Black Mask (1996) – Eureka

uk/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/black-mask-Eureka-Blu-ray.jpeg">Director: Daniel Lee
Screenplay: Tsui Hark, Koan Hui, Teddy Chan, Joe Ma, Ann Hui (uncredited)
Based on Comics by: Pang Chi-Ming
Starring: Jet Li, Lau Ching-wan, Karen Mok, Françoise Yip, Kong Lung (a.k.a. Patrick Lung), Anthony Chau-Sang Wong, Xin Xin Xiong
Country: Hong Kong
Running Time: 99 min (HK uncut), 102 min (extended cut), plus another two cuts running at similar times
Year: 1996
BBFC Certificate: 18

After helping catapult Jet Li to fame in his Once Upon a Time in China series, Tsui Hark felt he wanted to cast the actor in a modern role for a change. Li had made a handful of contemporary action films already in the 90s but not under Tsui’s watch as producer or director.

The project would be Black Mask (a.k.a. Hak hap, which reportedly translates to ‘black man’ – probably a good job they changed it). This was based on a short series of Hong Kong sci-fi/superhero comic books of the same name, written by Pang Chi-Ming, with artwork by Li Chi-Tat.

Adapting sci-fi comic books featuring superheroes into films is old hat in Hollywood but then, in Hong Kong, it was pretty rare. There were some adaptations of Japanese manga but very few films, if any, based on Hong Kong titles of this sort.


Tsui and a team of writers adapted the story, changing it a great deal, presumably to fit whatever was popular at the time and suited Tsui’s tastes. He didn’t direct the film though. Instead, he hired Daniel Lee, who only had one prior directing credit to his name, What Price Survival, but had worked in the art department previously. He would later go on to direct a number of high-profile Hong Kong and Chinese blockbusters.

Black Mask only took home a moderate HK$13,286,788 at the local box office but performed better overseas. In particular, it was re-edited and picked up in the US in 1999, bringing in a respectable US$12,504,289 – a decent figure for a Hong Kong import. As such, the film developed more of a following overseas than in its home country, even prompting a sequel in 2002.

It could be considered somewhat of a cult classic, which must have helped Eureka’s decision to release Black Mask on Blu-ray in a handsome new 2-disc set, complete with various versions of the film. I got hold of a copy and my thoughts follow.


Tsui Chik (or Simon in the Western release) seems like an ordinary librarian. But he’s a former member of the 701 Squad, a team of super soldiers who can feel no pain, created by a secret government program. After a mission went wrong, the program was shut down, and Tsui Chik helped his comrades escape.

Years later, living a peaceful life, Tsui Chik discovers his former squad, led by his ex-commander (Patrick Lung), has turned rogue. They’re murdering drug lords using the same brutal tactics they were trained for. Fearing for the public’s safety and determined to stop his former friends, Tsui Chik dons a mask and becomes a vigilante, the Black Mask, aiding his friend, Inspector Shek (Lau Ching-wan). Now, he must face his past and use his unique abilities to take down his former comrades before they cause more chaos.

I’d not actually seen Black Mask prior to this, being put off picking it up by stories of the poor treatment the film had previously received on DVD in the UK. So I was excited to finally check it out. I enjoyed it quite a lot. It’s very 90s, with laser guns, some slightly dodgy VFX, CD ninja stars and bad guys that fight on roller-blades at one point. You could call it dated but, to be honest, this side of the film appealed to me, given I was a teenager back then.


Tsui states that he wanted the film to be like a comic book and this shows in the hyper-stylised visuals and over-the-top set pieces. There are explosions galore and the cinematography is very slick, with plenty of movement, canted angles and high-contrast, occasionally coloured lighting. Nice use is made of the elements too, with some cool rain sequences and plenty of smoke and fire. Daniel Lee’s background in art direction certainly helps, alongside Tsui’s penchant for highly stylised cinema.

That’s not to say the film isn’t without its problems. The plot rarely holds much water and the members of the 701 Squad seem to not only be invulnerable to pain but be nigh on invincible.

There’s also some goofy comedy inserted in the otherwise quite dark and serious tale, largely through the inclusion of Karen Mok’s Tracy character. She’s a colleague of Tsui Chik’s at the library and somehow gets embroiled in Black Mask’s mission. Her heightened performance doesn’t quite fit and her scenes slow the film down, even if she has one or two nice moments.

Keeping on the cast, there are two acting greats in the film, Lau Ching-wan and Anthony Wong, who has a small but memorable role as a crazy gang boss. This helps boost the overall quality of the otherwise pretty daft drama.


Li is his usual stoic self, which works well for the role. He has never been comfortable as a love interest in his films and this is taken into account here. On top of his character having no feelings due to the experimentation, fellow 701 member Yeuk Laan, who shares a seemingly romantic past with Tsui Chik, is kept largely at arm’s length due to them being on separate sides. Also, the Tracy character is treated more as a friend and assistant, if you will. In fact, the most close and caring relationship in the film is between Tsui Chik and Inspector Shek. I’m not sure if I’d call it a veiled homosexual bond but there’s certainly a strong connection and friendship that forms the true heart of the film.

The action, which, let’s be honest, is the main reason you’d watch the film, is very good. There’s not a lot of straight-up kung-fu in here though, if that’s what you’re hoping for. The action largely consists of explosive gunplay and wire-assisted stunts, though there are still quite a few fights, particularly in the final act. It could be seen as a warm-up for the action choreographer, Yuen Woo-Ping, who would be seen working on another sci-fi gun-fu movie a few years later, The Matrix.

Black Mask is much more gorily violent than most HK films, particularly in the uncut and extended versions. This is due to staying closer to the comic books. This adds some more thrills and some queasy twists and turns, such as a bomb that’s been planted inside the body of a drug lord.

So, overall, Black Mask is a film that’s very much of its time but, to be honest, that was a selling point for me. If you like your action movies stylish, over-the-top, a bit silly and packed with explosions, dated CGI and a fair dose of martial arts, you’re in for a good time.



Black Mask is out on 22nd April on Blu-Ray in the UK, released by Eureka as part of their Eureka Classics series. The transfer is strong. The image is clean and fairly detailed. I found the colours slightly muted in daylight scenes but perhaps that’s as intended. I only watched the extended version and the added material from the Taiwanese cut looks very rough and stands out a mile when it appears. It’s still great to be able to see this longer version though. I had no issues with the audio.


– Limited Edition Two Disc Set [2000 copies]
– Limited edition O-Card slipcase featuring new artwork by Grégory Sacré (Gokaiju)
– A limited edition collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by James Oliver
– Limited Edition bonus disc featuring two alternate versions of the film

Disc One

– Fully uncut Hong Kong version presented in 1080p from a 2K restoration
– Original US version presented in 1080p from a 2K restoration
– Original Cantonese Stereo and optional DTS-HD MA 5.1 (Hong Kong Version)
– Optional English subtitles, newly translated for this release
– Brand new audio commentary on the Hong Kong version by Asian film expert Frank Djeng (NY Asian Film festival)
– Brand new audio commentary on the US export version by action cinema experts Mike Leeder and Arne Venema
– Brand new interview with stuntman Mike Lambert
– Brand new interview with film critic Andrew Heskins (eastern Kicks)
– Brand new interview with Leon Hunt, author of Kung Fu Cult Masters: From Bruce Lee to Crouching Tiger
– Reversible sleeve featuring original poster artwork
– Archival Making of featurette
– Trailers

Disc Two

– 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

The multiple versions of the film are a big selling point here. All the bases are covered. As mentioned, the additional Taiwanese inserts in the extended versions look rough but that was all that was available.

Mike Leeder and Arne Venema’s commentary is enjoyable and informative as usual. They discuss the work of those involved as well as giving their thoughts on the film. I’m not sure about Leeder’s comparison of Daniel Lee with Orson Welles though!

Frank Djeng opens his commentary by stating that he’s going to take a slightly different approach than usual, talking less about the careers of the cast and crew and more about the history of comic book, sci-fi and superhero movies in Hong Kong. This makes for a more notably different track to Leeder and Venema’s and I appreciated hearing what he had to say.


The archival ‘making of’ is just under 20 mins and mixes interviews with the cast and crew with some decent behind-the-scenes material. In the interviews, Tsui Hark talks about the inspirations behind the film, among other things. There are a lot of clips from Black Mask in the featurette, so there’s not a tonne of new material here but it’s still a worthwhile addition.

Leon Hunt talks about Jet Li, particularly his run of modern or future-set films in the mid to late 90s. It’s an interesting piece that sheds some light on the actor’s career.

The interview with Mike Lambert is fairly lengthy, running close to half an hour. He’s a Brit (from Sheffield, not far from where I grew up) who has since moved to work on big-budget Hollywood productions since his early stunt jobs in Hong Kong, so he’s got an interesting story to tell. He also talks about his love of video games and, of course, his work on Black Mask. Later on, Lambert discusses the differences between shooting action in the West with Hong Kong. It’s a wonderful extra, with Lambert coming across as an honest, friendly guy, so I thoroughly enjoyed listening to him. It did help that he’s from my neck of the woods though!

Andrew Heskins talks about the film in general. It’s a concise, informative coverall piece for anyone without the time and patience to listen to the commentaries.

I wasn’t sent a copy of the booklet to comment on that, but Eureka’s booklets are usually decent.

Overall, Eureka have put together a stellar package for this Hong Kong cult classic. Fans shouldn’t hesitate to pick it up.


Black Mask (1996) - Eureka
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