Review: THE FOUR 四大名捕 (2012) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Monday, 13 August 2012

Review: THE FOUR 四大名捕 (2012)


On paper, THE FOUR sounds too good to give this a miss -- it's a martial-art movie that combined wuxia genre and superhero movie in the vein of X-MEN, FANTASTIC FOUR and THE AVENGERS. Besides that, the movie is adapted from a series of popular novels by Wong Swee Oan, which has been previously made into numerous TV drama series in Hong Kong, Taiwan and China. With a seemingly solid Pan-Asian cast in the mix, THE FOUR looks set to be an especially crucial return-to-form by director Gordon Chan, who has been heavily inconsistent in his career these days (*cough* 2008's PAINTED SKIN *cough*). Unfortunately a solid concept alone isn't enough to justify this as a worthwhile entertainment if the execution is awfully poor. As one of the highly-anticipated Chinese movies of the year, it's sad to announce that THE FOUR is a huge disappointment.

Set during the era of the Song Dynasty, the movie opens with six female martial artists, led by Penglai expert Ji Yaohua (Jiang Yiyan), reporting for duty to Department Six, a powerful organization run by Lord Liu (Cheng Taishen). Yaohua and her group are quickly assigned to Fourth Constable Han Long (Michael Tong) for a case involving a coin cast stolen from the Imperial Mint by Jia San (Tin Kai-Man). When they receive news that Jia San will be arriving Drunken Moon Inn to sell the cast, they surround the place but confusion abound when there are other interested parties happen to be interested with the same thing as well. Among them are professional debt collector Cui Lueshang whose nickname is Life Snatcher (Ronald Cheng), and members of a secret investigative organization, Divine Constabulary, which is led by Zhuge Zhengwo (Anthony Wong). Despite all the troubles, the coin cast is eventually recovered.

However, that's more to it than just about the stolen coin cast. Apparently Yaohua is actually a two-faced agent, who secretly works for Lord An Shigeng (Wu Xiubo), a shipping magnate with special powers who's been masterminding a bigger plan. In the meantime, Lord Liu suspends one of his constables, Leng Lingqi/Coldblood (Deng Chao) from duty over disciplinary matter. But Lord Liu secretly visits him in the cave and reinstate his position to go undercover by infiltrate the Divine Constabulary. Unbeknownst to Lord Liu and Coldblood, they didn't realize that their conversation is being overheard by Yaohua, who has an ability to go invisible.

Soon Coldblood joins the Divine Constabulary, and meets crippled mind-reader Sheng Yayu/Emotionless (Crystal Liu), and martial artist Tie Youxia/Iron Hand (Collin Chou). Also newly joined is Life Snatcher, who is originally wanted to leave, but chooses to stay after he is attracted to free wine, courtesy of the owner of Drunken Moon Inn, Aunt Poise (Sheren Tang). Zhengwo informs his group that the case of the stolen coin cast isn't over yet, and subsequently uncovers a scam involving forged currency that could lead to a national disaster.

Gordon Chan and Janet Chun's adapted screenplay is filled with so many ideas and so many plots stacked all over the place. However, their narrative thrust is clearly lackluster. There are no sense of proper pace here, other than lingering around the circles and taking too many leisure time focusing on so-called complicated love triangle between Coldblood, Yaohua and Emotionless. Mind you, the romance subplot is such an overstretch that one might wonder whether Gordon Chan is actually wanted to emphasize love story in this movie rather than anything else matters. No, wait, he's actually tries to cram everything all in one but neither of them actually works. Everything here are scattershot at best and unsure what kind of movie or tone he's actually aiming for. Yes, maybe he tries to recreate the '80s genre mishmash-style of wuxia genre. But clearly, he's not as versatile as Tsui Hark. Whatever he and Janet Chun tries to do with the plot, the entire story here is so bloated you'll pray you have a remote control in your hand to fast-forward most of the unnecessary scenes in the cinema.

The all-star, Pan-Asian cast are mostly a mixed bag. Anthony Wong is terribly wasted here who does nothing more than talk about peace and solving matters in a gentleman's way possible. Deng Chao broods a lot in this movie, and that's all he's ever good at. Ronald Cheng, who obviously cast here as the movie's comic relief, is mostly awkward here. Crystal Liu, like Deng Chao, plays the similar brooding role and her character isn't particularly interesting. Collin Chou is also wasted here as Iron Hand, where Gordon Chan could have utilize him more in fighting sequence rather than dumping him as a useless character. At least Wu Xiubo fares exceptionally good as the sleazy-looking Lord An Shigeng but it was Jiang Yiyan steals the show as the two-faced femme fatale, Yaohua.

Technical credits are adequate, with Lai Yiu-Fai's fluid camerawork, even though he tends to get overwhelmed with too many tight shots during the action sequences. Henry Lai's sometimes knee-thumping score has its exciting moments, while Ku Huen-Chiu's fight choreography is decent enough. Meanwhile, the special-effects galore are average.

Overall, it's a shame that Gordon Chan fails to utilize his solid concept here. No doubt there are flashes of inspiration throughout the movie, especially during the all-hell-breaks-loose climactic finale. Despite all the huge disappointment, THE FOUR manages to make a lot of money in the China box-office (with nearly RMB 82 million in the opening weekend!). If that's not insulting enough, Gordon Chan already developed a sequel in the (ahem) planned trilogy for this movie. Pray he does better in the second time round.

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