It’s actually the sequel to a 2014 film called Viy (more on that in a bit), which was later renamed Forbidden Kingdom for some markets, even though we never saw it in the UK, and despite this latest film counting Jackie Chan amongst its cast, there’s a 2008 movie called Forbidden Kingdom which DOES star Chan. Confused? I am.
Anyhoo, it’s also known as Viy 2: Journey to China, The Dragon Seal, Journey to China: The Mystery of Iron Mask, The Mystery of Dragon Seal: Journey to China, The Iron Mask (in the UK) and The Mystery of the Dragon Seal, which was the name in the credits of the screener I saw.
Originally shot in 2018, this is one of the very few recent films to actually have been made in 3D, and I can certainly get the impression of this from Charles Dance‘s opening monologue as the ‘camera’ sweeps around a CGI’d landscape, so it would be good to check it out in that format. However, since it wasn’t a huge hit, the best we can hope for in most territories, including the UK, are 2D Blu-ray and DVD options. Numbers-wise, its $49m budget led to just a $14m box-office take in late 2019, the bulk of which came from China and Russia. 2020’s situation has led to cinemas not being able to show this at all, and while I knew it had an April 10th release date intentionally, I didn’t even realise it had come out as a digital download at that time, otherwise I would’ve reviewed this sooner, rather than hanging on until closer to the June 8th home release.
About the original film’s title, and we get a further opening monologue from Jason Flemyng – continuing his role as 18th Century cartographer Jonathan Green, explaining that Viy is an alien-like ancient creature with countless eyes, who could read your mind and instantly know your inner-most thoughts… a bit like the missus, then. There’s another whole load of otherworldly nonsense explained in this opening.
Let’s start with something good, as there’s one thing: there’s some nice set design for inside the prison, as it has a very unsafe staircase that flips about on a whim.
However, the main problem with The Iron Mask is that it has too many characters and too many plots going on. Hence, all too often, Flemyng, Jackie and Arnie (Terminator: Dark Fate) are sidelined for other aspects of whatever this film is trying to achieve, making me wonder if I’ve fallen asleep and changed channels by accident.
The screener I had for this had some of the dialogue lip-sync all-to-cock even though the sound effects were timed right. I can only presume the same goes for the film’s final print. And I say “some of” because it changes between characters, such as when we get to England early on, in a conversation between Miss Dudley (Anna Churina) and Lord Dudley (Charles Dance).
Also, I didn’t have subtitles, and a lot of the dialogue is indoors with way too much echo, making it difficult to hear what’s actually being said. Then again, you get the feeling it’s not hugely important anyway.
Oh, and this film doesn’t just ‘star’ Jackie Chan, but is credited as “with the special participation of Jackie Chan“. Ugh, what a pompous ass!
Overall, I’d say The Mystery of the Dragon Seal is a much better title for this than The Iron Mask, because it’s actually ABOUT a mysterious dragon-shaped emblem, known as the Dragon Seal; and the titular mask is a very small part of it. Similarly, I wouldn’t call it Viy 2, because that character isn’t in it at all, other than the aforementioned opening scene.
And about the presentation. Even if the dialogue sync was fixed, this is clearly a film that’s meant to be seen in 3D, so watching this in 2D is quite dull. It’s like watching a video of someone’s rollercoaster ride, compared to actually being on one, meaning it really drags.
If I can get to see this in 3D, I will give it another viewing. Given how much China’s audiences love the format, it must become available.
Oh, but note that the Blu-ray and DVD covers highlight Arnie, Jackie and Charles Dance as the main stars, but they’re bit-parts by comparison. Flemyng and Xingtong Yao, as Cheng Lan, have much bigger parts.
Running time: 120 minutes
Release date: June 8th 2020
Studio: Signature Entertainment
Director: Oleg Stepchenko
Producers: Sergei Bespalov, Jackie Chan, Yingchun Fang, Gleb Fetisov, Peikang La, Aleksey Petrukhin, Sergey Selyanov, Maofei Zhou
Screenplay: Oleg Stepchenko, Dmitry Paltsev, Aleksey Petrukhin
Music: Aleksandra Maghakyan
Jonathan Green: Jason Flemyng
Cheng Lan: Xingtong Yao
Miss Dudley: Anna Churina
Master: Jackie Chan
Peter The Great: Yuri Kolokolnikov
James Hook: Arnold Schwarzenegger
Ambassador: Rutger Hauer
Witch: Li Ma
Lord Dudley: Charles Dance
Grey: Christopher Fairbank
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.