Blu-ray Review: Black Mask (Limited Edition)

Blu-ray Reviews, Reviews, Top Story

Jet Li arrived in American theaters in the summer of 1998 as the villain in Lethal Weapon 4. He used his martial arts skills to beat up Mel Gibson when Mel was still cool. This career move was a bit tricky since in Hong Kong, Jet Li was known for being the hero. American audience had no clue that they’d seen him perform his moves nearly 24 years before. After Richard Nixon went to Communist China to normalize relations; the Chinese National Wushu Team including a very young Jet Li visited the White House. Supposedly Richard Nixon was so impressed by the young man’s moves that he asked Jet Li to be his personal bodyguard. If Jet Li agreed, Watergate would have ended differently. The good news for Jet Li was people wanted to see more of his cinematic moves after Lethal Weapon 4. This meant quite a few of his Hong Kong films were imported. Black Mask was originally released around Asia in 1996. The movie was dubbed and recut before arriving at American cineplexes in 1999.

Tsui Chik (Jet Li) appears to be an overly happy guy who works as a librarian. His co-workers aren’t sure how he can always be so thrilled. He also doesn’t have that much need for money. He’s a mysterious kind of guy, but not in a way that makes him attractive to co-worker Tracy Lee (Around the World in 80 Days‘ Karen Mok). She’ll date anyone except Tsui and he doesn’t care. His only pal seems to be Inspector Shek Wai-Ho (Running Out of Time‘s Sean Lau Ching-wan) who bails him out of trouble when muggers show up at a public bathroom. The librarian seems so helpless away from his books. What nobody seems to know is Tsui is not really that naive or wimpy. Turns out he is a genetically altered soldier who had his nerves altered so he can’t feel pain. Years before, his 701 Commando squad was put to an end since the soldiers lack of feeling pain had a major drawback in battle. They didn’t realize how messed up their bodies were until it was too late. Tsui and others escaped before they were “retired”.” by the military. A few of the members went into the underworld including Yeuk-Lan (Rumble in The Bronx‘s Françoise Yip). Now they are taking over the crime families. Tsui puts on a black mask so he can secretly help Inspector Shek fight his former comrades.

New fans of Jet Li were in for a treat when Black Mask showed up at the cineplex. It’s a strange tale with a convoluted science fiction plot that can easily be ignored when the action scenes take over the screen. Fight coordinator Yuen Woo-ping was becoming a Hollywood superstar at this time of the U.S. release with his work in The Matrix. His fights are outrageous including a battle on a factory’s exposed beams and supports. There are soldiers on fire running around one melee. He has Jet Li flying all over the screen among the fists, feet and bullets. The black mask, cap and coat make Jet Li resemble Bruce Lee from his Kato days on The Green Hornet. But Jet Li isn’t working for a playboy newspaper owner here. He takes the leads here.

You can watch four different cuts of Black Mask in this limited edition set. Uncut Hong Kong Version (99:58) restores the violent scenes that had to be snipped for the original theatrical release. The Export Version (87:14) is what played in English language countries. They kept the violence in this shorter cut and snipped lighter scenes. The original American distributor redid the audio track with a new voice cast and fresh funky music. The Taiwan Version (100:57) is what played on the island nation. Last is the Extended Version (102:18) which has all the scenes that were snipped for the other three cuts put together. A few of the extra scenes not in the Hong Kong version are easy to spot since they have been salvaged off a video source. What version of Black Mask should you watch first? I’d suggest the Hong Kong cut. None of them are painful.

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The Video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. The 1080p transfer brings out the darkness in the garage fights. The Audio is different on each version. The Uncut Hong Kong Version has Cantonese DTS-HD MA 5.1 and LPCM 2.0 stereo. The Export Version has Original English Dub and the US Release English Dub and Soundtrack in LPCM 2.0 stereo. The Taiwan Version has the Original Mandarin and the Alternate Mandarin in LPCM 2.0 Stereo. The Extended Version has Cantonese LPCM 2.0 Stereo. All three versions are subtitled in English. The Export version doesn’t have subtitles.

Audio Commentary by Frank Djeng is on the Hong Kong version. Djeng is able to give context to both the film, cast, crew and the culture of Hong Kong in the mid-90s. It’ is always good to rewatch the film with Frank to gain a better understanding. He lets us know what elements came from the comic book.

Audio Commentary by Mike Leeder and Arne Venema is on the Export version. The duo is well informed about elements of the film.

Mega Shock: A Chat With Mike Lambert (29:53) is how a kid from Sheffield, England ended up in Hong Kong working as a stuntman on the Black Mask. He did a commercial for Fatal Fury video game on Neo Geo within a month of arriving. He trained with other movie stuntmen and Yuen Woo-ping (Matrix) showed up. He had Lambert perform a few routines and hired him for Black Mask. He played two roles in the film. He gets into how director Daniel Lee worked with Yuen Woo-ping during the action scenes. Currently he’s in demand as a fight coordinator in Marvel and D.C. superhero films.

Andrew Heskins on Black Mask (8:38) gets into the Daniel Lee’s career. I’m just dealing with the fact that in 2015, Lee directed Dragon Blade starring Jackie Chan, John Cusack and Adrien Brody. Heskins goes into the cast of Black Mask.

Leon Hunt on Black Mask (17:56) digs into the rise of Jet Li. The actor is a mainlander who came to Hong Kong. He gets into the four stages of his career. Jet Li performed at the Nixon White House as part of the opening of China to the West as a kid.

Archival Making of Documentary (19:32) has Tsui Hark talk about how they began work on the Black Mask right after Jet Li finished the Once Upon A Time In China series. We see the wardrobe design and fitting with Jet.

Hong Kong Theatrical Trailer (1:59) gets into the assassins with messed up nervous systems.

US Trailer #1 (0:59) has “a population held captive by the darkest of evil.” Our only hope is a “hero that no one has ever seen. Jet Li is a new video superstar. The music is Prodigy’s “Firestarter.”

US Trailer #2 (1:54) introduces us to the perfect killing machine in Jet Li. Tsui Hark gets plugged at the end since he’d made Double Team with JCVD.

US Home Video Trailer (1:00) uses the same lines as the first trailer except with a different announcer.

Eureka! Entertainment presents Black Mask: Limited Edition. Directed by Daniel Lee. Screenplay by Tsui Hark, Koan Hui, Teddy Chan and Joe Ma. Starring Jet Li, Lau Ching-wan, Karen Mok, Françoise Yip, Patrick Lung & Anthony Wong. Boxset contents: 4 version of the movie on 2 Blu-ray discs. Rating: Unrated. Release Date: April 23, 2024.

Joe Corey is the writer and director of "Danger! Health Films" currently streaming on Night Flight and Amazon Prime. He's the author of "The Seven Secrets of Great Walmart People Greeters." This is the last how to get a job book you'll ever need. He was Associate Producer of the documentary "Moving Midway." He's worked as local crew on several reality shows including Candid Camera, American's Most Wanted, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and ESPN's Gaters. He's been featured on The Today Show and CBS's 48 Hours. Dom DeLuise once said, "Joe, you look like an axe murderer." He was in charge of research and programming at the Moving Image Archive.