The Iron Mask is an odd film. Wait, did I say Iron Mask? I meant Journey to China – The Mystery of Iron Mask. Wait, did I say Journey to China? I meant The Mystery of the Dragon Seal. WAIT. Did I say Dragon Seal? I meant Viy 2. Because this is actually a sequel to another film called Viy aka Forbidden Kingdom from 2014, which also starred Jason Flemyng as cartographer Jonathan Green, the role he reprises here. Charles Dance is also in this, reprising his role from the first film but he doesn’t get to do much past the opening narration. His rather antagonistic relationship with Jason Flemyng’s character is established in flashback as the two share no screen time in this film.
Does it matter that this film is a sequel? Not hugely. They flash back to relevant points from the first film fairly early on, though there’s still sometimes a lingering sense that there’s more story going on here than the audience is privy to. So what is Iron Mask/Viy 2/Dragon Seal about? It’s about a dragon whose eyelashes grew through the earth and sprouted as “healing tea” and about the “White Wizards” who try to protect it and the evil wizards who just want to make money off it. Currently the lands the dragon inhabits are ruled over by an evil witch who has taken the guise of the Princess to fool the locals into doing her bidding and making her rich.
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There’s also a sort of sub-plot that the Tsar of Russia is actually in jail, he’s the man in the titular “iron mask” but that has almost nothing to do with the events in the plot, he could have been absolutely anyone instead of the Tsar. This might tie back into events in the first film but in this one it’s fairly pointless.
Jackie Chan plays one of the White Wizards known only as “Master”, imprisoned in the Tower of London, under the watchful eye of his jailer James Hook, played by the one and only Arnold Schwarzenegger, who does look like he’s having a bit of fun with it. His fight with Jackie Chan is the highlight of the film. Problem is that it happens within the first third of this two hour long film. It’s also got Rutger Hauer in it for all of about twenty seconds in one of his last roles before his death. He doesn’t have a lot to do but hey, it’s another name they can put on the poster.
Jason Flemyng is decent enough, as he always is, though there’s an odd disconnect with the man we see in the flashbacks, attacking wolves with a shotgun, and the pompous, ineffectual stuffed shirt he comes across as here. He’s not a man who makes things happen, he has things happen TO him and he just gets swept along with it. The real hero of this particular story is Xingtong Yao as Princess Chen, out to reclaim her land from the evil wizards who are not only out for money, they’ve turned to SCIENCE (Curse you, science! It’s always your fault!) to help them keep control of things, with the aid of four intriguing henchmen who can’t help but remind me of the four storms from Big Trouble in Little China but I will instead describe them using comic book characters. There’s The Thing, Black Canary, teapot guy (Uhm…Mass Master, maybe?) and Electro. We know nothing about them beyond their particular schtick which is certainly fun to watch, but ultimately these guys are just silent henchmen.
This movie is… well. It’s a thing. The biggest issue it has is the strange decision to dub EVERYONE. Even the native English speaking actors are dubbed with their own voices, and it’s ever so slightly out of sync, just enough to be really, really annoying early on. At best the dialogue is flat, uninspired, with hardly any real energy or emotion coming through even when characters are in mortal danger.
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The story is kind of a confused mess, with a lot of the plot seeming to rely on characters being almost literally blind to what’s going on around them, which is fine to begin with, but when so much of it seems to rely on nobody recognising people they should supposedly know then it starts to wear thin. Also, the less said about the CGI in some scenes the better. Creature effects were definitely NOT the forte of the VFX studio they used.
But you know what? I’ve seen worse. I’ve seen so, so much worse. There’s a certain charm to it and some scenes are genuinely good fun. Jackie fighting Arnie, the scenes with the fake (REDACTED) later on in the film, the interesting designs of the henchmen and their particular powers. This film is an eye-watering two hours in length but after getting over the terrible dubbing job I stopped worrying about the runtime and was just along for the ride.
Can I recommend buying it or spending any money on it at all? GOD no. But if it’s a rainy Sunday afternoon or, as seems to be the case right now, you’re trapped inside your house with nothing else to do, then see if you can catch it on your streaming service of choice. It’s not great, but it’s far from terrible.
The Iron Mask is out on Digital on 10th April from Signature Entertainment.