There is one intriguing statement that producer Tsui Hark ("A Better Tomorrow") makes about "Black Mask." "Love," he says, "is very difficult to express in Chinese culture, so in my films I like to have a romantic touch where non-humans look for love."
With the nostalgic movements of a subjective camera, Wong Kar-Wai and John Woo have solved this "difficulty." But director Daniel Lee ("What Price Survival") has neither Woo's talent for stylized violence, nor the poetic soul of Wong Kar-Wai, so -- at its best -- "Black Mask" is nothing but a series of spectacular (and quite graphic) fight scenes interrupted by awkward moments of emotional impasse.
But, after all, that's what the fans want to see: blood squirting out of the bad guy's nose; new and exciting weaponry -- which, in this case includes a huge demolition ball and lethal compact discs thrown with superhuman precision; seductive female agents in skimpy outfits; death on inline skates.
As always, the story works as a rather loose frame for the perilous encounters between the Black Mask and his numerous enemies. Tsui (Jet Li of "Lethal Weapon 4") escapes from the 701 Squad, an elite military organization which takes pride in its supersoldiers, medically enhanced fighters devoid of physical or emotional pain. Back in mainland China, Tsui tries to lead a normal life -- as a librarian! -- but since the past never really dies, Tsui is soon confronted with violent choices which turn him into the Black Mask, a cartoonish character with superheroic tendencies.
To enhance the dramatic qualities of the hero, the screenwriters introduce a theme borrowed from Woo's "Killer": a strong friendship between the Black Mask and a police officer whose life is in constant danger. But since quick-on-his-feet Jet Li is no Chow Yun-Fat, the connection between the two men is sketchy and superficial, nothing more than a humble plot device.