Saturday, February 21, 2009

K-20: Legend of the Mask (K-20: Kaijin Niju Menso Den)

He's There!

There's no stopping Takeshi Kaneshiro in charming the socks off everyone, especially since new fans were won over by his heartfelt performance as the Grim Reaper in Accuracy of Death last year, and following that with his Zhuge Liang in Red Cliff. This year in Singapore, he marquees a big budgeted action-mystery masked vigilante movie, and while his powers and abilities to hark back to the Batmans and Spidermans, K-20 turned out to be rather entertaining for its liberal use of special effects, comedy and some fantastic action sequences, set against at alternate Japanese universe.

Which is interesting because other than the unmistakable Tower, Tokyo now known as Teito, is quite unrecognizable, and plaguing the country is a huge class and income divide between the aristocrats, and everyone else, which reads the Poor and have nots. It's set after WWII which never happened since Japan signed a peace treaty with the US and the UK, and hence what we have is some strangely futuristic backdrop, and some peculiar background on everyone being conditioned for pre-determined jobs and not having the ability to switch careers. Doesn't make a difference actually to the story, but gives you the feeling that everything is centrally planned.

While the title points to K-20, the fiend with 20 faces, the story's actually focused on Heikichi Endo (Kaneshiro) as a poor circus acrobat. And if Bat-fans would see some similarities here, I'd say his character's more like Dick Grayson and with putting his abilities to fighting crime, it's almost exactly how a Nightwing would behave. But back to Japan, Heikichi gets set up by K-20 himself, and gets framed into allowing everyone to believe he's actually the masked villain himself. Breaking out of prison thanks to a merry bunch of thieves whom he soon allies himself with, Heikichi makes it his quest to flush out K-20 and to clear his name, with the help of a nifty grappling hook and rope device.

Not being sexist here, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that K-20 is directed by a female - Shimako Sato, who also adapted the screenplay from a novel by So Kitamura. It's a fresh perspective having to watch an action movie directed by a female at the helm, and the focus here was of course on the characters. We have Takako Matsu as the Duchess Yoko Hashiba, who isn't your standard fare damsel-in-distress, and Toru Nakamura as the police inspector Akechi Kogoro, the arch-enemy of and resident expert on K-20.

It's a classic action mystery which like The Prestige has Russian scientist Teslar providing the object of tussle, a device capable of harnessing and transmitting vast electrical power across locations without the use of cables. K-20 wants it to rule the world, and it's up to our heroes to crack the mystery as to where the device is, and to stop the villain from achieving his goal. The plot's fairly simple, which includes an origin story for Heikichi including the antics of a hero in training, but what made it palatable was the excellent delivery by the cast, together with gorgeous sets and edge-of-your-seat action, especially in the last act itself for that fitting showdown. A key element here too is the identity of K-20, having nobody actually seen the villain in the flesh except for Heikichi himself.

The story however does sag a little when it lingers on the more dramatic moments, and you'd know for sure when Kaneshiro gets replaced by stuntmen for most of the action shots not on closeup. But as far as big-budgeted movies like these go, K-20: Legend of the Mask still came across as pretty entertaining and all primed for sequels and a franchise should the box office prove to be successful.

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