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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Black Mask 2: City of Masks (2001)

King: These nutball superhero wannabes all have hideouts. Like the 'Masked Cave' or something. So, we have to find him.
Moloch: We're not going to have any trouble finding him. He wears a mask!

- Jon Polito, Tobin Bell

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: February 12, 2003

Stars: Andy On
Other Stars: Jon Polito, Teresa Maria Herrera, Scott Adkins, Traci Lords, Tyler Mane, Rob Van Dam, Andrew Bryniarski, Sean Marquette, Tobin Bell, Michael Bailey Smith, Oris Erhuero, Robert Allen Mukes
Director: Tsui Hark

MPAA Rating: R for violence
Run Time: 01h:41m:12s
Release Date: December 31, 2002
UPC: 043396080751
Genre: martial arts

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B-B+A- C

DVD Review

In Black Mask 2: City of Masks Andy On has the unenviable task of assuming a role originally played by the great Jet Li in the 1996 futuristic chop-socky saga Black Mask. That's much like Curly Joe DeRita trying desperately to replace Curly Howard in The Three Stooges; no matter how hard you try, it just ain't gonna happen. Luckily for On, this loosely-based English language sequel to Li's film is a wildly explosive comic book-styled sci-fi/martial arts conglomerate, and the ghost of his predecessor is hardly even missed amidst all of the excess.

Andy On is the title character, a sort of Bruce-Lee-as-Kato "enhanced human," which means in a nutshell, that he is one hell of a fighter. That's good, because On comes across a little bland and uncharismatic as actor, and his hero character really exists as a punching bag for the gloriously campy villains, at least until the final act. The hows and whys of Black Mask's origins are touched on briefly during the opening sequence, but for all intents and purposes this is a standalone story that doesn't require having any understanding of his roots, other than what you might glean from the blurb on the back cover of the DVD case.

We learn that Black Mask has embarked on a life as a rogue vigilante, and writer/director Tsui Hark quickly cranks up the main plot, which centers on a team of (brace yourself) professional wrestlers who have been willingly injected with a combination of human and animal DNA that allows them to morph into various creatures (iguana, wolf, chameleon, etc.) at will. Of course the wrestlers are all controlled by an evil genius named Moloch (Tobin Bell), who has an equally evil plan involving the detonation of something called a DNA bomb, and Black Mask has to do battle with all sorts of genetically-altered baddies to prevent that from happening. To add insult to injury, Black Mask also has to fend off steel-goggled enhanced human Dr. Lang (Scott Adkins), who has been sent to hunt down and kill the masked vigilante. If that's not enough for you, Coen Brothers regular Jon Polito hams it up heartily as a slimy wrestling promoter, and former teenage porn queen Traci Lords struts her stuff as ultra bad chick Chameleon.

The legendary Yuen Wo Ping, best known domestically for his work on The Matrix, was the martial arts supervisor here, and that certainly elevates this film a notch or two. What it really means is a non-stop array of truly wild, imaginative fight sequences, most of it the guy-on-a-digitally-removed-wire variety that features unnatural leaping, flipping and spinning. The fights are goofy eyecandy, but whether it is atop radio towers or girders, beneath a huge canvas, or astride a herd of elephants, the battles play like a live-action graphic novel, and it is this comic book sensibility that Tsui Hark and Yuen Wo Ping create that makes this such an unexpectedly fun (albeit lightweight) ride.

It's tough to figure out why this film was burdened with an R-rating, because it didn't seem to me that the cartoonish violence was any more intense than any of the other PG-13 superhero flicks that have popped up like weeds lately. Sure, Tyler Mane's growly Thorn character (a plant/man hybrid) does impale a few folks with his mutated thorn arms, but that's really about the worst of it. The film's tone isn't nearly as dark and furrowed-brow serious as X-Men, and instead falls more in line with lighter fare, such as Spider-Man.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Presented here in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, the Black Mask 2: City of Masks transfer is sharp, with well-defined black levels. Much of it is visually dark, and any moments of actual color are given an icy blue hue, with the entire film looking like it jumped out of the pages of a comic book. I noticed a bit of edge enhancement and some grain in a few scenes, but the overall image transfer is extremely well done.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Nothing adds to the experience of a frenetic sci-fi/martial arts film like a really aggressive Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix, and that's just what we get from Columbia TriStar on this release. Plenty of deep rumble from the sub, while the rear channels handle a wealth of music and sound cues, like bullets, crowd noises, cars and even a herd of elephants. Dialogue is anchored solidly in the front channels, accented and balanced by some well-placed directional imaging across the left and right fronts. All in all, a pretty lively presentation.

A French dub in 2.0 surround is also provided.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, Thai with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Love and a Bullet, xXx
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Extras are pretty nonexistent here, with choices limited to just three trailers (Black Mask 2: City of Masks, Love and a Bullet, xXx). The disc is cut into 28 chapters, and includes a plethora of subtitle options, in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, and Thai.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

This isn't highbrow filmmaking by any means, hell it's hardly even logical filmmaking; but if you have ever eagerly read a superhero comic book, then Black Mask 2: City of Masks just might work for you. I'll admit I wasn't expecting to enjoy this one as much as I ultimately did, and even the presence of such stock characters as "the spunky kid" and the "female scientist love interest" seemed acceptable here.

Andy On isn't Jet Li, but Tsui Hark knows that and wisely centers the bulk of the story on the mutating villains, and showcasing Yuen Wo Ping's fantastic fight scenes, which are pure escapist joy.



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