'Heroes of the Golden Mask' needs saving
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'Heroes of the Golden Mask' needs saving

May 27, 2023

Billed as the final performance by the late actor Christopher Plummer, who died in February 5, 2021, "Heroes of the Golden Mask" (or "Masks," references differ) is a weak animated effort, telling the story of a band of five warriors. One of them is a homeless kid from Chicago who take on an "evil conqueror" in an ancient Chinese kingdom named Kun-Yi (voiced by Ron Perlman). The other "heroes" of the film's title are Li (Natasha Liu Bordizzo, "Day Shift"), a plucky young woman whose father Jiahao (Byron Mann) falls in battle in opening scenes; the big, round and blue Antlantean hammer-wielder Aesop (Patton Oswalt), shape-shifter Zhu (Osric Chau), who can transform into any of the 12 creatures of the Chinese Zodiac, and over-sized Incan warrior Zuma (Zeus Mendoza).

When these warriors don their golden masks, they are endowed with superpowers. Li becomes armed with a mystic bow that never runs out of arrows. Aesop's hammer becomes super-charged. Zuma can fire beams of light. When Charlie (Kiefer O’Reilly) is magically transported to the ancient city of Sanxingdiu, his mask gives him some sort of telekinetic powers. Back in Chicago, the orphaned Charlie is at the mercy of a not-very-threatening mob boss named Rizzo (Plummer, doing a jokey riff on Marlon Brando's Don Corleone in "The Godfather" films).

Based on a novel by Scotsman John Wilson, "Heroes of the Golden Mask" is a Canadian-Chinese co-production, boasting a flying tiger, a demonic yak, a zombie crocodile and a snake with one head and two bodies. While the lighting effects can be good, the animation is crude at best. The characters don't appear to walk or run very well. The lip-syncing isn't great either. Kun-Yi, who dresses in shades of brown and beige, has one of those short-sided, long-on-top haircuts favored by some contemporary young men. Kun-Yi is after the "tree-of-life" of the oddly jovial King Yufu (King Lau), which Kun-Yi will use to open a portal and take possession of the all-powerful "Jade Blade."

Directed by Canadian animator Sean Patrick O’Reilly ("Go Fish"), the founder of the Canadian comic book empire Arcana, "Heroes of the Golden Mask" takes several cues from "Star Wars." Charlie must undergo superhero training sessions. Warlord Kun-Yi returns repeatedly to Sanxiangdiu with different monsters to pit again the "heroes." In one case, these are giant blob creatures that I’m hoping were made out of chocolate. A creature dubbed "hole face" was far more nightmarish, like something out of "The Night Parade of Dead Souls." Three little kids comically dodge Kun-Yi's monsters and soldiers. At one point, Kun-Yi, who boasts an evil laugh ("ha-ha-ha"), kidnaps Aesop's larger-than-life mother Helen (Canadian actor Jayne Eastwood) and chains her outside his "obsidian tower." Paging Freud. On their journey to the tower, the heroes must escape the clutches of scary-looking "hungry ghosts." Zhu refuses to transform into a dragon because he is afraid of what might happen. When he finally does, the result is not impressive. "Heroes of the Golden Mask" was inspired, we are told, by an actual archaeological discovery in China of 3,000 year-old gold-foiled bronze masks. Ha-ha-ha, I say.

(""Heroes of the Golden Mask" contains fantasy action and violence)

Not Rated. On Digital.

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