Tuesday, April 09, 2013

The Four: Super Wuxia Cops

Yes, they have exotic super-powers, but they really just have massive chi.  They are members of the Divine Constabulary, tasked with fighting crime during the late Song Dynasty.  Unfortunately, their more conventional colleagues in Department Six are less than thrilled to have them as competitors.  There is also a super-villain to contend with in Gordon Chan & Janet Chun’s The Four (trailer here), which releases on DVD and BluRay today from Well Go USA.

Although based on a series of popular 1970’s novels, The Four will not escape comparison to the X-Men, especially considering the wheelchair-bound Emotionless’s Professor X-like psychic abilities.  However, she is not running the show.  The Divine Constabulary loyally follows her adoptive father, Zhuge Zhengwo, who reports directly to the Emperor. 

Emotionless guides their inquiries and Iron Hands, a flesh-and-blood Colossus, works in the field, tapping into his network of underground contacts.  He needs some back-up though, so Zhuge recruits Life Snatcher, a preternaturally spry debt-collector, and the lycanthropic Cold Blood, a former member of Department Six.  One of many characters playing a double game, Cold Blood is actually working as an inside informer for Department Six’s head, the Sheriff King.  Constable Ji Yaohua is supposed to be his back-up, but she is actually a mole planted by the evil mastermind An Shigeng (a.k.a. the God of Wealth).

The Four starts with a counterfeiting investigation, quickly escalating into a geopolitical conspiracy and eventually presents viewers an army of risen zombies.  Instead of cheap scares, the latter are employed as shambling grist for the Four’s martial arts mill.  This is definitely a kitchen sink movie, not particularly concerned about narrative detail.  At one point, An Shiqeng tells Ji: “You can spend the rest of your life trying, but you’ll never guess what I’m up to.”  Well, thanks for the warning.

Indeed, part of the charm of The Four is how wildly overstuffed it is with wuxia superhero steampunk elements.  Action director Ku Huan delivers some gravity defying smackdown spectacle, relying more on leaping and kicking than chi-fireballs.  Already the subject of several Mainland and HK television series, The Four was a couldn’t miss box office hit in China with sequels already announced.  The superstar cast did not hurt either. 

Anthony Wong does his Obiwan thing as Zhuge—and it is still kind of awesome.  [Crystal] Liu Yifei and Jiang Yiyan (who look a bit like sisters, which is a blessing for them both) burn up the screen as Emotionless and Constable Ji, knowing rivals in both the machinations afoot and for the affections of the brooding Cold Blood.  For Jiang (who made such an impression with relatively little screen time in The Bullet Vanishes), it is a real star-making turn as the ruthless yet sensitive femme fatale.

Featuring zombies, uncanny martial arts, and a wonderfully ambiguous villainess, The Four has just about everything one could ask of a big popcorn movie.  Wildly confusing fun, The Four is recommended for martial arts and superhero genre fans.  It is now available for home viewing from Well Go USA.