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Category:    Home > Reviews > Superhero > Action > Comedy > Mystery > Detective > Asian > Martial Arts Cycle > Costume Period > Horror > Z > Behind The Mask (The Shadow/1946/MGM Limited Edition Collection DVD)/Detective Dee & The Mystery Of The Phantom Flame (2010/Indomina/Vivendi DVD)/Helldriver (2010)/Triple Tap (2010/both Well Go USA Bl

Behind The Mask (The Shadow/1946/MGM Limited Edition Collection DVD)/Detective Dee & The Mystery Of The Phantom Flame (2010/Indomina/Vivendi DVD)/Helldriver (2010)/Triple Tap (2010/both Well Go USA Blu-ray w/DVD)


Picture: C/C+/B- & C/B & C+     Sound: C/C+/B- & C+/B- & C+     Extras: D/C+/C/C     Films: C-/C+/C/B-



PLEASE NOTE: Behind The Mask is an MGM Limited Edition DVD and is available exclusively from Amazon through the right-hand sidebar of this site.



The idea of tales from Eastern countries being exotic has always had an appeal, though the world has changed in the last 80 years, the appeal has not died but transmuted.  Part of this is new stereotypes replacing old ones as well as new subgenres, yet there are also some good things going on here as these four diverse entries can be.



We start back in 1946 wit the second of three B-movies of Maxwell Grant’s classic hero The Shadow in Behind The Mask starring Kane Richmond as the Superhero detective with the mysterious powers of invisibility gained from The East.  Rod La Rocque first played him in these two B-movies in 1937 - 38:





Then Victor Jory played him in Columbia Pictures wacky 1940 Serial which spawned no sequels and Richmond took over for three B-movies in 1946 including The Shadow Returns, this entry and The Missing Lady for Monogram.  For whatever reason, MGM has issued the second film alone and it is too comical and weak for its own good.  Here, Lamont Cranston is going to get married (!?!), but has to solve the murder of a newspaper columnist.  The studio shocked the industry by making a hit out of the Charlie Chan films once Fox gave up on them, thinking the series was dead and over.  Like their Chan films (collected partly in the Charlie Chanthology reviewed elsewhere on this site) the budgets dropped, the comedy jumped and any sense of suspense or intelligent mystery went right out the door.


Even with the able journeyman director Phil Karlson helming this entry, it is a curio at best and drove The Shadow to two failed TV projects in the 1950s before the 1994 Alec Baldwin revival was launched decades later.  Of course, Orson Welles is still the most successful actor to play him due to the radio shows he did (even when other actors did more radio episodes), but Monogram botched a chance at a bigger hit series unfortunately and his mystical powers are all but abandoned here, limiting any mysteriousness even more.  It is also at about this time with WWII over and TV on the way that The East would slowly become less mysterious.  There are no extras.



So many of the Martial Arts costumers set centuries ago have been so repetitive and formulaic that I was surprised at the arrival of Detective Dee & The Mystery Of The Phantom Flame (2010) because it tried hard to make that kind of film and situation into a real mystery movie as people start to burn up from within as if from spontaneous combustion, but it turns out to be part of a larger murder plot aimed at some very powerful people in a China long ago.  In this, it is trying to deconstruct the past save the surreal action sequences that are too choreographed to believe and this mentality eventually sabotages any realism with the mystery angle.  Still, this is a nicer change of pace and we’ll see if a series is intended here too.  Extras include a Making Of featurette, three additional featurettes, International Trailer, Stills & Poster Gallery.



Yoshihiro Nishimura’s Helldriver (2010) has zombies invading modern (or is that post-modern) Japan by way of an outer space alien invasion (!) and though this could have been a straight-out Sci-Fi actioner, we get more over-choreographed fights, plus overdone make-up and digital effects to the point that this one is all over the place.  I wanted to like this one, but it was all over the place in some attempt to please a fanboy base and pleasing hardly anyone.  It was also lacking overall in its productions, despite all it tries to juggle, but wants to keep mysteries of The East going.  Extras include Trailers, Director’s Intro, a featurette and three spin-off stories.



Last but not least is Derek Yee’s Triple Tap (2010), a film that is a pleasant surprise and better than his 2007 film Protégé that we covered a while ago here:





With no mysticism whatsoever, we get the tale of two men (Louis Koo and Daniel Wu reunited from that film) as sharpshooters and competitors in a handgun/target competition who land up involved with each other when one (a businessman) stops a police officer from getting killed, as the other (Wu) is a cop.  From there, we get a mystery and pretty good action film that is smart and moves so nicely, that anything we might have seen before takes a back seat to the action, pace and different world (the law gets Koo’s businessman on trial for killing people despite saving a cop) than you might get in the same kind of film from other countries.


I also thought the action was well shot and edited, acting better than you usually get in a thriller and takes us to a new side of Hong Kong I really enjoyed going to.  Yee has talent and I hope his directing keeps getting better and he gets the material to match.


Nothing mystical here, just solid storytelling that turns out to be a film that could not be remade by Hollywood without making all kinds of mistakes, so catch this one.



The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on the Tap Blu-ray is easily the best performer on the list with nice clarity, definition, depth and detail despite some styling choices, with the 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on the Helldriver Blu-ray underwhelming overall with more than a few weak spots, especially when the image gets dark.  Anamorphically enhanced DVD versions of both are included in their respective sets and are weaker, especially Helldriver, which is honestly as weak as the 1.33 X 1 black & white image on Mask; an older film nearly 65 years older!  The anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image on the Mystery DVD is also styled down and detail-needy throughout, but I wonder how much better a Blu-ray version would be.  Tap and Helldriver Blu-rays also have DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mixes, but both are more towards the front speakers than I would like including the dialogue too much in the center channel.  Their DVD versions and the Mystery DVD all feature lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes that are not as impressive as the DTS-MAs on the Blu-rays and of course, the Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono on Mask is the most dated as expected, but it also proves the transfer is a few generations down overall.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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