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FUN, If Goofy, Action-Filled Adventure Movie About an Alternate Japan

  • Jan 19, 2010
With all the worldwide fame that super-hero movies have enjoyed this past recent years, you know filmmakers around the world capitalize on the super-hero wave. Japanese writer/director Shimako Sato’s “K-20: Legend of the Mask” (aka. Kaijin Niju Menso, “Fiend of 20 Faces”, 2008) is equal parts “Zorro”, “The Shadow” and “The Phantom” at the same time. It stars Takeshi Kaneshiro (Red Cliff) and his selection as the lead is the right pick. Sure, the film is a little silly, but Kaneshiro is one actor who can make it work and together with Director Sato, the two managed to pull off a highly entertaining and energetic movie.

Teito (aka. Tokyo), Japan in 1949. In an alternate reality where World War II was avoided and the system of nobility that was established in the Meiji Era continued to create a social divide between the upper and lower class. 90% of Japan’s wealth are controlled by the upper members of society. During these times, Teito is menaced by a master thief called “k-20” who steals from the rich to fund his own purpose. Heikichi Endo (Takeshi Kaneshiro) is a master circus acrobat/illusionist who has been framed to take the fall for the master thief. Staging an escape with the aid of the peasants led by Genji the gimmick (played by Jun Kunimura), Heikichi is now a fugitive and must now clear his name. He takes on the identity of K-20, a different kind of thief to wage war against the original “Fiend of 20 Faces”. Aided by Genji and kindly Duchess Yoko Hashiba (Takako Matsu), Heikichi must find the real K-20 while avoiding the manhunt led by Baron Akechi (Toru Nakamura) and his aide Kobayashi (Kanata Hongo) but things aren’t as easy as it seems…
Sato’s script and direction is very energetic to cover up its very simple screenplay. There is also an attempt to touch on some commentary in regards to the class system and how the rich become richer and the poor become poorer. It seems like Sato is trying to uplift the more fortunate into waking up to giving back to society. This is a great gesture in the part of the direction and the character of Duchess Hashiba represents the potential for setting this example. But don’t expect the film to dwell on this premise, it does have that commentary but “K-20” is more an action-adventure movie at heart. 


The film’s screenplay takes off when we see Heikichi undergoing training as guided by the secret book of thieves. It was actually fun to see him go through the ropes, and quite more fun to see him become better ever slowly as an acrobat. There is some CGI utilized but they were used with restraint to enhance the stunts and the set designs. The look of the movie looked very 1949-ish yet it also has that somewhat futuristic look. The film goes into its premise with the search for K-20 and the race to find a new energy-generating device designed by Tesla. This device is the key for advancement as it can also be used to destroy. Guess what, the evil K-20 has his sights to use it as a weapon.
So how does Heikichi find the original evil K-20? Well, this is the part when it becomes too convenient, as we see fate play a hand, Heikichi seems to just run into him and Hashiba. The fights between him are pretty well choreographed as we see the moves just flow so gracefully, the hits look very cool blending in the acrobatics of the two combatants. The outfit of the two K-20’s looked rather inspired by anime and a strong feel for theatrics. The two jump around this alternate Japan, and it does find its footing as an action adventure, reminiscent of the early works of Miyazaki. Kaneshiro’s K-20 looked like a cross between “Zorro” and “The Shadow” (complete with a grappling hook) while the original looked like a cross between “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Zorro”. I know it does sound a little goofy but need I remind you that this movie is not to be taken seriously? The fun factor is a strong part of its entertainment value. I know this movie was made in 2008, but the atmosphere felt like “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” crossed with the more recent “Sherlock Holmes” (2009). I guess the movie is more an adventure-fantasy than a super-hero flick, and Kaneshiro is charismatic enough to pull off the stops as the goofy and clueless Heikichi. 


I guess the movie had the right intentions at heart as a popcorn flick, but the direction tries to become more complex in its storytelling than it should have been. Some may see the misdirection’s feel rather effective as we see Heikichi and friends search for the Tesla energy-generating device, but I thought it was a little overstretched on some levels. This subplot actually hampered the search for the original K-20, that when the true identity was revealed, the surprise felt like it was coming from out of nowhere. Sure it was surprising in some ways, but it wasn’t built up naturally and felt rather forced. I would’ve appreciated a more fleshed-out “battle of wits” than having two crises to deal with. Sato’s script also hit a few bumps along the way, and it seemed to drag a bit when the mood becomes a little straight-faced and there are plot holes that are quite huge. But the good-hearted humor and action are enough to bail the movie out of a jam in its narrative.
“K-20: Legend of the Mask” may be a flawed film but it does have the right dose of sentimentality, humor and plenty of fun action sequences (albeit a little outrageous) to keep the movie afloat. It would be easy to nit-pick its flaws but what for? This is an obvious popcorn flick where all the trappings of an adventure flick are all laid out and maintains its energy through its outward outrageousness. The film has a lot of likeable characters with a direction that is meant as a light-hearted family fare. It doesn’t try to convince but it gives off an optimism that is needed; it‘s hard to believe but it is very easy to like. Plus, the ladies would love to see Kaneshiro in action.
Recommended! [4- Out of 5 Stars]
Viz pictures is scheduled to release the movie in the U.S.

This Review is a Lunch.com First Exclusive.

3 ½ Stars: FUN, If Goofy, Action-Filled Adventure Movie About an Alternate Japan 3 ½ Stars: FUN, If Goofy, Action-Filled Adventure Movie About an Alternate Japan 3 ½ Stars: FUN, If Goofy, Action-Filled Adventure Movie About an Alternate Japan 3 ½ Stars: FUN, If Goofy, Action-Filled Adventure Movie About an Alternate Japan 3 ½ Stars: FUN, If Goofy, Action-Filled Adventure Movie About an Alternate Japan 3 ½ Stars: FUN, If Goofy, Action-Filled Adventure Movie About an Alternate Japan 3 ½ Stars: FUN, If Goofy, Action-Filled Adventure Movie About an Alternate Japan 3 ½ Stars: FUN, If Goofy, Action-Filled Adventure Movie About an Alternate Japan 3 ½ Stars: FUN, If Goofy, Action-Filled Adventure Movie About an Alternate Japan 3 ½ Stars: FUN, If Goofy, Action-Filled Adventure Movie About an Alternate Japan

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November 12, 2011
Ah yeah man great review
January 26, 2010
Sounds like fun. I think it needs a place on my close to 400 film NetFlix list.
January 19, 2010
Stop tempting me with your movie reviews!!! I want to see the movie first b4 I read the review! :p
January 20, 2010
I know you'll pick this up because of Kaneshiro. All my lady friends are crazy about him ;-)
January 20, 2010
Of course! They all have great taste in men, lol...
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K-20: Legend of the Mask (also known as The Fiend with Twenty Faces) is a 2008 action japan-language film. The film released worldwidely on December 20, 2008. It is directed by Shimako Sate. Takeshi Kaneshiro and Takako Matsu portay a fictional roles in the film. Toru Nakamura and Kanata Hongo also starred in the film, just as Takeshi Kaga, Fumiyo Kohinata, Reiko Takashima, Toru Masuoka and Yuki Imai. The film was based on a novelization by So Kitamura. The film was produced by Shuji Abe and Seiji Okuda.


The story takes place in an alternative Tokyo which has taken a different history. In the fictional capital Teito, where the aristocrats continue to thrive since the 19th Century, there is a wide gap between the rich and the poor. The aristocrats own 90% of the wealth in the capital. In the city, there are rumors about a mysterious thief, who only steals from the rich with incredible ways like magician. People call him K-20, that's short for "Kaijin Niju-Menso" (the Phantom Thief with 20 faces).

Endo Heikichi (Kaneshiro Takeshi) is a circus acrobat. One day, he is deceived by a mysterious old man, and arrested as K-20. The old man turns out to be K-20 himself! Heikichi succeeds to escape from the jail, and he decides to hunt down the real K-20 to prove his innocence.

Meanwhile, K-20 sets his eyes on a rich lady, Hashiba Yoko (Matsu Takako), whose fiancé is Akechi Kogoro (Nakamura Toru) who is a ...

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