In an alternate past, wherein Japan came to a peace pact with the UK and the USA during the outbreak of World War II and – thus – Pearl Harbour, Hiroshima and Nagasaki never happened – the Land of the Rising Sun is prospering.
The year is 1949 and the rich are living the good life, at the expense of the nation’s poor. However, torrid tabloid stories, including the “controversial” marriage of a beautiful heiress (played by The Hidden Blade’s Takako Matsu) to Tokyo’s Chief of Police, are fed to folks across the land in an attempt to distract people from the very real social problems surrounding them. Meanwhile, a caped crusader known only as K-20 has been running riot and stealing the pennies of the most financially successful Japanese luminaries. Unlike Robin Hood, however, our mysterious avenger cribs all the cash for himself – and, to avert police eyes, the dastardly deviant even manages to frame a financially strapped circus acrobat called Heikichi (veteran action icon Takeshi Kaneshiro) for crimes which he never committed!
Directed by the largely unknown Shimako Sato (career highlight: 1992’s low budget bloodsucker opus Tale of a Vampire), and based on a popular Japanese novel, K-20 owes its legacy to the famous Italian comic book Diabolik. What results is largely a lot of fun – and audiences will know that they are in for a terrific time from the get-go; thanks to some superb animated opening credits and a tone that flips between boisterous action set pieces and flat-out slapstick silliness. Yet, it has to be said that K-20 tries to be everything to everyone and, ultimately, ends up coming a bit undone.
However, where K-20 really makes the blood rush is with its martial arts mayhem and fantastic wire-fu interludes. Inspired by Batman and Spider-Man alike, the sight of Kaneshiro spiralling across the cityscape or battling a baddie atop a skyscraper is nothing less than exhilarating. Mention must also go to the movie’s top notch special effects – with some delirious digital shoot-outs and the creation of a fantastical past which looks strangely futuristic and yet also maintains some notable period details. Main man Kaneshiro, of course, excels – as one might expect given that the House of Flying Daggers star has been on a bit of a roll of late (what with Red Cliff and The Warlords) – and here he slips nicely into the heroic chivalry that must, by now, be all too much like just another day at the office…
K-20 may fumble with a frothy romance but it more than holds the attention with some electrifying, edge-of-the-seat moments. It makes for an enticing, and visually vast, adventure – one that is well deserving of this belated British bow.
K-20 The Legend Of The Black Mask Trailer