Its difficult to say whether my dislike of Black Mask is because it looks and plays so horrendously dated or its downright awful regardless of whether I had seen the film upon its original release or later on. Black Mask, a Hong Kong action superhero film starring Jet Li, is like watching cut scenes in a video game where you have cliche situations and bad acting and dialogue.

Black Mask is basically about a super soldier (Jet Li) who decides to leave the super soldier program and lead a quiet life as a librarian. However, the other super soldiers are up to no good as they begin killing off Hong Kong’s drug cartels (how thats a bad thing, I have no idea) and they find out that Jet Li is alive and well. They try to recruit him back into their ranks, but he refuses. He teams up with a cop and together they attempt to take down the super soldiers. This all sounds very lame and it is.

I was first introduced to Jet Li in Lethal Weapon 4. The film wasn’t very good, but Jet Li was awesome as the villain and I remember thinking how much cooler and intense he was than Jackie Chan. I decided to check out some of Li’s other films, particularly the ones he made in Hong Kong. Black Mask is one of them and its a superhero film that pays homage to The Green Hornet (Li wears the signature black fedora hat and a mask similar to that worn by the Green Hornet). Artisan, in its idiotic wisdom, decided to re-cut and re-edit the film and add a hip-hop score for its U.S. debut. Now I don’t know how much of an improvement the original cut is, but I wouldn’t bet on it making much of a difference.

Considering this is a Jet Li film, I was expecting some serious ass-kicking much like what I got in The Legend of Drunken Master. I was disappointed to instead get flat action scenes that replace martial arts with guns, slo-mo, and wire-fu. The final showdown between Black Mask and the main bad guy contains a lot of martial arts, but it had nowhere near the kinetic quality and excitement that Jackie Chan displayed in Drunken Master. The whole sequence, in fact the whole movie, is drowned in stylized lighting, annoying quick editing, and elaborate set pieces that effectively obscure the martial arts scenes.

After seeing films like The Matrix, Dark Knight, and countless ripoffs, Black Mask practically plays like a spoof, but one made by a community college film class. As entertaining as it is to watch Jet Li in action, you cannot create a movie around him by completely neglecting quality storytelling and acting. However, who knows? Perhaps the filmmakers really thought they were telling a great story. If thats the case, then thats pretty depressing and pathetic.

Character development is completely lacking as is any chemistry between the characters. The character arcs the characters go through are simplistic, just like you see in a comic book, but not in a good way. The dialogue is cringe-worthy and the villains are cardboard cutouts of something you would find in a video game. As bad as the movie is, whats more annoying is the CONSTANT hip-hop background music thats punctuated with horrible rap songs. Should I go on? If this is your first exposure to Asian cinema, please don’t let my review stop you from exploring the many wonderful films the region has produced. In fact, I find Asian cinema to be among the world’s greatest. However, like with any region, you will have some bad eggs and this is definitely one of them.

Black Mask should be avoided, even by hardcore Jet Li fans. Li has made excellent films before this movie and after it as well (i.e. Hero). I wasn’t surprised to learn that Li had turned down to star in the sequel to Black Mask and that may have perhaps been the greatest decision of his career.