This is a film of many titles. The box may call it The Iron Mask, but the screener seen for review has it as The Mystery of the Dragon Seal and its original title is Viy 2. It’s a sequel to the 2014 remake of Viy, released in the UK as The Forbidden Kingdom (the one that doesn’t star Jackie Chan, despite the fact he is briefly in this sequel).
The plot may make even less sense than that explanation of the title, but it’s honestly hard to tell what’s going on here. The basics are (I think) that a magical dragon enables healing tea to grow and there is a battle between good and evil wizards over control of the dragon. How that involves Jackie Chan as a prisoner in the Tower of London, Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Tower’s head guard (implying that he’s playing an Englishman) Jason Flemyng as a map maker and two ‘that boy’s a girl’ reveals less surprising than ‘Bob’ in Blackadder is something of a mystery, even a few minutes after the credits have rolled.
It’s not unusual for martial arts and action films to be nonsensical. They can easily make up for shortcomings in other areas by turning out great action scenes. That does not happen here. Despite the fact that Jackie Chan is credited as one of three co-directors and surely must have been responsible at least for his fight with Schwarzenegger, the action is deeply disappointing. The face off that fans have wanted for so long is brief and uninterestingly choreographed, the long haired wig he is wearing allows for many moments when Jackie could easily be doubled, the cutting is quick and every time the sequence threatens to become cool, we are sent away from it. This could have been such an interesting fight: Schwarzenegger a tank against the nimbler Chan, but it’s a scene that needed to happen 25 years ago.
Outside all this, The Iron Mask is often laughably inept. With an international cast, it was inevitable that there would be some dubbing, but there are Italian horror films from the 70s that have better sync than this. This, plus the fact the screenplay often sounds like it’s by Google Translate, means it’s hard to blame the actors for the uniformly dreadful performances, though Jason Flemyng, obviously doing his own voice work, takes the wooden spoon for his painful mugging. Charles Dance pops up for a couple of minutes and boredly intones some lines, but he’s still Charles Dance, so it’s quite entertaining anyway. Jackie and Arnie turn in exactly the kind of work you’d expect, and if it weren’t for the dubbing there might have been some fun to be had with Xingtong Yao’s hammy dual performance (even if it weren’t much good).
The behind camera work is so poor that in one late scene, the dialogue of which seems to play out in entirely the wrong order, it’s hard to know whether to blame the writing or the editing. The only occasional bright spots come in some solid production and set design, though even this falls down at times, with the evil wizards looking like rejected Power Rangers villains, with less mobility than the show’s Zord suits. The CGI is similarly hit and miss. The odd moment throws up a decent looking monster or a passable collapsing wall, but the compositing is an abomination and much of the CGI, notably the intro and a big sea battle, smacks of a budget that was too low and a workload that was too ambitious.
Director Oleg Stepchenko seems to have no grasp on this film. It’s little more than a mass of bad ideas and technical underachievement strewn in more or less random order across a two hour film.