee
Starring: Jet Li, Ching Wan Lau, Karen Mok
Line from this film: "Nobody ever bothers a librarian"
Trivia: In homage to The Green Hornet, Black Mask wears a domino mask and chauffeur's cap in the same style as Kato from the series
Yuen Wo Ping, the legendary martial arts choreographer who helped design the fight sequences for The Matrix and Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, brought his unique talents to the 1996 Hong-Kong crime / action film Black Mask, a movie about a secret government project that transformed normal men and women into superhuman soldiers.
Michael (Jet Li) was one of the test subjects of said project, which was designated “701” by the government organization that developed it. After receiving a round of injections (administered directly into his brain), Michael and a group of others became the perfect fighting machines, with lightning-fast reflexes and a high threshold for pain. Over time, Project 701 proved too dangerous to maintain, and as a result, an order was issued that all traces of it, including its test subjects, be destroyed. Following an intense battle (during which he takes out dozens of military troops), Michael escapes, and immediately goes into hiding.
One year later, Michael, using the assumed name Simon, is working as a mild-mannered Honk Kong librarian, spending his days reading books and playing chess with his uptight best friend, Rock (Ching Wan Lau), a police detective. Through Rock, Michael learns of a vigilante group that’s knocking off key members of the city’s drug cartels, and based on the methods they’re using, he determines it’s the work of his fellow 701 survivors. Realizing he’s the only one capable of stopping them, Michael dons a mask and tries to end their reign of terror, putting both himself and those closest to him, including Det. Rock and his pretty co-worker Tracy (Karen Mok), in harm’s way.
The combination of Yuen Wo Ping and Jet Li (who also collaborated on such films as Unleashed and Fearless) is a winning one, and together the two bring a raw energy to the movie’s various action sequences. Along with its over-the-top opening battle, in which Michael takes on an entire army by himself, Black Mask treats us to several well-staged martial arts fights, highlighted by Michael’s attempts to stop his former colleagues (who he faces off against on a number of occasions, culminating in a wildly entertaining final showdown). Also holding his own in the action department is co-star Ching Wan Lau, who dukes it out with some of 701’s super soldiers while in a hospital guarding a prisoner (a fight scene that ranks as one of the film’s most energetic).
At times both a comedy (Karen Mok’s Tracy, a hyper young woman who gets herself into all sorts of trouble, serves as the movie’s comic relief) and a superhero flick (When Michael puts on the mask, he looks exactly like Kato from The Green Hornet), Black Mask is, first and foremost, an action film, and, thanks to the fine work of its entire cast and crew, it’s an entertaining one to boot.