The Iron Mask: The Mystery of the Dragon Seal    aka Journey to China: The Mystery of Iron Mask

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

The Iron Mask
dir Oleg Stepchenko
scr Oleg Stepchenko, Dmitry Paltsev, Alexey A Petrukhin
prd La Peikang, Jackie Chan, Fang Yingchun, Gleb Fetisov
with Jason Flemyng, Yao Xingtong, Anna Churina, Yuri Kolokolnikov, Jackie Chan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Charles Dance, Ma Li, Pavel Volya, Li Yu, Christopher Fairbank, Martin Klebba, Rutger Hauer
release Chn 16.Aug.19,
Rus 19.Sep.19, UK 10.Apr.20
19/Russia 2h00

flemyng chan Schwarzenegger

It takes two extended prologs to set the stage for this outrageously oversized and relentlessly paced Russian-Chinese epic, a sequel to 2014's supernatural adventure Viy. Produced with lavish sets and costumes, plus extravagant digital effects, the film has an odd storybook quality to it with scrappy heroes and flashy magic. And with a whiff of slapstick in its writing, design and action, the resolutely nutty tone is rather good fun.
In the 18th century, Russia's Tsar Peter (Kolokolnikov) has been locked in an iron mask in the Tower of London. His cellmate is a master wizard (Chan), and when they attempt to escape beefy warden Cook (Schwarzenegger), only Peter gets away, with the help of Emma (Churina), mistress of his cartographer Jonathan (Flemying). He's in China mapping the eastern edge of the Russian Empire with the wizard's daughter Chen (Yao), a fierce female warrior masquerading as a boy. Their destiny lies in a dragon's lair in China, guarded by a witch (Ma) in disguise.
Most of the comedic elements are deliberate, offering witty touches in each scene alongside the eye-popping visuals. This is a riotous mix of huge-scale production values alongside cheesy clunkiness like bizarrely over-lit exteriors and badly dubbed actors. Even the more gratuitous action scenes are colourfully choreographed, such as a whizzy encounter between Chan and Schwarzenegger. Random fights break out everywhere, due to characters who are full of attitude.

Within this crowded chaos, most of the characters are flatly ridiculous, but there are also some awesome fighters, the best of whom are women. Chan has a lot of fun as a magical old man, while Western stars provide some lively scene-stealing, from Schwarzenegger giving prison fitness lessons ("A healthy body leads to a healthy mind!") to Dance as Emma's enjoyably arrogant, angry toff father. The most resonant character is Yao's Chen, a gifted woman with a secret much bigger than her gender. Her massive final fight is terrific.

The film's hyperactive pace means that no sequence overstays its welcome before the next bit of action, comedy or intrigue. On the other hand, this style of storytelling omits any sense of perspective, so there's nothing deeper for the audience to grab hold of. Basically, this kind of moviemaking is aimed at children who enjoy the simple pleasures of spectacular imagery and amusing mayhem. Seen through a child's eye, the wildly over-the-top climactic battle is madly enjoyable.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 9.Apr.20

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© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall