*Please note: this review is based on a screener that was made available to press. It is unclear if the version I have seen is the one that would be distributed to audiences on VOD. I make this note because one of the terrible things about the film is the ADR (Automated Dialog Replacement) and dubbing. Nearly all of the dialogue does not sound like it is coming out naturally from the performer on screen, and it makes an already absurd experience even more absurd.*
I enjoy the occasional absurd movie. A movie that is so lacking in key film-making techniques that it might as well be a parody of whatever it is attempting to accomplish. If I didn’t know any better I would assume that The Iron Mask is a parody of Western/Chinese fantasy adventures, but it is impossible to say that considering how sincere everyone plays it.
The story is a muddled mess that follows several characters. Jackie Chan is the Master, a mythical person who is tasked, alongside his daughter and the princess, to do what needs to be done to protect the magical Dragon in the sky, whose long lashes produce tea leaves. Due to greed and betrayal, the West interferes and disrupts order in China and imprisons the Master and his daughter in different prisons— England and Russia respectively. Arnold Schwarzenegger is a prison warden named James Hook, who serves no real purpose in the film, other than to be an obstacle for Jackie Chan during a jail breakout. Both action icons are certainly excited and game but they are not actually the leads of the film, despite what the ads suggest.
Jason Flemyng plays Jonathan Green, a cartographer who is forced to travel East due to suspicious and treasonous behaviour happening in the Russian courts. The Iron Mask refers to the iron mask that is worn by the real Russian Czar that is imprisoned with Jackie Chan’s Master. It is Flemyng’s Jonathan Green who is the lead character of the film as this is sequel to a Russian folklore fantasy released in 2014 called Viy (the other title of this film is Viy 2: Journey to China).
If you were in any way befuddled by what was written above, well you will have 2 hours of insanity to sit through if you choose to watch this. It is as though the movie cannot make up its mind about what it should be. Should it be an action-adventure with hints of supernatural elements about European/Russian royal shenanigans? Or should it follow the tenets of a traditional Chinese fantasy adventure with tons of majestic cinematography and beautifully choreographed martial arts? The film is utterly confused as to what it wants to be, and somehow this script (or the paychecks) enticed some of the biggest male stars in the world. And, for the more British television/film inclined person Charles Dance and Jason Flemyng may pique your interest.
The question remains; is this a film you should watch? As many of us are smartly staying at home and pondering on what television show to binge or what films to watch, The Iron Mask seems like the last thing one would consider. In the end, it is a strange mish-mash of 2016’s The Great Wall and 2011’s The Three Musketeers. However, despite nothing in this review suggesting you should, you should watch this. It is absurd and insane, but my god it is hilarious. The Iron Mask is foolishly made in a way that one cannot help but be enthralled and in awe.
If you have children to entertain or you yourself are looking for a reprieve from the heavy and sombre dramas you are undoubtedly drowning in, rent The Iron Mask. Granted you will struggle to remember a detail, but it will sure be fun.
The Iron Mask is available on VOD April 10th
by Ferdosa Abdi
Ferdosa (she/her) is a lifetime student of cinema. Three of her current favourite films are: Addams Family Values, Cinderella (2015), and Emma. (2020). On Twitter you can see her support women-led cinema, her ongoing love/hate relationship with Disney, her totally healthy obsession with Eva Green, and her great admiration for Guillermo del Toro.