Black Mask (1996)

Black Mask HK DVD Cover


4 stars out of 5 stars

Directed by:

Daniel Lee Yan-Kong


Jet Li Lian-JieTsui Chik (Simon in US version)
Sean Lau Ching-WanInspector Shek (Rock in US version)
Karen Mok Man-WaiTracy
Françoise C. J. YipYeuk-Lan (possibly Yuek-Lan) (Cai-Lin in US version)
Patrick Lung KongCommander
Anthony Wong Chau-SangKing Kau
Xiong Xin-XinKau's bald man

Written by:

Tsui Hark
Teddy Chen Tak Sum
Joe Ma Wai Ho
Hui Koan

Martial Art Director:

Yuen Wo Ping



All (HK)
1 (US)

Video Signal:


Libraries are all about information. So is this movie; secrets, stolen data and a cure. It is also about the kicking, the punching, and the scrunching.

An unnamed country has created an experimental squad, 701, of invincible warriors by severing their nerves so they feel no pain. They don't feel much of anything else either. When the country tries to terminate the experiment, 701 escapes, as they are, of course, invincible.

One ex-member, Tsui Chik (Jet Li Lian-Jie), comes to Hong Kong and works in a library. He keeps to himself, not mixing much with the librarians including the ditsy Tracy (Karen Mok Man-Wai), while he seeks for a cure for his lack of feeling. Tsui does have one friend, police Inspector Shek (Sean Lau Ching-Wan). Shek hits Tsui in an effort to provoke the "pacifist" Tsui into a response. Tsui feigns pain a beat late.

Shek's current case is the unsolved murder of most of the city's drug dealers. Tsui over hears enough to deduce his old mates are in town and up to nothing good. Dressed as Kato, Tsui crashes a party between the nutty, surviving drug lord, King Kau (Anthony Wong Chau-Sang), his gang, Shek's men and 701. It is a spectacular Yuen Wo Ping choreographed bash with bombs, skaters with machine guns, killer CDs, an earth mover and a wrecking ball (and the movie isn't even half over). 701 want Tsui back; if not back, then dead. The cops just want him gone.

Strong performances all around. Lau's work here lured me to his other films such as Running Out of Time , Longest Nite, Expect the Unexpected and Big Bullet. The one on one scenes between Lau and Li, as Shek begins to suspect Tsui is not all he seems, are the ones I watch over again. Mok shines as the volatile Tracy. Wong, in little more than a cameo, turns in one of his patented nut jobs. Xiong Xin-Xin steals his scenes in a bit role as King Kau's bald man.

There is fun stuff in this movie and the action sequences are excellent, as one would expect from Mr. Yuen. 701's plot to get United States DEA files via the Hong Kong police department seems far fetched, not to say silly, but Black Mask is enjoyable rubbish.


Thumbnail of the Black Mask (Jet Li Lian Jie) in Black Mask (1996).
The Black Mask (Jet Li) in Black Mask (1996). (~18K)

Thumbnail of Shek (Sean Lau Ching Wan) fighting Tsui (Jet Li Lian Jie) in Black Mask (1996).
Shek (Sean Lau Ching Wan) fighting Tsui (Jet Li Lian Jie) (~25)

Black Mask (US):

Warning: Minor Spoilers!

Once again (see Hitman for another comparison), I have taken the bullet for you all to see how the Black Mask US release DVD stacks up against the Hong Kong version. This wasn't as easy as Hitman where I just ran the movie simultaneously and paused it at disparities because the US edition of Black Mask is reedited, moving some scenes around. For what it's worth, I did my best.

Black Mask (HK)Black Mask (US)Reaction
Black Mask (HK) DVD cover.

Shows all the major characters. (See up top for a better picture.)

Black Mask (US) DVD cover.

It's all about Jet Li and it is an actual scene from the movie.

Happy. The US cover is more dramatic.
Thumbnail of Tracy (Karen Mok Man Wai) and Black Mask (Jet Li Lian Jie) from the Hong Kong DVD of Black Mask (1996).
Tracy (Karen Mok Man Wai) and Black Mask (Jet Li Lian Jie) from the Hong Kong DVD (~24)

The picure is blue green. Even sunny days appear overcast. The transfer, on the copy I have, appears to be the laser disk software without the extra detail DVD can give.

Thumbnail of Tracy (Karen Mok Man Wai) and Black Mask (Jet Li Lian Jie) from the US DVD of Black Mask (1996).
Tracy (Karen Mok Man Wai) and Black Mask (Jet Li Lian Jie) from the US DVD (~34)

The blue filter has been taken out. The picture is anamorphic. I used the US edition for the screen captures.

Happy. I'm glad the picture is good yet feel that the director's vision has been severely tampered with.

The original score, what there is of it, has a sort of surf guitarish feel.New urban soundtrack.

Sad. I like surf guitar. However, the urban stuff isn't any more assertive than the old score.

Opening credit sequence gives the back story.Recut with a bit more emphasis on Yeuk-Lan.

Neutral. The US edition tries emphasize a romantic relationship between Tsui and Yeuk-Lan.

CantoneseDubbed in English

Angry. Some of the dubbing is OK. Yip dubbed herself. However, the librarians are done with awful "funny" voices.

Librarians and Tracy are introduced as the guys recommend Tsui to Tracy as dating material; just dump him when you're bored.Substantially cut.

Sad. Introduces the library as a community.

Shek introduced when he comes to the library to pick up Tsui.Cut.

Sad. Why change?

Surviving druglord ambushed by 701.A minute or so, where a 701 disguised as Tai's driver implants the bomb in Tai's chest is cut.

Sad. Cutting this makes no sense because it is a set up for later when a cop turns out to be a 701. As for the implied, impromptu surgery, the US edition is actually grosser than the original so I don't know why that was taken out.

Chess with Shek.This introduces Shek, now called "Rock". He doesn't punch Tsui.

Sad. I just don't like the name "Rock" and I really enjoyed it when Shek hit Tsui. Cutting it makes no sense because it is alluded to later.

Washroom scene.Shek grunting on the pot is cut.

Happy. Lau did a great job but I am, after all, an American and thus uptight about bodily functions.

Shek gets beeped and calls in. He hears about the chest wound with the bomb. Tsui overhears.Cut.

Sad. Again, cutting this makes no sense because this is how Tsui learns about the bomb.

Kau is introduced with a hot, scantily clad dancer.Cut.

Neutral. Another case of violence good, sex bad?

Fight between cops, Kau's men, and 701 is especially green.All the gore is in livid color. Actually, has a bit that isn't on the Hong Kong DVD, of Black Mask bending rebar over an impaled 701.

Neutral. Because of the color, and the extra second or two, the US cut is more gruesome than the original.

Yeuk-Lan (or Yuek-Lan) is introduced.Now she is Cai-Lin.

Neutral. Seems pointless to me.

Bridge flashback: "When there is real action, I can't protect you anymore."Bridge flashback: "I'll never let you fall."

Sad. OK, so Tsui says exactly the opposite in the dubbed version from what he originally said... I guess this was to emphasize that romance with what's her name.

Shek brings Yeuk-Lan out to Tsui on the pier.A couple of seconds are added of Shek signing her out of custody.

Neutral. Makes no difference to the story. Was the film getting a bit short with all the character development that was being cut?

Tsui writes his resignation and, in voice over, explains he has to leave to keep the librarians safe from 701.Cut, but info is filled in later.


Tsui's surprise party.Tsui's longing look back at his Mickey Mouse birthday cake is cut; also, Happy Birthday.

Neutral. I assume both of these were cut to avoid paying license fees.

"There were many people killed in the library." This is actually said later but is germane here.Thumbnail of Shek (Sean Lau Ching Wan) in the gore covered library from the US DVD of Black Mask (1996).
Shek (Sean Lau Ching Wan) in the gore covered library from the US DVD of Black Mask (1996) (~26)

One of the cops tells Shek that the head librarian has reported that all of his staff are OK, except two are missing.

Angry. What is wrong with that picture? Yes, there are lots of chalk outlines, movie shorthand for corpses. I don't think they were 701.

Downloaded data is from the DEA.Downloaded data is from Crimewatch.

Happy. This actually matches what the computer screens say and may make a bit more sense.

Tracy starts to worry about Tsui so he calls her to say he is OK.Cut.

Sad. No mayhem? It's got to go!

After hospital fight, severed end of arm is never shown.After hospital fight, severed end of arm is shown.

Neutral. More gore!

Tracy shoots nail gun.Cut.

Sad. It was a cute scene and I notice that a lot of the cuts are of Tracy.

Tracy and Black Mask start van.Cut.


Tracy promises not to tell "Tsui Chik, that nerd" the secret identity of the Black Mask if he will reveal himself to her.Cut.

Sad. Tracy cut again.

Tsui seeks antidote for lack of feeling.Antidote exists. Tsui just has to go get it.

Sad. They had to insure the ending was upbeat despite the preceding carnage.

Thumbnail of Tracy (Karen Mok Man Wai), Black Mask (Jet Li Lian Jie) and Inspector Shek (Sean Laun Ching Wan) from the Hong Kong DVD of Black Mask (1996).
Tracy (Karen Mok Man Wai), Black Mask (Jet Li Lian Jie) and Inspector Shek (Sean Laun Ching Wan) from the Hong Kong DVD (~17)
Thumbnail of Tracy (Karen Mok Man Wai), Black Mask (Jet Li Lian Jie) and Inspector Shek (Sean Laun Ching Wan) from the US DVD of Black Mask (1996).
Tracy (Karen Mok Man Wai), Black Mask (Jet Li Lian Jie) and Inspector Shek (Sean Laun Ching Wan) from the US DVD (~21)

Sad. I liked the metaphysicality of the original.

Running time to the beginning of the closing credits: 96:57Running time to the beginning of the closing credits: 85:20

Sad. I can't help but feel that good stuff was cut out.


This is by no means the complete list but where the gist was the same, I was too lazy to note the differences. There is one difference not brought out above because it may be a case of subtitle failure. In the US version, in addition to the whole lack of feeling thing, the 701s are also due to die within the year. This isn't explicitly stated in the English subtitles of my Hong Kong version but it is sort of hinted at and explains the medical monitoring equipment Tsui keeps in his warehouse.

The US version of Black Mask isn't quite the hatchet job that was performed on Hitman. I like the color. However, anything that hinted character development seems to have been cut. In the ideal world, I'd have a DVD with the Cantonese soundtrack and the US color.

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