I’ve been covering foreign cinema for some time now (heck, I’ve probably been watching and/or reviewing it for two decades). One of the things I’ve noticed is that Asian cinema tends to fall into one of two brackets: either it’s very highbrow with artsy camera work and deep meaning OR it’s largely matinee-style action features. Granted, there are varying qualities wrapped up in either case, but, more often than not, it’s pretty rare for me to come across one of the latter types that I’ll enthusiastically give a thumbs up. That isn’t because of any specific picture, per se; more so, it’s because if you’ve seen enough of these films then you know how A copies B, B copies C, C influences D, and so on and so forth. Still, I found most of Gordon Chan’s THE FOUR to be a surprising delight – a solid B movies that transcends even its B-movie roots in favor of serving up four medieval superheroes joining forces to represent the right side of the law.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come’, then read on …)
Corruption is causing scandals for the royal family, and, apparently, the police force as Department Six is no longer cutting it. In response, the king creates his own team; calling them the Divine Constabulary, they’ll serve to investigate only those matters of the highest national importance. To head up this task force, the king appoints one of his most loyal guards – Zhuge Zhengwo (played by the legendary Anthony Wong) – who’ll hand pick his royal investigators each according to their skills.
For all intents and purposes, THE FOUR feels like a comic book movie. It’s based on what I’m told is a largely revered novel called “The Four Detective Guards” by Wen Ruian, and it’s been adapted here (with modern sensibilities) by Gordon Chan. According to Chan, this is only the first of a planned trilogy, and, while I’ve not found any specific word or mention of the next installment, I’d certainly welcome one.
Zhuge brings aboard only the most skilled members to round out his team, and that includes Leng ‘Coldblood’ Lingqi (Chao Deng); Shong ‘Emotionless’ Yayu (Yifei Liu); Cui ‘Life Snatcher’ Luesheng (Ronald Cheng); and Tie ‘Iron Hands’ Yourda (Collin Chou). Each of these officers has a special ability – it’s best to think of them as a kind of medieval X-Men – that helps round out the entire task force because you know that, if you have a psychic, the finale is going to include a need for someone with that exact skill. So, yes, there may be a certain predictability inherent to the story, but in all blends together with just enough solid enthusiasm to keep butts in the seats and eyes on the screen.
Quite a bit of this story ends up being weighed down by politics – there’s much ado about who has seniority in matters where Department Six and Divine Constabulary cross over in their work – but, inevitably, it turns into an “all hands on deck” attitude when the kingdom is threatened by forces from within. Motivations are questioned, and there’s plenty of room for duplicitousness; if this story is continued, then I’d imagine audiences are in store for a wild ride, indeed.
THE FOUR is produced by Enlight Pictures. DVD distribution (stateside) is being handled through Well Go USA. For those who need it spelled out perfectly, this is a Chinese spoken language picture with English subtitles (there is no English-dubbing track available.) As for the technical specifications, THE FOUR boasts some top-notch sights and sounds along with some impressive fight choreography (maybe not all that original but pretty thrilling nonetheless) and above-average special effects. As for the special features, the Blu-ray has a 25-minute ‘making of’ short, some deleted scenes (they don’t really add up to much), and the theatrical trailer.
RECOMMENDED. This kinda/sorta mash-up picture rather successfully incorporates elements of traditional wire-fu fighting alongside the mystical/magical elements not uncommon in Asian cinema. It starts slow (for my tastes), but it ramps up quickly. THE FOUR may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for those of us genre nuts who enjoy some impressive visuals along with our pop culture-infused storytelling, it’s pretty solid. Don’t look for all of it to wrap up nice and neat – writer/producer/director Gordon Chan left enough threads dangling to practically demand a sequel – and you’re liable to have a good time with this chop-socky thriller.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Well Go USA provided me with a DVD copy of THE FOUR by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
In this era of popular super-hero movies and the re-emergence of Chinese Wuxia films, it would be easy to predict that one day a filmmaker would try to mesh one with the other. This is what director Gordon Chan appears poised to do with “The Four”. Based on a series of novels in the 1970’s by writer Wen Ruian, the premise gets an update featuring a solid Hong Kong and Mainland cast, with some decent action. I like zombies, I love martial arts, and I definitely love … more