Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

The city is Tokyo and the year is 1949. However this wouldn’t be the 1949 Tokyo that we are familiar with, the one that was in desperate need of reconstruction after Douglas Macarthur ran through it during World War II. In this alternate reality, Japan struck up a peace treaty before things escalated which was good for most of the world but as it turns out not so good for all of Japan. In this reality the social lines are clearly defined between the haves, who have just about everything, and the have-nots who truly have nothing and have very little opportunity to acquire anything. More on this later but our movie, the action / fantasy / adventure ‘K-20: Legend of the Mask’ or ‘The Fiend with Twenty Faces’, opens in a conference room where a scientist is displaying one of the many amazing devices of Austrian inventor Nikola Telsa. This particular device has the amazing ability to transfer energy wirelessly, so simply by punching in some coordinates you can send energy to light a bulb or perhaps even destroy city. How did we get from here to there? Well say hello to legendary criminal The Fiend with Twenty Faces, a Robin Hood of sorts with the exception that he steals from the rich and keeps everything for himself. The fiend, using one of his many disguises, snatches this device, shows it’s potential as weapon by electrocuting a few people and then proceeds to disappear with it in thin air.

While The Fiend is doing these dastardly deeds, on the other side of tracks meet destitute, but joyful circus performer Heikichi Endo (Takeshi Kaneshiro) who gets by on the salt of the land performing his acrobatic circus routines, taking care of his birds and looking out for his other circus performers. Unfortunately for Heikichi a situation arises in which being broke but happy doesn’t work so well requiring the young man to get some cash fast. Enter a mysterious stranger who offers Heikichi a healthy amount of money to use his acrobatic skills to scale a very tall building and snap some pictures of the wedding of famed Tokyo detective Kogoro Akechi (Toru Nakamura), who as it so happens is hot on the trail of The Fiend, and wealthy socialite Yoko Hashiba (Takako Matsu).

Unlike Heikichi I know a setup when I see one and before you can say ‘I’ve been framed!’ Heikichi is caught, captured, jailed and wrongly branded as K-20. The only thing that Heikichi has in his favor is that he has some low friends in low places, mainly a cadre of thieves and con persons who bust him out of jail and advise him to learn the tricks of their trades if he hopes to clear his name. Reticent at first, Heikichi soon realizes that since he’s been branded as The Fiend he should learn the skills of The Fiend to flush out The Fiend. Also helping his cause is that he makes the acquaintance of the pretty socialite whose wedding he unwittingly wrecked who has been longing for some adventure her entire life. However Heikichi and his new team realize that clearing his name is the least of his worries as they learn that The Fiend has a fiendish plan which must be stopped or thousands, and perhaps even millions of lives will be lost.

So take a little bit of Batman, sprinkle in a touch of Spiderman, fold in a half cup of Darkman then add just of touch of The Prestige and after you let it simmer for a while you will have a piping hot dish of ‘K-20: Legend of the Mask’. It is quite possible that there are other movies that director Shimako Sato film borrows from, but they have slipped past my ‘homage’ detector. Now that statement may lead one to believe that Ms. Sato’s film is derivative and perhaps it is a little bit, but this does not make it any less enjoyable.

‘K-20’ is without a doubt an action adventure in the truest sense of the word, in the same spirit that the Indiana Jones series of movies, minus the last one perhaps, were all action adventures. Takeshi Kaneshiro has proven himself to be a legitimate leading man and he doesn’t disappoint here giving his character of Heikichi a real vulnerability to go along with the characters heart, humor and athletic ability. The actor was indeed more than up to the physical tasks of the character, albeit with a little help from a few wires and a bit of CGI as Heikichi scaled walls, swung from building, avoided numerous automatic weapons while engaging in thrilling fist fights and numerous other death defying acts. ‘K-20’ also possesses some sky high production values with some impressive special effects, some slick photography and camera work and a story that for the most part flowed quite smoothly.

Despite the high entertainment value that the movie offers, it isn’t without its occasional bump or two. The story arc is predictable, painfully so at times, it’s unlikely that the true identity of The Fiend with Twenty Faces will surprise anyone, and the film does possess a generous running time which occasionally leads to a lull in the pace of the story, which may cause those amongst us with shorter attention spans to check our watches a time or two.

Regardless, even though some of us might’ve seen this story before here and there, the fact remains that if you do it well it will still entertain. This certainly holds true for ‘K-20: The Legend of the Mask’ which is a high flying adventure tale that harkens back to a time when movies were a little bit simpler but probably a whole lot more fun to watch.

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