The Four


The Four

aka 四大名捕

2012
Script by Gordon Chan Ka-Seung, Frankie Tam Gong-Yuen, and Maria Wong Si-Man
Directed by Gordon Chan Ka-Seung and Janet Chun Siu-Jan

Emotionless spends 99% of the film looking at people like this

What if X-Men was a confusing mess with too many characters, little character development, and an over-reliance on visual effects vs. telling a good story? Besides X-Men 3, you’d also get The Four! Gordon Chan trades mutant powers for qigong skills in this big budget production that follows the trend of Mainland cinema relying far too much on visual effects to carry weak scripts and bland characters. While The Four does deliver some nice looking sequences, overall it fails to achieve its goal of being entertaining, and even fails to wrap up any plot lines in the film. The Four seems to go out of its way to make sure nothing happens.

Don’t worry, the obligatory scene where all the main characters fight for no reason still happens.

The latest update of prolific (and troubled) Malaysian writer Wen Ruian’s work, The Four has been adapted numerous times for television in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Mainland China. Featuring four male detectives with special powers who work directly for the Emperor and solve problems, this version is distinct for two reasons: It is the first big budget film adaptation, and one of the male characters has been made female. Even China is changing characters around to try to attract broader demographics! In general, I have no problem with that practice. But this specific case causes some problems, as discussed below.

I’ll show them, I’ll build a real clockwork orange!

Emotionless (Liu Yi-Fei) – Emotionless can read minds/souls, has telekinesis, in a wheelchair…but she’s not a Roman numeral professor or anything! The most powerful and smart member of the Divine Constabulary, but also has handicaps because why else would there need to be three more of them? In the original stories, Emotionless is a man.
Cold Blood (Deng Chao) – Cold Blood has a demon trapped inside him that comes out when he’s angry and a sword that glows green, but he’s totally not a rip off of the Hulk. Don’t think like that! Cold Blood has legendary sword skills, and legendary puppy finding skills. He worked for Department Six Constabulary until he was fired and then got a job with Divine Constabulary, but he still reports to his old Department Six Constabulary boss.
Iron Hand (Ngai Sing) – Despite the fact he’s named Iron Hand, he seems to be a bit closer to stark copy of a Marvel hero, thanks to his great ability to built things in the forge. Electrical powered things. Including wheelshairs. In ancient China.
Life Snatcher (Ronald Cheng Chung-Kei) – A bounty hunter who specializes in tracking down people who have debts for a price. He gets mixed up in the mess in the beginning of the film, but Zhengwo recognizes his skills and offers him a job. He’s reluctant at first to join up due to it interferring with his criminal underworld connections, but ends up becoming one of their best agents (he is one of The Four, after all!)
Zhuge Zhengwo (Anthony Wong Chau-Sang) – Leader of Divine Constabulary working directly under the Emperor. His unorthodox working styles is often criticized for not showing the proper respect, usually by stuffy-shirt nobles who are up to no good. It is sort of funny to see the star of films such as Ebola Syndrome given the wise and respected leader role.
Ji Yaohua (Jiang Yi-Yan) – The leader of a new crew of female constables that were hired by Division Six Constabulary. She starts crap from the moment of her introduction, and is working for the bad guy. A Penglai kung fu master with questionable loyalties… aka she’s evil!
I’ve heard of the Bride with White Hair, but this is ridiculous!

We are the Knights of the FedEx Arrow!

The Four starts out introdcing a bajillion characters all at once with brief scenes before a confusing action sequence of multiple government agencies (and a few free-lancers) all converging to catch counterfeiter Jia San (Tenky Tin Kai-Man) at a tavern. Soon everyone is fighting everyone, and when the smoke clears, local cops Department Six Constabulary and special cops the Divine Constabulary are arguing over jurisdiction. The crown prince comes by to sort things out, and the counterfeiting spree seems over. Except it is not and part of a much bigger plot to overthrow the Emperor. But it’s hard to cheer for or care about anyone if we don’t know who the heck they are.

You can tell I’m a troubled loner because of my slightly disheveled hair!

That plot and the numerous conspiracies it draws can wait, as much of the film is spent between the two Constabularies having hissyfits over each other, and Cold Blood joining Divine Constabulary and getting introduced to the cast.

A song of fire and ice!

As the Divine Constabulary is strait out of Marvel films, the only thing missing is Samuel L. Jackson wandering around after the credits. Emotionless is in a wheelchair and has psychic powers, she also has telekinesis (can move objects with her mind) and later in the film gets an electric wheelchair (remember, this is pre-industrial China!) Iron Hand has super strength and can build complex electric devices from the forge. Cold Blood has a demon trapped inside him that comes out when he’s angry, giving him super strength. Life Snatcher has tracking skills and his own kung fu powers. And don’t worry, there are several younger members of Divine Constabulary around, like it’s some sort of school for mutants or something…

That’s not how you make ice cream!

As the two groups argue, the very real threat of mass counterfeiting spreads and an obvious suspect emerges, but he’s also controlling some of Department Six Constabulary’s agents – namely Ji Yaohua and her band of female constables. The plan moves beyond fake coins and into necromancy as the villain builds an army of the dead that he’ll use to kill everyone in his way. These dead are invincible, except for their one main weakness that is quickly discovered. Can The Four put aside the constant bureaucratic squabbling and save the day? Yeah, I guess. Why not? Except as there are still two more chapters of this trilogy coming, no one bothered to remember for things to happen, so we end exactly where we were in the beginning, minus a few minor characters and a few pretty effects.

This movie is very progressive, that’s why we’re constantly naked!

The Four‘s oddest turn in the inclusion of female characters for added box office appeal, but to then treat all its female characters awfully. Emotionless not only is named Emotionless because her psychic ability makes her isolated, but she’s wheelchair bound. It’s physical and mental barriers affecting her character, and she pushes away people who try to be close. Her only connection is to animal characters. The other main female character is Ji Yaohua, one of the several female constables newly assigned to Department Six. Of course, they’re all in league with the villain, because women who try to do man things must be evil, and those that aren’t are punished with disabilities like Emotionless. The constable women are also spied on by a corrupt and perverted superior, and one is turned into a zombie that the villain creepily lusts over. There are a few younger female members of Divine Constabulary who are as memorable as individual Lego pieces in a football field filled with blocks. The only female character who isn’t punished or awful is the tavern owner who comes off as sort of a Miss Kitty to Zhuge Zhengwo’s Marshall Dillon. Which mean she might also have the same sort of social stigma Miss Kitty had.

I’m not the Hulk!

The Four is bland, uninteresting except for how shallow a carbon copy of super hero film it is. I’m fine with borrowing wholesale, but there are a reason the Marvel films do well, and that reason is beyond the people with goofy powers. The Four can’t even ape Marvel’s common denominator writing style, all the effort goes to the spectacle. As much as I rag on some of the older wuxia flicks, they manage to give much more detailed stories with complex characters that you feel for, even if there are no subtitles! There is no excuse to be so vanilla. I know the movie production business model from the US is being copied just as much as the films, but the design by committee films are a problem in the US, I don’t want to see them imitated throughout the world, drowning out local flavor in favor of formulaic and forgettable junk churned out just to prove that China can make expensive-looking film. Put your money into the script, there was a reason we watched your films when effects were hand-painted on the frames.

I’m concentrating…about…acting!
When Chinese people die, they become albinos. FACT!

Rated 3/10 (Target, badge, wheels)


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The Four prepare to Serve the Department Six Constabulary!
Finally a Chinese film that revolves around food, making this the most honest film ever!
We shall introduce designer puggles to ancient China!
So I sez to Marco Polo “Pull my finger!”
You got mysterious purple energy behind your ear!
Emotionless often wiggles her head and shurikens fly everywhere during the finale.
So transparently evil he might as well have a neon sign above his head saying “EVIL!!!”

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Written by Tars Tarkas

Tars Tarkas

Runs this joint!

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