Review by Sean Boelman
There have been plenty of superhero comedies, but it is unlikely that audiences have seen any quite like the tongue-in-cheek but surprisingly intelligent comic book parody HK: Forbidden Super Hero. And although some of its jokes become repetitive and tiresome after a bit, its ingenious premise and surprising heart make it worth a watch.
The film tells the story of a high schooler who, having great powers deep within him, discovers that he becomes a superhero when he wears a pair of panties on his face. Based on a comedic manga from the 1990s, Hentai Kamen (which translates to “pervert mask”) is a very unusual superhero, and the concept works a lot better because it utilizes the genre’s tropes to build its own rules.
Of course, the movie is full of crude humor, with a lot of genital-themed jokes, many of which turn into repeating gags. There are some attempts at fish-out-of-water comedy, with an otherwise shy teenager turning into a flamboyantly sexual persona, but many of the funniest moments in the film come from its over-the-top and ridiculous villains.
The message here is pretty expected. It’s okay to be a little weird, and it is in our individual idiosyncrasies that our greatness lies. Now, the movie doesn’t encourage people to run around with panties on their head — that’s a bit too far — but it does acknowledge how we should embrace the things that make us different rather than bury them.
That said, the subplots in the film are rather disappointing. There is a forced romantic subplot between the protagonist and his crush, who becomes a rather standard damsel-in-distress, and the script doesn’t do enough to spin the trope in an insightful way. And the movie’s discussion of the origins of Hentai Kamen’s powers are less than satisfying.
Ryôhei Suzuki is very charming and does a solid job in the lead role. At times, it can be a bit difficult to buy into his alter ego (think the Clark Kent effect — Suzuki is never plain enough to pass off as the everyday guy), but when he is able to go full-out on the ridiculousness under the mask, he’s a ton of fun to watch.
Visually, the film is definitely very bright and energetic. The second half in particular looks great, as it features Hentai Kamen battling a series of increasingly goofy supervillains. The movie’s budget obviously isn’t that of a mainstream comic book blockbuster, but that allows it to feel more stylized in turn.
HK: Forbidden Super Hero is full of dumb humor, but beneath that, it’s an unexpectedly heartfelt superhero spoof. In a genre that’s becoming more and more safe, it’s nice to see something like this that pushes the envelope.
HK: Forbidden Super Hero screened as a part of the virtual edition of the 2020 Fantasia Film Festival, which ran August 20-September 2.