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The Iron Mask: Mystery of the Dragon Seal

Swashbuckling spectacle

Two action cinema veterans take to the silver screen in this production brought by two nations. However neither Jackie Chan nor Arnold Schwarzenegger might have starred in a stranger film than ‘The Iron Mask: Mystery of the Dragon Seal’.

This Chinese-Russian historical fantasy has everything from Pirates and spirits to wizards and witches. This is what makes this highly ambitious production weird and puzzling to grasp.

Slapstick humour follows this large scale production which’s biggest let down seems to be its storyline. With themes and characters from the 2014 original and a testing Russian - Chinese production that features awful dubbing and characterisation, ‘The Iron Mask’ is anything but an original action adventure we were led to expect.

‘The Forbidden Kingdom’, loosely based on a Nikolai Gogol horror story, broke domestic box office records in Russia on release. Its sequel swaps the original’s philosophising about the nature of evil for broad comedy and high-wire action. In 1700s China, an ancient dragon lies trapped underground.

Protagonist Jonathan Green sets off to the Far East where he encounters Chen, a no-nonsense princess played by Xingtong Yao. Chen’s village has been stolen by a face-swapping sorceress.

Reclaiming it requires the help of a band of misfits, converging from all corners of the globe.

Anyone expecting a Chan and Schwarzenegger-led epic will be disappointed. The duo, who are also listed as producers, have been front and centre of the movie’s marketing but feature only briefly in the finished film. The former plays a mystical prisoner while the latter portrays a burly, mustachioed strongman who reminds us of Peter Pan’s Captain Hook!

The action sequences we do have are highly choreographed and lacklustre, with more focus on set design and production than anything else. It doesn’t help that the film’s pace. Introducing certain characters and stories before leaving them for a good half an hour before returning adds to the confusion this tangled mess creates. As the story takes place across London, Moscow and China all at the same time, it’s easy to lost track of what is happening and why and who is involved with who.

The one scene Chan and Schwarzenegger share together – an entertaining prison riot punch-up – isn’t without its thrills, but ultimately suffers the same problems that plague the rest of ‘The Iron Mask’. The special effects are not at all up to the standard in this production as they lack realism.

The comically bad dialogue irritates rather than entertain. It reminds us strongly of the proverb that too many cooks spoil the broth, hence too many ideas resulting in action that’s too hard to follow.