K-20: Legend of Black Mask

Sunday, 09 January 2011 12:33

Set in 1949, in an alternate reality where World War II never happened, “K-20” is an action-packed caper that shares much in common with “The Rocketeer” and “Spider-man”. Flitting nimbly about the Japanese capital city of Teito, K-20 is a mischievous masked thief whose incredible ability to mimic others has earned him the title of “Fiend with 20 Faces”. He may look like Zorro, but his motives are purely selfish.

K-20’s master plan is to steal Nikola Tesla’s hidden device, designed to wirelessly energise devices. In the wrong hands, it could destroy entire cities. The masked criminal frames Endo (Takeshi Kaneshiro – “Red Cliff”, “House of Flying Daggers”), a poor but gifted circus acrobat and illusionist, tricking the authorities into a case of mistaken identity. Endo must clear his name, evade the police and locate the device before K-20, in this release on both Blu-ray and DVD.

K-20 - Legend of the Black Mask comes to Blu-ray and DVDThe police are led by Baron Akechi (Tôru Nakamura), a shrewd detective who has made tracking the villain down his primary goal in life. His steely determination is cranked to the limit when the cackling scoundrel terrorises the guests at a ceremony marking his engagement to the lovely Duchess Hashiba (Takako Matsu).

Based on a novel by So Kitamura, Shimako Sato’s movie is lightweight, Marvel-style entertainment of a high order. Though it does not feature any superheroes (or villains) as such, the Fiend and Endo both perform incredible feats of athleticism and identity-swapping (complete with “Mission: Impossible”-style rubber face masks). Our hero is embraced by a group of altruistic thieves who provide him with food, shelter and a manual on how to become an accomplished thief. The book teaches Endo about traversing towns by taking the most direct route (aka free running), and the art of impersonation, both essential techniques if he is to achieve his goal and evade capture.

Despite its light touch, the movie does touch on more serious themes including extreme class division, poverty, equality and self-improvement. It never labours its message, preferring to gently educate its audience, and these themes are central to the plot rather than anachronistically bolted on.

In terms of spectacle, the film excels. Teito’s steam-punk cityscapes are incredibly detailed and satisfyingly grimy in the poor and industrial zones, whilst the abodes and palaces of the rich are resplendent. The stunt work is jaw-droppingly good in places, especially when Endo and K-20 go head-to-head, with both characters vaulting over obstacles and dexterously flipping to dodge blows. Endo has a fancy retractable grappling hook with which he swings from building to building, allowing him to perform death-defying leaps off skyscrapers with panache.

The plot is an amusing mixture of Sherlock Holmes, Charles Dickens and a comic-book caper. It is a long film, but the riddles of K-20’s true identity and the location of the mysterious Tesla device both provide plenty of twists, and prevent the action from flagging unduly. The picture and sound quality of the DVD version reviewed is decent, though occasionally darker scenes do briefly swallow characters dressed from head to toe in black.

The sole extra on the disc is a 25-minute behind-the-scenes featurette. It provides the usual mix of talking heads, backstage coverage and one or two bloopers.

“K-20: The Legend Of The Black Mask” (2008) is out now, courtesy of Manga Entertainment. The running time is 137 minutes approx, certificate ‘12’, and the movie retails for £15.99 on DVD and £19.99 on Blu-ray, or less from www.culttvstore.com

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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