The Four DVD Review
Directed by Chaio Deng, Yifel Liu and Ronald Cheng
Gordon Chan, Maria Wong and Frankie Tam
2012, Region 2 (PAL), 114 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
DVD released on 8th September 2013
Chao Deng as Leng Lingqui
Yfei Liu as Shong Yayu
Ronald Cheng as Cui Lueshang
Collin Chou as Tie Yourda
Anthony Wong Chau-Sang as Zhuge Zhenwo
Xiubo Wu as An Shigeng
Four astronauts, fixing a satellite in outer space fall victim to poisonous rays from a cosmic storm. Back on Earth they find themselves developing superpowers and band together to form a team of superher...
No, wait - I fear I’m getting a little confused. No less fantastic, but a very different foursome, a team of government agents band together to put a stop to counterfeit coins in China’s late Northern Song Dynasty. I get tired just thinking about watching The Four, which is best described as a version of Kung Fu Hustle crossed with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, police procedural series and superhero film. Well, with names like Coldblood, Iron Hands, Emotionless and Life Snatcher (my personal favourite), they certainly have the superhero names down. Add to that its period setting, breathtaking visuals and quite a lot of subtitles, and you have yourself a movie to be reckoned with.
A Chinese Wuxia film (a broad genre of fiction, documenting the adventures of skilled martial artists) based on a television programme and series of novels by Wen Ruian (entitled The Four Great Constables – a name I very much prefer), The Four makes very little attempt to speak down to Western audiences. Sweeping, grand and the first in a planned trilogy, it’s not a film for the faint-hearted. The Four does not make for easy background viewing, even if it is just essentially a number of hyperkinetic fight sequences loosely stitched together with an overly dramatic plot. Opening with a bird flying over a feudal Chinese city, I was put in mind of a version of the BBC’s Gormenghast adaptation, albeit with a lot more kung-fu hustling. However, if you strip away the (very impressive) fisticuffs and (even more impressive) cinematography, what are we left with?
Well, all joking aside, there are actual superheroes in this film called The Four, and even a few mutants too. With one character being a wheelchair bound mind-reader (with ‘X’ logos on the wheels, no less) and the other being a woman who can turn herself invisible and generate her own little force fields, we can only hope that the lawyers from Marvel Comics never see this film. As another character sets himself alight in the heat (ho, ho) of battle, we’re only a Thing and a Mr. Fantastic away from full-scale theft. Well, who can blame the guys behind The Four for looking elsewhere for inspiration, when they’ve been left with a plot about counterfeit crooks, of all things.things? Watching the film may make your head hurt, but it’s not actually as deep as appearances suggest.
In fact, one could even be drawn to the conclusion that the kung-fu, superheroes and zombies (yes, there are even a few zombies too) are simply there to distract us from the fact that The Four is somewhat lacking in ideas. I can’t understate how great it looks, the action is top-notch, and there are some interesting ideas at play, but it all ultimately amounts to a very hollow viewing experience. Alas, it’s not even a Four out of five in movie reviewing terms.
Video and Audio:
It looks and sounds spectacular. At the very least, you can let yourself be sucked into the scale and the beauty, and ignore the fact that you don’t really have a clue what’s going on.
There are four (ha!) Making Of featurettes (okay, not actually that funny), documenting the making of a couple of fight sequences, a monster design feature, and a bit on Kung Fu training. At least everyone looks like they’re having fun.