K-20 is a steampunk adventure set in a alternate dystopian past where World War II never happened. It’s a world where people are born into classes and jobs and stuck there for the rest of their lives, where the rich stay rich as the poor starve in ghettos. K-20 is a well-known thief who’s known as “the fiend with 20 faces”, a rare criminal in this world who flies around with his Zorro costume. He’s a master of disguise and steals all sorts of goodies from the rich, never getting caught despite constantly taunting the police, and one detective in particular (Takako Matsu). One day a poor circus acrobat (Takeshi Kaneshiro) is framed as the criminal, and after breaking out of jail with a little help from his friends he attempts to use his amazing acrobatic skills to take down the thief. He’s helped by the criminal underworld, a couple of nifty gadgets and a big book filled with alll of the thief’s knowledge. We follow him as he tries to foil K-20 and clear his name so he can return to being a simple circus performer. Meanwhile, a famous detective is trying to get back what he thinks is his biggest catch.
At its base K-20 is almost a superhero origin story. We see him learning new skills, begrudgingly becoming the man he was destined to be. Our hero even learns that with his powers come great responsibility… in so many words. Hell, he’s even got a sweeping and triumphant superhero theme that plays when he’s running over the rooftops. It’s also a revenge tale of course, and while the sense of humor is quite lighthearted it also manages to deals with starving children and a class war ignited by an opressed people.
But there will be no big surprises in the plot here, as it’s about as standard as you can get. Right from the start when you see that our hero has been framed (and the disgust he has for thieves) you know exactly where this guy’s headed. Oh and look at this, the detective that’s going after him has a beautiful fiance that’s not happy with her station in life! Surely that’s of no relevance to the story! (ahem).
So yes, the film is completely predictable, right up to the end sequence which has the classic battlewith the protagonist trying to stop the antagonist from blowing up the world… seriously.
It would seem less than thrilling, since there’s obviously no way that the good guy can lose in a film like this, but thanks to some great stunt work the film’s always exciting. There’s just nothing like having the actor actually perform all his stunts, and while there’s some use of CGI and green screen here and there for the most part Kaneshiro is doing all these crazy moves and the movie is stronger for it. There are some really great fight sequences that fit in perfectly with the swashbuckling adventure feel the film is going for. It’s just incredibly fun and feels like a movie that could have been made in Errol Flynn’s heyday and fit in with very few changes.
It’s unfortunately a bit bloated, though. At 2 hours and 20 minutes they could have easily cut a few sequences out and made it a little easier on your bladder. Still, they keep things running briskly and there’s never any moments that drag you down too much.
Basically this is Japan’s answer to America’s summer blockbusters, a thrilling, big budget film that doesn’t have a lot behind it, but absolutely guarantees you a good time.
8 out of 10
This review was based on a screener copy sent by the New York Asian Film Festival. K-20- Legend of the Mask has its New York premiere at the IFC Center on June 20th at 8:15- definitely a great film for your Saturday night. It’s also playing June 30th. Check subwaycinema.com for more info on the fest!