Hak hap [1996]

Take the art direction and set design from The Crow and Batman. Add a male-bonding element reminiscent of The Killer or Hard-Boiled. Stir in a plot line about some top-secret near-invincible bionic-man superwarriors taking over the drug trade in Hong Kong, with only one man who can stop them. Season with a high body count, lots of explosions and running gun battles, and spectacular hand-to-hand fight sequences. Top off with a soupçon of cheesy comic relief and a generous helping of atrocious dubbing. Bake for too long, then remove from oven and allow to cool until thoroughly stale. The result: Black Mask. Sure, it's a preposterous recipe (bet you didn't know that LED readouts will show up on an X-ray), but it's stylishly prepared and presented, with high-octane editing, wild camera angles, and a neo-Goth feel all around. Of course it's all about the remarkable Jet Li, the fight scenes, and the postindustrial art direction. Those who come expecting a high-concept, intelligent thriller will be left with indigestion, but Hong Kong action fans who live and die for insane stunts and head-spinning martial arts scenes will have their appetites sated by this dish. It's very interesting to see the influence that John Woo's hand continues to have on American and HK action thrillers, years after his seminal films with Chow Yun-fat. It'll be even more interesting to see how films like Black Mask hold up in the future. Just don't take it too seriously and this movie works just fine. Oh, and the title? It comes from when Jet Li switches from his mild-mannered librarian persona to butt-kicking superhero, complete with mask and hat à la The Green Hornet's Cato. --Jerry Renshaw

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