“K-20: Legend of the Mask” Review – 2009 New York Asian Film Festival

A Japanese action movie starring Takeshi Kaneshiro alone would prompt a number of women to run to the theaters, no matter what the quality of the film. “K-20: Legend of the Mask,” however, is much more than a typical run-of-the-mill Hollywood big screen caper. Armed with an assortment of colorful characters, a talented cast, and superb special effects and stunts, “K-20” delivers a rollicking three-dimensional amusement park ride full of twists and turns.

In a faux-1949, quasi-sci-fi imperialist Japan where a deep chasm between classes divides the country, K-20 (a.k.a. “The Fiend with 20 Faces”) is stealing from the rich. Unlike Robin Hood and the Iron Monkey, he’s keeping the spoils for himself. Eventually, wanting to hang up his cape, he sets up naïve circus performer Hekichi Endo (Kaneshiro) as his fall guy. Beaten down and on the run, Hekichi exacts his revenge, gathering street smarts along the way by disguising himself as…K-20.

What ensues is an adventure full of comedic and dramatic turns à la Indiana Jones. Each of the characters has an agenda for personal gain, sometimes at the expense of others. Detective Kogoro Akechi (Toru Nakamura) sets out to find the bad guy, while his heiress socialite fiancée Yoko Hashiba (Takako Matsu as a feminist breath of fresh air) secretly wants to pack her own punch. The equally strong supporting cast includes Akechi’s ambitious babyfaced sidekick sleuth, jolly thieves and friendly circus performers, among them a boy in Hekichi’s troop with a heart of gold. Director Shimako Sato makes the viewer care about these individual characters’ fates by weaving a strong storyline into the proceedings, yet she never lets the pace of the 138-minute movie grind to a halt.

“K-20: Legend of the Mask” screens at the New York Asian Film Festival on Tues., June 30, at 1:45 p.m. at the IFC Center. For tickets, go to the IFC Center Web site.