When the only people who can save Ancient China are the Heroes of the Golden Mask, and one of them has fallen, who else can the royal family turn to? Apparently, it’ll take bringing a Yankee to the Imperial Court to fill in the gap! Curiously, this world also needs the assistance of a Mayan warrior and a soldier from Atlantis too. The big question I had was to wonder why a film that’s set in this past would feature warriors from other cultures?
I’m sure Chinese producers were happy that a novel exists to explore how the masks discovered in Sanxingdui might have been used, but to toss in ideas taken from many Ancient Alien theories–including that all these past cultures communicated with one another–is mystery. Anyone who’s seen the exhibit might make this connection too. Maybe that’s what original author John Wilson penned when writing his book, The Ruined City (The Golden Mask Book 1, Amazon link). I haven’t read it, but after watching this film, I definitely want to pick up a copy.
As for what director Sean O’Reilly adds, the story feels more like a combination of ideas from Stargate SG-1 mashed into Power Rangers. To see that most of his studio’s works include his family makes casting easy. Here, Charlie (Kiefer O’Reilly) must learn how to be a team player. He’s given a chance to redeem himself from a life of crime, and is magically transported to this nation. Instead of experiencing culture shock, he tries to roll with it. He’s supposed to be their leader and as for why he can understand a foreign language, I suspect the mask granted to him gave him that ability.
In this tale, the team is searching for the Jade Blade to help them fight Kun-Yi (Ron Perlman). This reluctant hero isn’t all that good at first, but eventually finds his mojo. He’ll have to outsmart this villain, since he’s literally using every trick in the book to make others distrust the wannabe hero.
What’s presented feels sometimes like a Donghua tale and at other times a standard work of young adult fiction. Li (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) comes through as rather drol than enthusiastic like Claire Maria Nuñez from Trollhunters. When I looked at the writing credits, maybe Xiaoming Yao‘s contribution to developing a strong female character wasn’t heard. Throughout the film, I thought the Chinese culture wasn’t fully represented, and any flavour got muted. That also includes redefining what a hungry ghost is.
Maybe instead of penning a story about various cultures coming together, it should’ve stuck with establishing an order of Chinese warriors granted the status of demigods. According to scholarly sources, they were effigies of figures whom the people of the Shu Empire worshipped. Anyone who puts on the mask would gain the powers of a particular god. Ultimately, the movie, Heroes of the Golden Mask, is the opposite of that. It does provide a teaser for a larger concept which strips away the culture that this film should’ve emphasized. But for western readers, maybe the release of this film will inspire Wilson to finish what he started.
3 Stars out of 5