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Blu-Ray : Recommended
Ranking:
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Release Date: April 23rd, 2024 Movie Release Year: 1996

Black Mask (1996) (Limited Edition)

Overview -

Blu-ray Review By: Sam Cohen
About two years prior to Jet Li making his debut in Hollywood productions with Lethal Weapon 4, Daniel Lee’s science-fiction Hong Kong actioner Black Mask mashed up old-timey superhero stories, shocking body horror and a heaping helping of kink. Eureka Entertainment makes their US debut with a two-disc Blu-ray release of Black Mask that offers four different cuts of the film sourced from new 2K restorations, plus a nice collection of archival and newly produced supplements. While the new transfers vary in quality based upon the sources used, this is the most comprehensive release of the film and comes Recommended!

OVERALL:
Recommended
Rating Breakdown
STORY
VIDEO
AUDIO
SPECIAL FEATURES
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
2 Blu-rays, New 2K Restoration of the Film, Fully uncut Hong Kong version presented in 1080p from a 2K restoration, Alternate Taiwanese cut of the film, Extended version of Black Mask featuring all the unique footage from the various releases of the film re-inserted
Video Resolution/Codec:
1080p/AVC MPEG-4
Length:
102
Aspect Ratio(s):
1.85:1
Audio Formats:
Original Cantonese Stereo and optional DTS-HD MA 5.1 (Hong Kong Version)
Subtitles/Captions:
Optional English subtitles, newly translated for this release
Release Date:
April 23rd, 2024

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take

Ranking:

Going back to what I stated in the intro, Jet Li was a huge Hong Kong action commodity by the point Black Mask came around, but it was still a couple of years separated from Jet’s leap to Hollywood. With Black Mask, the usual Hong Kong action trappings of the 90s aren’t necessarily dispensed, but they’re certainly remixed by heavy doses of goopy, bloody violence and kink trappings that you’d expect from a Category III film. The classic trope of the main character being a cop or mythical hero in Chinese history, much like many other 1990s Hong Kong actioners, is changed a bit to provide rollicking thrills with an edge. As for the logic it takes to get there: well, let’s say there isn’t much besides a cockamamie plot to get a retired supersoldier back into action to defeat the ultimate drug lord.

Black Mask is a Hong Kong action extravaganza unlike few others. Tsui Chuk (Jet Li) – or Simon in the Export Version for the US – is a 30-year-old librarian living a quiet life, but his past withholds a dark secret. Tsui Chuk used to be a member of the 701 Squad, an elite commando unit comprised of supersoldiers surgically enhanced to feel no pain. The squad was disbanded after a member killed a cop in uncontrollable anger, and Tsui Chuk fled to Hong Kong after helping his fellow soldiers from escaping an extermination attempt. Now, Tsui Chuk has learned that the same people he saved are responsible for a violent crime spree that the local police cannot handle, thus he’s spurred into action to save the day, donning the costume of a masked crusader called The Black Mask.

To say logic is thrown out the window from the opening credits is to put it kindly. Black Mask takes off from the opening frame with a cavalcade of action sequences strewn together by a thin plot that make the most of its supremely silly trappings. Jet Li throws CDs as weapons to bloody effect, some poor victim has a bomb implanted in the gaping hole of his chest with wires acting like arteries, plus Anthony Wong steals every scene he’s in as an S&M-inspired villain named King Kau. 

As for the various versions, the international export version prepared for the US swapped the original soundtrack out completely to feature popular hip-hop hits from Everlast and cut over ten minutes from the uncut Hong Kong version to make it a bit more palatable for foreign audiences. The Taiwanese version added a couple of minutes of extra violence and some more kinky nonsense from King Kau, while the extended version available on this release is new, uses the Hong Kong version as its basis, and adds everything unique from the international export and Taiwanese versions to create the longest version of the film possible. You’ll find there's a huge difference in tone between the Hong Kong and international export versions, with the former reveling in its silliness while the export is a bit more serious and tones down the superhero stuff.

No matter which version you choose, you’ll be treated to the high-flying, ass-kicking action choreographed by the one and only Yuen Woo-ping, so rest assured that you’re in the hands of martial arts masters playing around with comic book trappings. I mean, hey, how could you not like a film that features a supersoldier cutting off his own hand to escape handcuffs, then continuing to fight like nothing ever happened? It’s the kind of incident unique to Hong Kong actioners that we sorely lack in American action cinema.

Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Black Mask
is out for justice with a new two-disc Blu-ray release from Eureka Entertainment US. Eureka’s US release debut is offered in their usual elite amaray case, offering a reversible sleeve and an essay booklet within. Both discs included are BD50s and boot up to standard menu screens with Eureka’s usual list of all options and supplements on one screen. A limited-edition slipcover is included as well for a limited time.

Video Review

Ranking:

Now, before we dig into the four different versions included in this release, the following message appears on the second-to-last page of the included booklet: “The alternate versions of Black Mask presented with this release features some short inserts from a lower quality source material. This is due to the original materials for these scenes being lost and therefore unable to be restored. Some of these inserts feature burnt-in subtitles which we have chosen not to cover up so as not to further distort the film image. We hope this does not affect your enjoyment of this release.”

Alright, first up is the uncut Hong Kong version of the film sourced from a new 2K restoration by Fortune Star. On the whole, this is a decent presentation of a source that varies wildly in terms of detail, grain structure, and clarity. The steely blue and purple look tends to cover up some of the damage here, but there’s still some rather sizable macroblocking in darker sequences, of which there are many in this film. Sharpness can vary from good to bad depending on each scene, but I give Eureka credit for handling this difficult source with a sturdy encode. This is just a very soft source from which this transfer was created. No digital tinkering seems to be present. 3/5

As for the international export version, this version has a completely different color grade (more natural and focused on flesh tones), a tighter look overall in terms of detail and clarity, and is a much smoother presentation overall. To my eyes, I’d be surprised if this version came from a restoration from Fortune Star. It’s so wildly different from the Hong Kong version that I can only estimate it came from Lionsgate or a US licensor with a better master. 3.5/5

Note from Eureka about Taiwanese version: “This longer version of the film was prepared exclusively for release in Taiwan and features a different opening text crawl, some longer dialogue scenes as well as some extra violence that was removed from the original Hong Kong release. As original materials could not be located, scenes unique to the Taiwan version are from a lower-quality source. The alternate Mandarin audio option was produced for later home video releases and features remixed audio and effects.” 

The Taiwanese version is the most like the uncut Hong Kong version and continues that steely blue look but adds some trims and snips from a lower-quality SD master. 3/5

Note from Eureka about the extended version: “This version of the film attempts to incorporate all unique footage from the various releases of the film into a single cut. The majority of the footage comes from the Hong Kong release versions, but also features additional footage from both the US and Taiwanese versions. The audio track is almost entirely Cantonese but short sections will feature Mandarin and English dubbing.”

The extended version compiles all the various cuts together by using the uncut Hong Kong version as the basis, adding what’s unique in the export and Taiwanese versions to create the longest cut possible. Once again, a sturdy encode that makes easy work of the various sources used. 3/5

All in all, the video quality varies based upon which version you choose, and it’s a sincere bummer to see that the international export version has the “tightest” presentation in terms of detail and clarity despite the totally different color grade. Props to Eureka for doing their best to make these versions look as good as they can, however disappointing the condition of the sources used are.

Audio Review

Ranking:

Depending on which version you want to watch, Eureka provides a litany of audio options to choose from. For the uncut Hong Kong version, there are Cantonese LPCM 2.0 and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 options, with the former being a front-focused and clear track and the latter spreading effects out to the rear channels every so often. It’s certainly not a 5.1 track that sounds like what the film was supposed to on theatrical release but is nice nonetheless.

As for the international export version, there are two English LPCM 2.0 tracks for the original English dub and US release English dub and soundtrack. US viewers will find the nostalgia cranked up to 11 when using the US-release English dub and soundtrack, as it has that aforementioned hip-hop soundtrack that makes everything much cheesier than it ever needed to be.

The Taiwanese version comes with original Mandarin stereo and alternate Mandarin audio LPCM 2.0 options, while the extended version comes with a single LPCM 2.0 Cantonese track that essentially mirrors the same Cantonese LPCM 2.0 track on the uncut Hong Kong version. The big difference between the various audio tracks on the Taiwanese version come down to how the score is mixed in, and the extended version audio track sounds exactly like the one on the uncut Hong Kong version save for the lower-quality inserts.

Special Features

Ranking:

To support the four different versions of Black Mask here, Eureka Entertainment offers unique commentaries for the Hong Kong and internal export versions, plus a terrific interview with author Leon Hunt that goes deep on Jet Li, putting into context how this film came about and how it’s aided Jet Li’s growing star power. Add a couple archival docs, a litany of trailers and an essay booklet with writing from James Oliver and Simon Abrams for an all-around great package of supplements.

Disc 1: Uncut Hong Kong Version, International Export Version & Supplements

  • Audio Commentary on Hong Kong Version by Frank Djeng
  • Audio Commentary on Export Version by Mike Leeder & Arne Venema
  • Mega Shock!: A chat with Hong Kong stuntman Mike Lambert (HD 29:53)
  • Andrew Heskins on Black Mask– Interview with easternKicks film critic Andrew Heskins (HD 8:38)
  • Leon Hunt on Black Mask – Interview with author Leon Hunt (HD 17:56) 
  • Archival making-of doc (HD 19:32)
  • Hong Kong theatrical trailer (HD 1:59)
  • US trailer #1 (HD 00:59)
  • US trailer #2 (HD 1:54)
  • US Home Video Trailer (HD 1:00)

 

Eureka Entertainment makes their US disc debut with Daniel Lee’s Black Mask, a 1996 Hong Kong actioner that sidesteps convention and throws everything at a wall. Four different versions are spread across two discs on this release and they’re all sourced from new 2K restorations that vary in quality and color based on which version you choose. While the new transfers leave a bit to be desired, this release still comes packed with the ass-kicking goods and comes Recommended for fans of Hong Kong actioners and Jet Li.

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