Tea Leaves

Jackie Chan and Arnold Schwarzenegger square off once in Iron Mask. It’s fun, and although some 20-30 years too late, the two find the means to stage a complex, entertaining brawl playing to their strengths.

Making sense of their duel means slogging through Iron Mask as a whole, woefully messy in its construction and jumbled in storytelling. Chinese fantasy, European history, open sea pirates, trade wars, and Wuxia stylings bump into one another vying for screen time. That doesn’t leave room for much else.

Between the tacky CG and overbearing action, dubbing ties this all together, grating in its ability to sync up. It’s one thing to make an olden joke about lips running longer than the words; it’s another when clearly no one is speaking, yet the dialog keeps coming. The English/Russian/Chinese mix satisfies nothing in reaching for international appeal.

Iron Mask is an imperfect, imprecise ballet that never decides on which side to fall

Chan’s inclusion – limited as it is, and the same goes for Schwarzenegger – brings Iron Mask a decided nationalist appeal, celebrating beliefs, and unmasking those who do harm in trying for selfish ideals. Iron Mask makes ado about the Great Wall, and the finale tosses out a traditional dragon to war against the villain-ess. Iron Mask is so over-encumbered by all of this, it comes across as desperate and trying.

That’s by no means saying Iron Mask needs energy; if anything, there’s far too much. Adorable CG creatures and a clear appeal to Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean overwhelm. By the end, the script is left with a painfully tired, cliché stand-off where everyone gathers to argue over which twin is the evil one. The writers stopped caring too.

Iron Mask is actually a sequel to 2014’s Forbidden Kingdom (not the Jackie Chan flick of the same name). Both films share director Oleg Stepchenko, and now with Chan in tow, Iron Mask wrestles with flourishing Chinese culture, and wanting the brutish, muscular beefiness of Russian cliché. Were Iron Mask locked in on Chan and Schwarzenegger, the metaphor likely stands out. Instead, they spend most of their time off-screen, letting the rest engage in an imperfect, imprecise ballet that never decides on which side to fall. There’s something to be said about merging countries, coming together to do what each does best. That’s not what happens in Iron Mask though; it merely plucks separated ideas from a hat, then crumples them all together.


While not noise free, the digital cinematography plays nicely to Blu-ray’s prowess. Encoding suffers minor lapses, insignificant overall, leaving Iron Mask crisp and nailing the source’s clarity. Reasonable resolution finds consistent detail, resolving costumes textures as well as facial definition.

Iron Mask wants wow factor, doing so via inconsistently applied color saturation. Certain hues go beyond a tipping point, introducing slight bleed as if part of the screen exists in vivid mode. Reds and greens are especially vulnerable.

Lionsgate skips a 4K release, which is a shame considering the potential for HDR. Lightning and a glowing dragon beg for additional kick. Still, they look fantastic here, suitably bright and energetic. Overall contrast brings the same enthusiasm, and while black levels choose a more sedate approach, continue the work to give the imagery sparkling dimensionality.


Rousing DTS-HD wants massive scale, accentuating low-end too far a times. There’s no delicate touch, just a mass of rumbling. When precise though, Iron Mask spares nothing in delivering crunchy low-end, wonderfully potent when a character emits a sound-based weapon or seas turn treacherous. The finale offers plenty, from dragon roars to hefty punches.

While not as glamorous, surrounds and stereos keep up. Electricity sweeps and crackles in each speaker. Arrows fill the soundstage, that mirrored by knives tossed toward opponents. Fights feature clashing swords all over to set up the ambiance. Fun stuff.


Only a trailer.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Iron Mask
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The dueling action stars face off some 20 years (or more) too late, and Iron Mask never settles on where it goes when they’re not around.

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