Saturday, June 7, 2014

Masks and Badges

Time for a little goofy kung fu action. First up: Black Mask 2: City of Masks (2002). This is the sequel to Black Mask starring Jet Li, but this time American Andy On wears the mask. He is searching for a geneticist who can reverse the artificial mutations that make him a super-assassin. And he better be quick, because someone is killing the world's geneticists before he can get to them. Also, one of them, Theresa Herrera, is a cute babe who has a phobia about being touched.

If you remember, the original Black Mask featured Karen Mok and/or Francoise Yip getting into odd bondage situations. Herrera's little psychosexual problem serves the same function here - basically, comic relief.

But that's not the real story here - the real story is about a bunch of pro wrestlers (including Traci Lords?!?) who have also been artificially mutated, and then Black Mask is double-mutated by Scott Adkins, and then other stuff and so on. All of this is directed by Hark Tsui, with a plenty of over the top silliness, but maybe not enough. Or maybe it just needed Jet Li and Karen Mok.

On to Badges of Fury (2013). This one does have Jet Li. It's directed by newcomer Tsz Ming Wong but has fight choreography by our hero Corey Yuen. Jet Li and Zhang Wen (The Sorcerer and the White Snake) play police partners, Li the grizzled veteran, Wen the eager youngster, working for cutie Michelle Chen. The crime they can't crack are the Smile Murders - famous people suddenly dying with smiles on their faces. The relation turns out that they are all engaged to starlet Shishi Liu. Is the killer her super-sexy sister?

Well, that's not really the point. This is really a comedy with a wildly variable realism/surrealism level. The fights are over the top wirework fiestas. The jokes range from wordplay about other Jet Li movies to goofy "beat-cheeks" sound effects when the cops take off from their enraged boss. Some of it is funny, some of it is lame and some is just a normal cop action movie (or is it a subtle parody).

All over, not so good. The inconsistent style is one problem, the inconsistent quality level another. But there are plenty of good stretches, so I enjoyed it.

In conclusion: Older Jet Li seems to be channeling Chow Yun Fat, his quiet, mature strength. In long shots, I kept forgetting who I was watching.

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