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Black Mask (Limited Edition Set) (Blu-ray Details)

Unique ID Code: 0000225735
Added by: Jitendar Canth
Added on: 1/7/2024 19:55
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    Review for Black Mask (Limited Edition Set)

    8 / 10


    This Hong Kong movie, Black Mask, has nothing to do with the Japanese movie, K-20: Legend of the Black Mask. You probably weren’t thinking about that, but I thought I’d mention it just in case. Black Mask is a superhero movie... which in this day and age isn’t saying much, but the fact that it was made in 1996, bears further scrutiny. Now, comic book adaptations are Hollywood’s resting state, but back at the end of the 20th Century, mainstream superhero movies amounted to the Schumacher Batman sequels, although 1996 was the year that Billy Zane’s Phantom movie was released. This was the era of Tank Girl, the first Judge Dredd, Darkman, The Crow, Barb Wire and The Shadow; a lot more bad than good. We were still two years away from the start of the golden age of comic book movies, when Marvel released Blade, and a further two years away from The X-Men, which arguably changed everything. It will be interesting to see what a Hong Kong take on a superhero movie would be in 1996.

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    This is a two disc release of Black Mask, offering four versions of the film; the original Hong Kong Theatrical Version (99:58), the Export Version (87:14), the Taiwan release (100:57), and a Frankenstein version (102:18) that has all of the different territory footage reinstated.

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    An unnamed country instituted a super-soldier program to create the ultimate squad of warriors, operating on them to enhance their abilities, remove their pain. They didn’t consider that they’d have to control those soldiers, so in the end, their destruction was ordered. Tsui Chik alone escaped the purge, and made his way to Hong Kong where he got a job in a library, to keep under the radar while he looked for a cure. At least he thought he was alone.

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    Tsui Chik tries to keep his head down, but he has made one friend, Inspector Shek of the Hong Kong police, who tells him of a recent crime wave, the slaughter of Hong Kong’s drug dealing Triads. Tsui recognises the MO when a survivor of an attack shows up in hospital, with a bomb implanted in his heart. His squad did survive, and they’ve got an insidious plan. If Tsui Chik is to protect his new home and friends, he’ll have to don a disguise and fight back.

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    Black Mask gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on these discs. It’s from that period when film stocks were more soft and grainy, but it still gets a sold presentation here, clear, sharp and colourful, albeit with a cool colour timing. Detail levels are good, contrast is spot on, although there might be specks of dirt, and some minor print damage in places. The action comes across well enough though.

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    The Hong Kong version of the film offers DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround Cantonese and PCM 2.0 Cantonese with English subtitles. The Export Version comes with PCM 2.0 English Dub, the Taiwanese version comes with PCM 2.0 Stereo Mandarin, and PCM 2.0 Alternate Mandarin audio with optional English subtitles, and the Extended Version is mostly in PCM 2.0 Cantonese with a bit of Mandarin and English for the added footage. I was happy with the surround track in the Hong Kong version, the dialogue is clear and the surround is nice and immersive, making the most of the action, although the music is a little subdued in the mix. The subtitles are accurately timed and free of typos.

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    The discs boot to static menus. The real extras here are the multiple versions of the film. But if you want a little more the Hong Kong version has an audio commentary from Frank Djeng, and the Export version has a commentary from Mike Leeder & Arne Venema.

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    Incidentally the Bonus disc with the Taiwanese and Extended versions is on the Limited Edition release only, where you’ll also find a booklet with writing on the film. The Limited Edition is a run of 2000 copies.

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    I forgot that action movies were the comic book movies of the eighties and nineties. The Green Hornet is referenced in the film when the Black Mask makes an appearance, with the costume design unmistakeable. But when it comes to the premise of the story, the true touchstone for The Black Mask is the Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle, Universal Soldier. This tale of a mysterious government program to create a squad of super-soldiers is executed in an entertaining way. The film kicks off with an explosive action sequence to show off Tsui Chik’s skills before dialling it all back down to show his life in the real world, before his past catches up to him.

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    Black Mask has that off kilter blend of childish silliness, and gory violence that Western films never even tried to emulate until films like Deadpool came along, which is a lot more common in Asian filmmaking. The idea of these super-soldiers that have their nerves removed to eliminate pain makes for the kind of warrior who if needs be can cut off their own arm to smack you around the face with the bloody end. That level of violence is part of the film’s DNA, coupled with the kind of wire-fu wuxia that might seem out of place given the genre of the film, but enables these enhanced warriors to pull off those crazy moves.

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    Tsui Chik escaped all this, and made it to Hong Kong where he gets a job in a library, perfect to keep his head down, while accessing all this written material about the world. His co-workers have their own drama, particularly Tracy whose love-life is suffering through a series of increasing catastrophes. She can get dumped before she even meets her date, which is when her colleagues point out that Tsui is a decent looking guy. Given his past, he’d much rather avoid all that drama, and instead has a friend he can respect in Inspector Shek, who at least has the skills to take care of himself. Shek on the other hand is infuriated at this man Tsui who refuses even to defend himself when provoked.

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    Then his former squadmates reappear, people he thought had been killed. They’ve gone rogue, seeking revenge against the world that treated them so badly, as well as a cure for what was done to them. But they’ve gone to the dark side in that endeavour, first reaping the city’s drug dealers to take their place, and then turning their attention to the police. It’s less a matter of right and wrong for Tsui, than it is his friends being threatened, although that’s complicated by a desire to redeem at least one of his former squadmates.

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    Black Mask is fun. You have to reconcile its somewhat juvenile humour, and character comedy with some no holds barred violence and action, and some rather obnoxious, scenery chewing villains. Personally, the differences between the various versions presented here are so trivial that I didn’t feel the need to watch them all. But it is nice to have the option, and the presentation is solid on these discs, even if extras are comparatively light.

    Black Mask is available from Eureka Entertainment, from Terracotta, and from mainstream retailers.

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