By: Quinn Zack
Style goes a long way in terms of characterizing and giving quality to a film, even the thinnest most hair-brained plot can be saved through stylistic choices.
“Black Mask” tries its best for the audience to believe it’s absolutely wild plot through style, action and characters that are far wilder.
Released in Hong Kong in 1999 and starring Martial Arts superstar Jet Li, “Black Mask” tells the story of the Hong Kong police unit 701. The officers are turned into emotionless nearly immortal killing machines by their government but once they turn violent and murder their superiors the 701 officers were all thought to be destroyed.
Jet Li plays Simon, an unassuming librarian who is best friends with a police detective. The two are different as can be, but they both understand that a man’s past is his own business, something Simon holds in utmost importance, as he is secretly thought to be the last surviving member of the 701’s.
After Hong Kong’s drug lords are all mysteriously killed Simon decides to use his near-immortality to find the group responsible. While he knows that perhaps the true perpetrators are really ghosts of his past seeking revenge against the world that created them, the Hong Kong police lead by his best friend, have no idea of the dangers they are really up against, and the true even larger ambitions of the surviving 701 forces.
This plot has it’s clever moments in terms of character interactions and the drama surrounding them, but I’ll be the first to admit it’s a pretty thinly veiled excuse for fight scenes and stylistic cinematography, thankfully, both of which are some of the greatest I think I’ve ever witnessed in a movie like this.
Jet Li performs some truly mesmerizing moves in action scenes, which when combined with how well those scenes use the character traits of those involved to drive them forward makes for some of the best and most ridiculous fight choreography I’ve ever seen. In addition, the film’s visual style is unique in the best way, heightening every scene with the dramatic angles of a 90’s anime, with unrealistically gory violence to match and enough dark, industrial set pieces that would make Eric Draven blush.
Overall “Black Mask” is not a film that you watch to be anything but entertaining, but that in no way means it’s not one that can’t be admired for just how well it executes the fight choreography and very unique cinematography that makes this film the absolute gem that it is.
90’s anime and action fans rejoice, “Black Mask” is not only a marriage of the best those styles of media have to offer in terms of atmosphere and action, but it’s also one of the most over the top movies I’ve ever seen, and for everything it is, I couldn’t be happier.