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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
Jet Li's Black Mask (1996)

"It's time to start the show. We'll skip the long goodbyes."
- Simon (Jet Li)

Review By: Chris Knox   
Published: April 14, 2000

Stars: Jet Li
Other Stars: Karen Mok, Lau Ching Wan
Director: Daniel Lee

Manufacturer: Laser Pacfic
MPAA Rating: R for for violence, language, and adult situations
Run Time: 01h:42m:00s
Release Date: November 30, 1999
UPC: 012236101727
Genre: action

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

It amuses me sometimes when I think back on all of the wasted hours as I sat among friends and threw my hat into the argument about which martial arts star would defeat each other if they were to ever face off outside the range of a Panavision viewfinder. You're shaking your head, but I bet you've done it yourself. Sure, you like to think you're too busy catching up on your back issues of Deconstructionist Philosopher's Monthly to worry about something so frivolous as which action master would best who, but you're as guilty as I am—admit it. Shoot, I've pitted them all together in my mind from the Segal meets VanDamned era, to the old Chuck Norris vs. David Carradine days. The discussion usually ends when someone says, "Yeah, but none one of them could take Bruce Lee!" No one ever has much of anything to say about that. Just as no one has much of anything to say about Ali, or Presley, or Carson. These are the masters.

Now, though I am particularly hard-nosed about defending the master of martial arts, I do think our favorite Mr. Lee might just find himself in a dogfight with a "Lee" of another sort. This one spells his name differently (Li), and goes about his business with about twice a bottle of methamphetamines more energy than the former.

Straight out of some Hong Kong comic book enters Black Mask, a ten million dollar budget film (huge by Hong Kong cinema standards) so full of action, rapid-fire sequences and rabbit-fast moves. So much that one quickly becomes accustomed to the slow-motion and back buttons on the DVD player just to keep up with it all. Now I understand all the slow mo usage in John Woo films. Perhaps he wasn't over using it as bad as I had first suspected.

Jet Li is Simon, a mutated former member of an elite force of commandos, known as "Squad 701," who fakes his death to submerge himself into the sedate life of a librarian. Of course as in most "original" stories like this one, Simon's past comes back to haunt him when he discovers, through his friend Rock—who is also a cop—that there are many strange happenings throughout Hong Kong. Drug lords are viciously murdered, the police are falling under attack while stumbling into the way of these dastardly deeds, and Simon begins to see the wheels of his past still turning heavily under the guise of Squad 701.

Donning a black mask, Simon sets out to find the awful truth of what's hiding behind all this wickedness, and perhaps wreak a little harmless havoc by leaving a few gazillion bodies in his wake. All this with time to spare for taping some of those torn magazine pages back together at the library.

Jet Li is extremely effective in this film, and aside from a few segments of silliness he comes across well. My only real complaints are the English dubbed audio track, and the reworked soundtrack. I laughed out loud several times when there were passages of expletives dubbed in English that seemed unrepresentative of what the actors were actually saying, or the Chinese guy who was dubbed over by an African-American. Mostly I wasn't laughing because I was too busy cringing at the horrible dub track, which detracted from my enjoyment of this movie. The music soundtrack is also redone to the point that it simply doesn't work, but don't blame the filmmaker, it seems to me that Artisan dropped the ball on this one. Maybe it's just me, but I prefer to have the movie intact when I view it. I have nothing against a dubbed English track, I only wish they had included the original audio and sound tracks—not to mention the footage removed from the original film.

Aside from that the movie is pretty entertaining, rivaling even some of its American-made counterparts. Director Daniel Lee's vision is filled with beautifully lit scenes, which are both visually vivid and stunning. Not bad for a directorial debut. Not bad at all! I'm ready for his next.
Jet Li is hyper fast and his moves are well thought out and pinpoint. I truly see Bruce Lee having his fists of fury full with this guy and his stunningly fast limbs. Too bad it's a match up we'll never get to see.

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: D


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreenno - no
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: This disc contains a 16:9 enhanced image, which is nicely framed and clean. The blacks are true, and the high caliber of the telicine negative is revealed here without any noise from the conversion to NTSC. The image is sharp and the colors are bold and hot. I would have thought that the strain that darker scenes typically make for video would have been this DVDs undoing, but it turned out to be the DVDs strength. There is some very slight grain in some scenes, but I seriously doubt you are going to find it unless you are really, really looking for it. I particularly liked the way my setup displayed, or handled as the case may be, the quick transitions from light to dark that this movie makes, leaving me with a more film-like impression. This is where Artisan really focused themselves for this disc, and it shows. Superb!

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The disc comes with an effective Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. The bass is deep and booming. The channel separation in this mix is great, with hotspots front and back and a little shifty. The soundstage is medium, and a little deeper than average, but transparent. Nice. My particular setup is acoustically dead which affords me the luxury of hearing the film as it was originally mixed. I'd say the back wall was a little beyond fifty feet and the front wall is nearly the same. This is nice as it opens up the room a little and allows for some really nice acoustics, and puts you in a box that is large and egg-shaped.

The added music soundtrack is very distracting, and a little too HipHop...at least for my tastes. It just does not seem analagous to a Hong Kong movie. As I mentioned before, the English dub is nearly intolerable, and often laughable. This is a little unnerving as it could have been easily avoided had the original soundtrack been added to the disc. It narrows the focus of an otherwise great movie and seems to shout out, "Hey, this one's only for the kids!" Which it is not.

Audio Transfer Grade: C


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 0 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
2 Original Trailer(s)
0 TV Spots/Teasers
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
0 Discs
0-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single
Layers Switch: 00h:00m:00s

Extra Extras:
  1. Segment about the Wushu school of Martial Arts.
  2. Music video
  3. Jump to particular fighting or action scene
  4. Short trivia game about the film
Extras Review: There are some nice filler extras on the disc, including a nice segment on the Wushu school of Martial Arts, a music video, a short trivia game. I found the ability to jump to a particular fight scene the most useful.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

All in all a good action flick and a good disc, but one that could have been great had the original audio and music tracks been included instead. I only wish that in the future studios take a step back from the transfer of film and try to exhaust all possibilities with regards to what the public wants, now that we have a medium that can handle alternative tracks and situations. Perhaps, little by little, that is exactly what we'll get.

And, by the way, I really think Jet Li might have been able to beat the snot out of Bruce Lee . . .


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