Do You remember the Nikolai Gogol story about the Kung Fu warriors fighting to liberate the dragon who served as the ancient guardian of China’s tea supply? Neither would he. He wouldn’t know Jonathan Green either, the protagonist of Forbidden Empire, the 2014 film vaguely but still recognizably based on his novella, Viy. Green returns, traveling from Czarist Russia to Qing Dynasty China in Oleg Stepchenko’s Russian-Chinese co-production Iron Mask (a.k.a. Viy 2: Journey to China, a.k.a. Journey to China: The Mystery of the Iron Mask), which releases tomorrow on DVD.
Iron Mask should not be confused with Dumas either, but there is a royal stuck inside a piece of iron head-gear. In this case, it is Peter the Great, Emperor of All Russia, imprisoned in the Tower of London. He shares a cell with the Master, a mysterious Chinese warrior, who has sort of taught him Kung Fu. The Master was the leader of a brotherhood serving the patron dragon of China’s tea-producing region, where dark forces have now taken control.
Ironically, that is where Green is headed. He had a tough scrape in Moscow, but the British ambassador managed to facilitate his release from prison, with the expectation the phony Czar’s assassin would permanently silence him. However, Cheng Lan, the Master’s protégé, protects him, while maintaining the guise of a man (Mulan-style). When Green’s wife gets wind of the situation, she helps the Czar escape from the Tower, so they can travel to China, to defeat the imposter witch-queen, fraudulently ruling in the Dragon’s name, exactly the way Gogol would have written it, if he thought Viy needed a Kung Fu-fantasy sequel.
Just trying to write a brief synopsis of Iron Mask is a handy exercise for putting the illogical randomness of the plot into perspective. To make things even nuttier, James Hook, the warden of the Tower of London is played by Austrian Arnold Schwarzenegger, but he doesn’t sound so conspicuously out of place in the Russian and Mandarin dubs.
Forbidden Empire was an inconsistent mess, but it still hung together as a whole better than Iron Mask. On the other hand, Iron Mask boasts more entertaining highlights. Stepchenko and the producers are shrewd enough to deliver a fight scene between their two action icons: Jackie Chan and Schwarzenegger, as the Master and Hook, respectively. It is pretty good fight scene—and the climatic storming-the-castle sequence is definitely cool. A lot of credit goes to Helen Yao Xingtong, who shows off some terrific action chops as Cheng Lan and the imposter witch.
Sorry, Governor, but you lose a lot of moral authority appearing in a Russian-Chinese co-production, alongside the CCP’s leading cheerleader, Chan, who is now despised in his native Hong Kong. Did you really need the money so badly? Do you need us to start a Go-Fund-Me for you? Because seriously, this thing doesn’t make much sense and it sports some of the fakest CGI ever seen on-film. Regardless, Iron Mask has some memorable moments, but the story, dialogue, and effects are just plain bad. Not recommended, Iron Mask releases tomorrow (11/24) on DVD (and is already available on VOD).