It didn't have to be that way. With genius Hong Kong director Tsui Hark and equally brilliant fight choreographer Yuen Wo Ping (of Matrix fame) at the helm, you'd expect something watchable, but in this case, a lame story wrapped in rudimentary CGI effects goes nowhere, despite some high-flying fights that add a few pulses of excitement.
Andy On steps into Jet Li's very big shoes to take on the role of do-gooder superhero Black Mask (aka Kang). This time around, Black Mask is trying to find out how became a genetically altered freak of nature, but the bad guys don't want him to know, so they keep killing off the geneticists he consults for help.
This string of killings puts geneticist Dr. Marco Leung (Teresa Herrera) in danger, and she becomes the damsel in distress who Black Mask will have to save over and over again as the movie clunks along.
Save from whom? From number one assassin Thorn (Tyler Mane), who can actually grown thorns for arms, as well as a gang of professional wrestlers who have been gene-spliced with a menagerie of animals to make them more exciting in the ring. Traci Lords, of all people, shows up as "Chameleon," a being who can literally fade into the woodwork while administering her kicks and karate chops. It's all very Hulk-like. When the wrestlers get overexcited they morph into monsters, and it's up to Black Mask to fight them in the street, on the ceiling, in mid-air, or wherever else they may turn up. In the film's most over-the-top moment, a herd of stampeding elephants takes over the streets while Black Mask and crew fight atop their backs. Don't ask.
Unlike Jet Li, Andy On is an actor first and not a trained fighter. Nevertheless, he does a decent job in the fight scenes (he must have spent some long days with Yuen Wo Ping), though most of the fights are eventually subverted by unacceptably bad special effects that are really inexcusable, even for direct-to-video fare. It's hard to know what went so wrong here. Did the money just run out? Perhaps it's best just to forgive Hark and hope he moves on quickly from this major stumble.
Grit your teeth and bear it.
Run time: 102 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 9th January 2003
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
IMDB: 3.7 / 10
Director: Tsui Hark