K20, or 'the fiend with twenty faces;' a master of disguise, misdirection, acrobatics and showmanship who utlilises these skills for grand theft. His latest target, it becomes known, is a new energy transmission device created by Nikola Tesla; a machine with the capacity to either fuel the world, or destroy it. Stumbling haplessly into the middle of all this is Hekichi Endo (Takeshi Kaneshiro), a highly skilled but impoverished circus performer, who soon finds himself locked up under suspicion of being K20. As his chances of a fair trial are non-existent, Endo's only hope is to break free and clear his name on his own. But in his efforts to do so, Endo realises the best way he can defeat K20 is to fight fire with fire, learn the moves and the tricks of the master thief, and don the mask of K20 himself.The year: 1949. The location: Japan. The world: a somewhat different place from the one we know. In this reality, there was no Second World War, the skies are filled with Zeppelins and other such flying machines, new technologies are on the rise, and society is on the decline, the people of Japan strictly segregated according to class. It's a place where the rich can only get richer, and the poor don't have a hope in hell. Threatening to turn things upside down for all and sundry is a man known only as
It's a premise with considerable potential; a Japanese take on the vintage masked pulp heroes of yore (The Shadow and the like) with more than a hint of V For Vendetta thrown in, acted out in a steampunk alternate history. When done right, this kind of revisionist adventure can be really quite special (say, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics); but when done poorly, they can really stink to high heaven (say, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie). While K20 doesn't quite sink to the lows of the latter, nor does it achieve the highs of the former. It should have been a really great piece of entertainment, but somehow it just doesn't quite gel.