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The Four
The Four     The Four

(left) Deng Chao, and (right) Liu Yifei are two of The Four.
Chinese: 四大名捕
Year: 2012
Director: Gordon Chan Car-Seung, Janet Chun Siu-Jan
Producer: Gordon Chan Car-Seung, Abe Kwong Man-Wai
Writer: Gordon Chan Car-Seung, Maria Wong, Frankie Tam, Woon Swee Oan (original novels)
Action: Ku Huen-Chiu
Cast: Deng Chao, Crystal Liu Yifei, Ronald Cheng Chung-Kei, Collin Chou (Ngai Sing), Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, Jiang Yiyan, Wu Xiubo, Cheng Tai-Shen, Sheren Teng Shui-Man, Ryu Kohata, Baobeier, Anna Fang, Waise Lee Chi-Hung, Michael Tong Man-Lung, Wu Yingjie, Miao Chi, Tina Xiang, Zhang Songwen, Tin Kai-Man
  The Skinny: A lackluster combo of wuxia tropes and superhero films that confounds in how unengaging it is. The Four has a solid cast and okay action, but the lame romantic subplots and lack of suspense overwhelm any positives. They're already working on the sequel so, uh, yay?
by Kozo:

The pitch probably sounded exciting. The Four is based on a series of popular martial arts novels published in the 1970s by writer Woon Swee Oan (a.k.a. Wen Ruian), now updated by director/writer/producer Gordon Chan with nifty special effects and an interesting mix of Hong Kong and mainland stars. Anthony Wong plays Zhu Zhengwo, the mentor of the eponymous four constables, each selected for duty in the Divine Constabulary for their unmatched skills if not their sterling personal histories. One key member, the wheelchair-bound Sheng Yayu (a.k.a. Emotionless), is played by Crystal Liu Yi-Fei, and her character was originally a man. Liu’s distaff version is still intelligent and perceptive, and her wheelchair is appropriately tricked out with hidden weapons. However, being a woman, she’s now free (in the heterosexual sense) to have a romantic subplot with brooding Divine Constabulary member Leng Lingqi (Deng Chao). Along with wine-loving Life Snatcher (Ronald Cheng) and stalwart Iron Hands (Collin Chou), the four endeavor to solve crimes and bring justice to the land.

Oh, and they all have super powers. The Four is based on normal wuxia fiction, meaning cool-sounding techniques and martial arts styles. However, Gordon Chan’s version gives the heroes Marvel Comics-like abilities; Yayu can “read people” and is apparently telekinetic, Iron Hands can create force fields, and Leng Lingqi suppresses an animal-like rage that makes him transform like Hulk and go berzerker like Wolverine. Life Snatcher’s unique power seems to be that he’s a pretty cool guy, and Ronald Cheng brings a down-to-earth humor to the character that contrasts sharply with his more serious or emo teammates. Iron Hands gets only meager focus, but he’s easily identified as a loyal teammate who pines quietly for female constable Butterfly (Anna Fang). The big emo moments belong to sulky Leng Lingqi, who can’t figure out if he likes Yayu or seductive double agent Ji Yaohua (Jiang Yiyan). Yayu gets drawn into the love triangle when she “reads” Leng Lingqi and thinks, “Oh no, he likes me!” Yes, just like a teen sitcom.

The romance between Yayu and Leng Lingqi goes middle school when Life Snatcher says, “You know, she likes you,” and Zhu Zhengwo gives knowing smiles regarding his pupils’ hormonal urges. Ji Yaohua gets it too, and uses coy glances and flirtatious touching to further hook Leng Lingqi and enrage Yayu. Leng Lingqi broods because he’s been assigned by jealous “Sheriff King” Liu (Cheng Tai-Shen), the leader of local law enforcement group Department Six, to plan the downfall of the Divine Constabulary. Liu’s reason: the Divine Constabulary is super-cool, and Liu is unhappy because Department Six is less cool. Ji Yaohua is a member of Department Six but really works for the sniggering An Shigeng (Wu Xiubo), a super-powered businessman who’s flooding the area with counterfeit money and also building an army of slimy, pale undead to unseat the Prince (Waise Lee) and confirm his status as the most elite dude evah. Department Six and the Divine Constabulary should team-up to take down An Shigeng, but first they have to solve their internal conflict plus the all-important Yayu-Leng Lingqi romance, which everyone apparently cares about.

The above may sound like a spoiler minefield, but how can a narrative this unengaging, routine and boring be spoiled? Gordon Chan and co-director Janet Chun unspool the story in a point-by-point omniscient manner. By the time the Divine Constabulary is required to investigate, they solve the mystery by posing in the foreground while the music rises, after which they have a psychic revelation of something the audience already knows. This may be a form of storytelling but it’s a pretty bad one; rather than trying to build a mystery (like in Detective Dee), Gordon Chan and company seem far too preoccupied with their lame romance and the numerous scenes where the characters banter while having hot pot. The defense could be that the film is trying to create a unique, wuxia-meets-superhero world, but the filmmakers fail there too. Characters’ powers are undefined and unexplained; we have no idea why some people can make like X-Men and others can’t, and nobody bats an eye when Sheng Yayu starts floating around and throwing shurikens with her mind. If this is a world where super powers are common, why doesn’t everyone have them?

The visual effects themselves are fine, and the action choreography from Ku Huen-Chiu (14 Blades) is decent if marred by constantly moving camera. The actors are largely unremarkable, with Ronald Cheng coasting on his comic charisma, Collin Chou acting really nice, and Deng Chao and Liu Yifei brooding for the entire two hours. The baddies fare better; Jiang Yiyan is alluring as the “is she evil or not” femme fatale, while Wu Xiubo delights as self-amused, entertainingly-relaxed bad guy An Shigeng. Anthony Wong anchors the cast with preternatural calm, but his Zhu Zhengwo is a terrible leader; every time someone registers concern, Zhu voices some variation on, “Don’t worry, it’ll be fine.” And it usually is. Maybe Zhu Zhengwo is the Gordon Chan stand-in – a once-revered master of his craft who believes that everything will be fine if you stick to your principles. It works out for Zhu Zhengwo because he’s a fictional character. For Gordon Chan, it may yet work out at the box office, but the movie itself does not. They’re already making a sequel so good luck – they and the audience will need it. (Kozo 2012)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Panorama (HK)
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital EX / DTS
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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