Monday, May 28, 2012

The 31 Day Movie Challenge - Day 30 - BLACK MASK (1999)

- Rated R for strong violence including martial arts combat, some sexual content and language.
- Starring Jet Li
- Written by Tsui Hark & Hui Koan and Teddy Chen & Jo Ma
- Directed by Daniel Lee
- Running time: 1hr 36min.

(The 31 Day Movie Challenge was proposed to me by fellow film critic Jessie Hoheisel (from superawesomemovieblog). We each chose 30 films for each other to review for the month of May. The first film chosen will be from 1970. The second film from 1971... and so on. The last day will be a film from 2000. I accepted the challenge!) 

I still haven't seen that many Jet Li movies.  I mean, I've seen some of his American films like KISS OF THE DRAGON (which I love), but I think I've only seen FIST OF LEGEND when it comes to his "real" movies, and I only thought it was okay.  BLACK MASK was made in 1996, but didn't come out to the US until 1999, re-dubbed for the American public.  I have a really hard time judging a movie properly when it's dubbed, so I watched the original version in it's native language.

So.... well, this is where I normally would tell you what the story was about, but I had a really hard time understanding what was happening during the whole thing.  It starts off with what I think was a flashback.  Jet Li is in some sort of program with a few other guys with certain powers that make them strong or something.  While on a mission he's almost killed and disappears.  He then hides as a librarian where this annoying slutty chick tries to ask him out.  Anyway, a few scenes later, Li is wearing a black "Kato" mask beating up a bunch of thugs.  I guess he's moonlighting as some type of vigilante.  Li is good friends with a cop who may or may not know his secret identity.  The villain is also super strong and is just mean looking.  According to a synopsis on IMDB, Li is supposed to be battling old teammates from his special forces unit, but I didn't really get that connection.  And there's some girl who knows kung fu that Li is hung up on for some reason.

I'm not sure what the hell happened here, but this movie didn't make any fucking sense.  As you can see, I thought the plot was completely incoherent.  It also didn't help that the filmmaking was also incoherent, making it very difficult to comprehend what was actually happening in front of my eyeballs.  Poorly lit, crooked camera angles (that didn't match one shot from the next) make the film nearly unwatchable.  About halfway through, I just threw up my arms and gave up trying to make sense of this mess.  The movie is so bad that I was surprised that it was actually picked up for American distribution.  How can anyone see this and think it's marketable.

Okay, Jet Li is tremendously talented, but you wouldn't know it from this movie.  In order to appreciate someone's martial arts ability, the filmmakers should shoot the action scenes with many mastershots with minimal cuts so that we can see just how awesome of a fighter he is.  Instead, there are too many close-ups, rapid camera movements and slapdash editing.  By the way the film was made, they could have easily just cast someone who doesn't know Kung-Fu from knitting.  The whole purpose for getting Jet Li to be in your kung fu movie is to have the fight scenes look genuine, but when you cut the fighting to shreds like this, it's absolutely pointless.  I could've been The Black Mask for Christ's sake!  I guess that some of the fight choreography and stunt work had some inspired moments.  There were a few fights that amused me, like Li flying through the air throwing slinging around some sort of electrical tube or chord or... whatever.  But it's all pretty moot.

I think there is a really good martial arts film that could be made from this premise.  I love masked vigilantes, and with the casting of Jet Li, this could've been a classic.  But director Daniel Lee should have never been let behind a movie camera.  He's absolutely dreadful.  That and the script had no semblance of an actual plot.  I'm sure there's many other examples that can better present Jet Li's abilities, cause this just doesn't cut it.

* (out of ****)

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