The Iron Mask, 2019.
Directed by Oleg Stepchenko.
Starring Jason Flemyng, Charles Dance, Rutger Hauer, Jackie Chan, Helen Yao and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
A brilliant English cartographer must travel to China in search of a fabled ‘Dragon Seal’ that holds supernatural powers, unaware that many dangerous and powerful figures are also seeking the treasure for nefarious purposes.
The Iron Mask, also known as The Mystery Of The Dragon Seal (and originally released as Viy 2: Journey To China, as this is a sequel to successful Russian 2014 fantasy horror Viy starring Jason Flemyng and Charles Dance)… confused yet… is finally released for the Western market after exposure in the East, including China and Russia.
We have a generic title that eradicates any former franchise link. We also have marketing that promotes the appeal of action heroes Jackie Chan (here under special participation) and Arnold Schwarzenegger together for the first time. However, this is a ploy to get Western audiences watching a film that will just leave them cold. With themes and characters from the 2014 original and a testing Russian / Chinese production that features awful dubbing and characterisation, The Iron Mask is anything but an original action adventure we were led to expect.
It’s hard enough to accept to see the likes of the late Rutger Hauer overdubbed, but also to accept liberties like the Tower of London full of American soldiers under the command of a moustached Austrian all serving the Queen of England. This Eastern production of a Western world is nothing but fantastical and full of elements from Chinese folklore, Russian culture and stereotypical English pomp and circumstance.
Jason Flemyng is our English hero from the original, cartographer Jonathan Green, out to this time discover ancient Chinese supernatural treasures. With support from Helen Yao by his side, the two are introduced early on but forgotten for the second act when action shifts to London. Here we are treated to fleeting, random appearances by Charles Dance and the late Hauer, not to mention the introduction of Chan’s Master and Schwarzenegger’s James Hook (NOT the J. M. Barrie creation). It’s a confusing mix of characters, story arcs and often silly humour.
The action sequences we do have are highly choreographed and lacklustre, with more focus on set design and production than anything else. It doesn’t help that the film’s pace is all out, introducing certain characters and stories before leaving them for a good half an hour before returning. And as the story takes place across London, Moscow and China all at the same time, it’s easy to lost track of what is happening and why and who is involved with who.
And with the amount of chains, swords and dead fish flying in slow-motion towards the screen, the 3D element is all but lost in this 2D conversion and many of the sequences using depth for immersion just don’t work.
The saving grace is when production finally focuses on China towards the third act – that’s when the fantastical elements kick in and the folklore element proves to be entertaining enough aside from more silly character portrayals. Flemyng gets his chance to shine over the second hour in a blend of Indiana Jones/Tomb Raider/The Lord of the Rings adventures, and thankfully the pace calms a little to at least be more focused on one arc rather than three or four.
The production of The Iron Mask is tiresome to watch when it becomes very apparent this is anything but what Western markets are used to. The cheap visual effects and range of actors makes it feel like a TV movie compared to what it would feel like with authentic voices and a reduction of so many production companies and individuals. And as for the iron mask of the title? It bears little to no relevance to the core story.
To save anyone the hardship of watching this on the Chan/Schwarzenegger unification, they share approximately 9 minutes of screen time, with under 3 minutes of badly staged, body doubled ham-fisted fighting. Do NOT watch expecting anything beyond this – they don’t even leave their prime location or change costumes until a few seconds before their time is up.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★