Wuxia meets the supernatural in this standard period martial arts film that is the first of a proposed trilogy.
In ancient China, the Emperor has a group of constables known as Department Six, led by Lord Liu and his right hand man Avalanche. They have a new recruit in female Ji Yaohua, who is assigned her first job under Fourth Constable Han Long. A thief named Jia San has stolen a coin cast from the Imperial Mint and is planning to head to the Drunken Moon Inn to sell the cast.
At the Drunken Moon Inn, alongside Yaohua is disguised constable Cold Blood. When Jia San is busted, the members of Department Six finds themselves assisted by three warriors. They are Zhuge Zhengwo, the crippled fighter Emotionless, and Iron Hands. In the midst of the chaos is professional debt collector Life Snatcher. The three warriors are members of the Divine Constabulatory, a covert ops group who are the personal team of the royal Prince, much to the chagrin of Lord Liu.
A jealous Liu demands that Department Six will be the only group with royal mandate and sends Cold Blood to infiltrate the group in means to cause conflict. However, Cold Blood learns that the Divine Constablatory is more than just warriors and a team. Zhuge considers the group his family and Life Snatcher has become a new member as well. Despite Zhuge knowing of Cold Blood’s mission, he invites the constable to join them. However, all is not happy as the case of the coin cast remains and it soon becomes realized that there is a bigger threat to China as the currency is just a part of the mysterious puzzle.
Based on the novel “The Four Great Constables” by Malaysian-Chinese writer Wen Ruian, the film brings a little redemption back for filmmaker Gordon Chan (who co-directed with Janet Chun), who returned to making these period films after making his Hollywood debut with the godawful live-action adaptation of The King of Fighters in 2010. Here, one of the film’s pluses are the ensemble cast who perform well in the film.
Deng Chao does well as the conflicted Cold Blood, who must choose between his loyalty to his ranking as a Department Six constable and his new friends in the Divine Constablatory. Our protagonist is the primary focus of the film as his allegiances are not his only issue. He is involved in a love triangle with the crippled Emotionless and the rookie constable Yaohua. Even more worse, Cold Blood has a very dark secret in which he only reveals in two scenes.
Anthony Wong plays the mentor type well as Divine Constablatory leader Zhuge. Liu Yifei, who is known in the U.S. for her role in The Forbidden Kingdom, plays Emotionless as a cripple who spends most of the film staring blankly at everyone. However, in the climax, she finally reverses it and gets in on some of the action. Collin Chou sports some wicked tattoos, including his head, and uses a lot of fist work as the blacksmith Iron Hands. The surprise comes in the form of Ronald Cheng, who plays new member Life Snatcher, who can be best described as a “drunken kicker”. He loves his wine and uses some heavy bootwork in his action scenes.
In charge of the film’s action scenes is Deedee Huen-Chiu Ku, A member of Yuen Woo-Ping’s stunt team, Ku pulls off some moves in the vein of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon combined with the likes of the supernatural films such as the Mr., Vampire films and others. As mentioned, Collin Chou and Ronald Cheng perform some nicely style hard martial arts while there are notions of Qigong and wuxia’s trademark swordsmanship involved as well. While the action is at times wire-assisted, it is still an enjoyable part of the film.
The Four is quite a fun melding of the supernatural and wuxia but there is just something missing that makes this slightly above average. However, it is definitely a fun way to spend two hours, that’s if you’re not turned off by Liu Yifei’s blank stare.
WFG RATING: B
A Beijing Enlight Pictures Ltd. Production. Director: Gordon Chan. Producers: Abe Kwong, Paul Cheng, and Gordon Chan. Writers: Maria Wong, Frankie Tam, and Gordon Chan; based on the novel “The Four Great Constables” by Wen Ruian. Cinematography: Lai Yiu-Fai and Li Qiang. Editing: Chan Kei-Hop.
Cast: Deng Chao, Liu Yifei, Collin Chou, Ronald Cheng, Anthony Wong, Jiang Yi-Yan, Cheng Tai-Shen, Wu Xia-Bo, Sheren Tang, Waise Lee, Ryu Kohata, Bao Baier, Anna Fang, Wu Ying-Jie, Miao Chi, Tina Xiang, Tenky Tin, Michael Tong.