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The Four - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Si da ming bu

China 2012

Fantasy, Action

Gordon Chan
Janet Chun

Deng Chao
Crystal Liu Yifei
Ronald Cheng Chung-Kei
Jiang Yiyan
Collin Chou
Anthony Wong
Wu Xiubo
Cheng Tai-Shen
Sheren Teng Shui-Man
Waise Lee

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The Four

Story: The Divine Constabulary is a secret organisation personally authorized by the emperor to impose law and order. During an investigation around a counterfeiting case the leader of that organisation, Zhuge Zhengwo (Anthony Wong), clashes with Department Six which is the actual upholder of law in the capital. The Sheriff King (Chen Taisheng), leader of Department Six, thus sends Leng Lingqi (Deng Chao) to the Divine Constabulary as a new member to infiltrate it. There Zhuge has assembled individuals with extraordinary powers, like the wheelchair-bound and supernaturally gifted Shong Yayu (Liu Yifei), the newly recruited debt collector Cui Lueshang (Ronald Cheng) and the man known as iron fist Tie Yourda (Collin Chou). The counterfeit case is far from solved and behind all of it lies a plot devised by the rich merchant An Shigeng (Wu Xiubo) who has sent his loyal subordinate Ji Yaohua (Jiang Yiyan) to Department Six as a mole.

Review: Even at a first glance it is prominent that "The Four" is a fantasy action film featuring a top-class cast with which China is aiming at working on the same blockbuster level as so many Hollywood flicks. At the same time this naturally leads to a similarly shallow entertainment value the audience is provided with. Ultimately, the movie also turns out to be China's take on "X-Men", wrapped up in a wuxia story. It's actually pretty obvious that this doesn't end well. All the good ideas and astonishingly well executed special effects put aside the movie simply lacks a well fabricated story - the numerous entanglements and moles in the enemy headquarter can't hide that fact either - and characters that are drawn with enough edges for us to really care about their fate.

The Four - Film Screenshot 11

"The Four" is based on wuxia novels from the 70s by Wen Ruian, with the difference that many of the conventional powers of those heroes of such stories have been expanded by many supernatural ones for the movie. Probably to win over a younger audience. Granted, the idea to join Qi-powers of those wuxia stories with Marvel comic powers isn't a bad one, but it is adapted in a bad way. Apparently not everybody has those powers, but it isn't awe-inspiring to anyone of those bearing witness to it, nonetheless. Sure, in wuxia stories the heroes fly across rooftops (and you get a lot of those scenes here as well), that's what they do and you can accept that somehow - but telekinesis, turning people to ice pillars or the transformation into a Hulk-like being?

The Four - Film Screenshot 12

Furthermore, it is bothersome that the exact nature and scope of the powers isn't defined at any point. Leng's animalistic side isn't showing to advantage when fighting the villains, only during an internal arguement among the four. Collin Chou's ("Flash Point") character is somehow capable of creating a force field, but Chou himself is completely underused. Liu Yifei ("A Chinese Ghost Story [2011]") is only allowed to frown most of the time and is part of a corny love story that is getting too much time on screen. Deng Chao is also part of it as is Jiang Yiyan ("City of Life and Death"), whereas latter one is at least giving the most convincing performance of the three as the femme fatale. Only Ronald Cheng ("Vulgaria") of the cast manages to really shine thanks to his charm and humor, though.

While at first we are overwhelmed by several names and entanglements the movie thankfully gears down a bit every now and then. However, that newly won time sadly isn't used to introduce the characters but to push the love triangle into the center over and over again. But eventually no one really cares about that triangle anymore and Deng Chao being the actual hero of the story can't be taken serious anymore either. It is evident in which direction his role was supposed to be headed. He is the one that tips the scales, deciding over the victory of either good or evil. To a certain degree only, because actually Department Six also counts among the good guys and it is never really clear why this department is in fact taking on the Divine Constabulary. Then there is also Anthony Wong ("Punished") in one of his worst roles. Most of the time his character asserts that at the end everything will take a turn for the better, but why he is believing that is never comprehensible. Maybe because he is in possession of powers with which he could solve the case and bring the villains to their knees all on his own. But if so what does he need the four for anyway?

The Four - Film Screenshot 13

But there is also something positive to note. The special effects are really well done and with the undead army introduced there is also a certain flair of nostalgia featured reminding us of the good old Hong Kong flicks. However, why during the showdown everyone has difficulties bringing the undead down, even though a long rigmarole has been told beforehand about how that is to be done, remains one of the many illogical moments of the film. Yet, the fights are pretty good, even though way too rare and not always captured in an optimum way. Anyway, all in all director Gordon Chan ("Fist of Legend", "Painted Skin") and co-director Janet Chun deliver very shallow popcorn entertainment, which lacks substance in the most crucial parts. A sequel is already under way and a trilogy is aimed for. Certainly uncalled-for.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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