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A government department known as the Six Panels appoints their best officer to infiltrate a special force called the Divine Constabulary, to ensure their way in stopping the circulation of counterfeit coin currency in the capital.
For more about The Four and the The Four Blu-ray release, see the The Four Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on April 8, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.5 out of 5.
Starring: Deng Chao, Liu Yifei
Directors: Gordon Chan, Janet Chun
» See full cast & crew
The Four Blu-ray Review
It's probably only unintentional irony this film deals with counterfeit currency.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, April 8, 2013
It's never a good sign when a film starts out with so much manic energy, quick cutting and unclear plot development that what's going on isn't just confusing, it's a complete mystery. Who are these people? Why are they fighting each other? And who are the good guys and who are the bad? The good news in all of this, at least with regard to The Four, is that things happen so quickly in the opening fifteen or so minutes of the film that there's little time to actually sit back and ruminate over these queries. Instead one simply needs to surrender to the chaos and hope that things improve. If they do, at least slightly anyway, the film is still hobbled by a really odd lack of clarity in its dramatic through line, even if it's filled to the brim with lots of interesting (if cliché ridden) characters. Though the source novels that inspired The Four (as well as several television precursors to this feature film adaptation) have been around for decades, there's little doubt that someone saw some copious handwriting on the wall, namely the insanely huge box office receipts of the X-Men Trilogy and their attendant outings X-Men Origins: Wolverine and X-Men: First Class. If there aren't actual bean counters in the Chinese film industry, there are probably at least abacus bead counters, and with a pre-existing franchise that already had a built in audience base courtesy of probably two to three generations of readers and television viewers, it's not hard to imagine that The Four seemed like a sure bet. Indeed, the film already has sequels in the works, though if this is to become a truly spectacular franchise, someone needs to go back to Screenwriting 101 and learn the salient lesson that just throwing as much activity on the screen as possible does little to engage an audience.
Separating the wheat from the chaff in terms of both important characters as well as the main focus of The Four can be a bit of a challenge, but here goes. The film ostensibly deals with a sort of X-Men brigade of specially powered fighters, albeit in China's distant feudal past. These folks are known collectively as the Divine Constabulatory and they are a semi-secret group which reports directly to the Emperor. The "official" police force is known as Department Six, and once the duplicitous head of Department Six finds out that there's a little competition on the peacekeeping block, he will have none of it, and sends a "secret agent" to infiltrate their ranks. Meanwhile, there's a whole other unfolding plot dealing with a nasty super villain and an attempt to manufacture counterfeit money, with the hopes of bringing and an already tottering economy to its knees.
That may seem like a relatively clear summary, but under the hands of co-directors Gordon Chan and Janet Chun, it's often a morass of admittedly well choreographed fight scenes interspersed with brief character bits where it's often completely unclear what is going on. This is exacerbated by the fact that there are actually several people with ulterior motives sprinkled throughout the film, to the point where it becomes well nigh impossible to divine (constabulatory or otherwise) what some characters' true motives actually are.
Another issue is the sheer scope of the film with regard to its cast size. While it may be called The Four, it often feels like four hundred with so many supporting players having their (brief) moments in the sun that it's often hard to keep track of who's whom and what exactly they have to do with the plot. Most of the main characters also have "handles" they go by, as any good superhero does, but at times they're also called by their real names. Take Leng Lingxi (Deng Chao) for example, the "spy" who's sent to infiltrate The Divine Constabulatory. He starts out as a cop in Department Six, but we soon see him transmogrifying into a sort of combo Incredible Hulk-werewolf creature when he becomes enraged, and by the time he's ingratiated himself into his new position (more or less, anyway), he's now called Cold Blood. Other specially powered characters include Emotionless (Liu Yifei), a wheelchair bound woman (Professor X, anyone?) who is psychic and telekinetic; Iron Fist (Collin Chou), the brawn of the group; and a kind of rascally new member named Life Stealer (Ronald Cheng), a kind of hunter who is prone to manically jumping from rooftop to rooftop looking for his prey.
Running around the fringes of this story is The Divine Constabulatory's "real" Professor X, a wise elder named Zhuge Zhenwo (Anthony Wong), as well as the scheming head of Department Six, Lord Bu (Cheng Taishen). In just one of many unexplained phenomena in the film, Bu always meets with Cold Blood atop a perilous roof that seems to have absolutely no method to get up there. At least it gives them a wonderful view of the territory that Bu obviously means to retain control of. There's also a love triangle of sorts, believe it or not, with Cold Blood trying to decide whether to give in to the charms of a woman with ties to Department Six or to those of Emotionless (guess how that one pans out). And then there's the supposedly central focus on criminal mastermind called The God of Wealth (Wu Xiubo), who likes to do things like freeze people and then stab them, while also utilizing the seductive charms of a comely henchwoman. Perhaps it's becoming easier to see how much stuff there is in The Four, to the point that this film is virtually bursting at the seams with various plot strands which are not especially well woven together to make a satisfying whole.
What's left, then, is an often quite ingratiating piece from a visual standpoint as well as with regard to at least some of the fight choreography. A lot of money obviously went into this production, and while it's hobbled by unclear focus and too much going on at any given moment, there's also a suitably comic book flavor infusing the proceedings that may make it more palatable for those who are only there for the action and couldn't care less about little things like character and logical plot developments. There have been plenty of franchises that have started out strongly and then waned in their subsequent entries, as well as some rather iconic ones whose first entries can seem at least a little lackluster when compared to later offerings (looking back at Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, for instance, can be rather surprising in how not quite ready for prime time the kid actors were). Hopefully The Four will be in that latter category, but some pretty aggressive story editor is going to have to get involved pretty quickly for that to happen.
The Four Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Four is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Well Go USA with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.20:1. This digitally shot feature looks nicely crisp a lot of the time, though I suspect that the co-directors along with Yiu-Fai Lai deliberately chose a somewhat softer looking overall ambience so that they could more artfully blend some of the fantasy laden CGI elements. Therefore, this doesn't have the extreme pop some might expect, and instead offers a somewhat more painterly look a lot of the time. The film has been fairly aggressively color graded, often to the ever popular slate gray-blue side of things, which tends to at least partially rob the image of some fine detail. The more "normal" looking sequences offer abundant fine detail in close-ups, however. Contrast is generally fine, though is a bit anemic in some of the darkest interior sequences.
The Four Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Four's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is a fantastically immersive and well designed affair from literally the first moment of the film, when we get a bird's eye view (replete with bird) of the main village with great sweeping wing effects panning through the sound field. That level of nuance continues pretty much unabated for the rest of the film, with lots of discrete channelization for foley effects in the fight sequences as well as some well done separation in crowded dialogue moments. Fidelity is excellent and dynamic range is extremely wide.
The Four Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Four Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The Four is decent enough mindless entertainment, but this new would be franchise is off to a pretty rocky start. The film will work best for those willing to not think once, let alone twice, about everything that happens in it, since so little of it makes sense. Still, it's a nice looking feature that does have some spectacular fight choreography, so if you like that sort of thing, you may want to check it out.
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The Four Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Exclusive Giveaway: The Four - May 1, 2013
Blu-ray.com and Well Go USA are offering three members a chance to win a copy of The Four. This martial arts spectacular is the first film of a proposed trilogy that adapts one of the most popular Chinese novels of all time.
• The Four Blu-ray - February 27, 2013
Texas-based distributors Well Go USA will bring to Blu-ray director Gordon Chan's The Four a.k.a The Four Detective Guards (2012), starring Anthony Wong, Deng Chao, Ngai Sing, Liu Yi-Fei, Ronald Cheng, Collin Chou, and Crystal Liu. The release will be available ...
The Four Blu-ray Screenshots
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