With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013
With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

ACF 1862: Chinese martial arts fantasy THE FOUR becomes available today

The Four (l to r): Life Snatcher, Emotionless, Coldblood, and Iron Hands
The Four / Si da ming bu
Directed by Gordon Chan
China, 2012, 119 minutes

The Four (China, 2012) is the first film in a planned trilogy based on the popular novel “The Four Detective Guards” by contemporary author Wen Ruian. Today it becomes available from Well Go USA as both a Region 1 DVD and Blu-ray, as well as digitally. The story centers on the theft of a cast for producing coins. The ensuing flood of counterfeit coins produced from it threatens to undermine the stability of the kingdom.

Zhuge Zhengwo (Anthony Wong) and Aunt Poise, owner of the Drunken Moon Inn

Department 6, the official constabulary led by Lord Liu (Taisheng Chen), finds that a hitherto unknown group has also been tasked with retrieving the stolen casting. Known as the Divine Constabulary, it has received a royal authorization to conduct its own investigation. Zhuge Zhengwo (veteran Hong Kong actor Anthony Wong, sporting a long braided chin goatee) heads this group, to which The Four of the film’s title belong. Complicating matters further is the fact that for the first time a number of female constables, led by Ji Yaihua (Yi Yan Jinag), have been assigned to Department 6, and it turns out that they have an agenda of their own.

Ji Yaihua (Yi Yan Jiang, left) and Butterfly (Anna Fang), two female constables newly assigned to Department 6

According to director Gordon Chan (Fist of Legend, Painted Skin), the novel didn’t explain how the four came together in the Divine Constabulary. He decided to use this first film of the trilogy in part to provide an “origins story.” While there are a few lesser characters that work for it, only two of The Four are original members of the Divine Constabulary. One is Sheng Yayu (Yifei Liu, The Forbidden Kingdom), who is called Emotionless. She’s a young woman who can read minds and who has telekinetic powers. A previous injury has left her confined to a wheelchair, although she sometimes gets around using crutches.

Emotionless (Yifei Liu) and Skywings, her beloved bird

The other original member is Tie Youyia (Collin Chou, DOA: Dead or Alive, Flash Point, The Forbidden Kingdom), who is known as Iron Hands for his Fists of Steel. He has connections to the underworld and is also a bit of an inventor: Emotionless’s wheelchair is one of his creations. 

Life Snatcher (Ronald Cheng, Vulgaria, Fatal Contact) is a skilled debt collector who has a particular fondness for wine. He is recruited for his powerful legs that give him incredible “air kung fu.” The final member of The Four is Leng Lingqi (Chao Deng, Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame). Known as Cold Blood, The Wolf Man, he is a member of Department 6 who was “dismissed” by Lord Liu so that he could infiltrate the Divine Constabulary.

An Shigeng, a shipper known as the God of Wealth, enjoys the ministrations of two of his lovelies

The film has lots of terrific action scenes, wonderfully provided courtesy of action choreographer Huen Chiu Ku. There are over 2,000 special effects (again according to director Chan). These are of a very high quality, giving the film a look, as Anthony Wong accurately says in an extra, “almost like Hollywood.” (Actually he may be selling the effects a bit short; I think for the most part they stand up very well in comparison with what Hollywood produces.) As for the extras on the single disc DVD (which is what I had for review), they include an informative making of featurette that is approximately 24 minutes long, some deleted scenes, and a trailer. 

The Four is a great start for the proposed trilogy. Of course, one never knows how these things will ultimately turn out until all of the films have been released. Will it go off the rails like The Matrix films did, or will it become as beloved in its own way as The Lord of the Rings did in its? For now, my money is on the latter, and I’m eager to see and review both of the upcoming two installments.

[Note: This review originally appeared, in slightly different form, at 24Framespersecond.]

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