wed 03/06/2020

The Iron Mask review - preposterous multi-national fantasy | reviews, news & interviews

The Iron Mask review - preposterous multi-national fantasy

The Iron Mask review - preposterous multi-national fantasy

Oleg Stepchenko's film is a weird mix of Chinese folklore, bogus history and atrocious dubbing

Why are you doing this, guys? Jackie Chan and Arnold Schwarzenegger ham it up

Director Oleg Stepchenko’s follow-up to his 2014 yarn Forbidden Kingdom swaps the latter’s Transylvania for a fantastical computer-generated frolic round 18th century Russia and China, as pioneering cartographer Jonathan Green

Director Oleg Stepchenko’s follow-up to his 2014 yarn Forbidden Kingdom swaps the latter’s Transylvania for a fantastical computer-generated frolic round 18th century Russia and China, as pioneering cartographer Jonathan Green (Jason Flemyng) sets out to map the extremities of the known world. However, the plot grows increasingly incomprehensible as layers of lunatic action scenes and fairy-tale fantasy are piled on top of it.

At its core is a Chinese fable about a magic dragon chained up by a wicked princess and the Black Wizards. In a process perhaps only students of Chinese folklore would understand, the dragon’s eyelashes grow down into the ground and re-emerge as a healing plant, called tea, obviously a most valuable commodity. Only the return of the true princess can free the dragon and rescue the downtrodden citizenry. However, since this is a Sino-Russian co-production, exiled Tsar Peter the Great – the titular mask-wearer, bafflingly imprisoned in the Tower of London under jailer Arnold Schwarzenegger – has been shoehorned in as a bit-part player.

With clumsy overdubbed voices in a variety of mismatched accents, characterisations are primitive at best, though Charles Dance (pictured left) manages to emerge with a few shreds of dignity intact as English grandee Lord Dudley, chiefly by speaking loudly and maintaining a very stern expression. His daughter Emma (Anna Churina) is Russian, but that’s scarcely to be wondered at in this context.

With CGI effects which are prone to shudder to a halt at vital moments, the production feels unnervingly ramshackle. Nonetheless some of its set-pieces are fun, like a gravity-defying battle between Schwarzenegger and “the Master”, Jackie Chan (both of whom are on board as producers), and an air raid by rebels in umbrella-powered hang gliders, who fire explosive orange balls at their opponents. The dragon is a fairly spectacular sight once he manages to get airborne, but best of all is a mighty storm at sea, with Peter the Great navigating through steepling, vertiginous waves between jagged rocks.

Clearly, though, this is a gaudy confection aimed at the Asian Pepsi-and-popcorn market. It’s the kind of movie you might watch while making a few phone calls and doing a spot of online gambling.

This is a gaudy confection aimed at the Asian Pepsi-and-popcorn market

rating

Editor Rating: 
2
Average: 2 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters