Blu-ray Review: The Four

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Gordon Chan began directing in 1985 and has a lengthy roster of action-packed martial arts movies to his credit. His latest, the first of a planned trilogy, is The Four, co-directed by Janet Chun. This Chinese-Hong Kong production was adapted from a novel by Wen Ruian, part of his series The Four Great Constables. Though it takes place centuries ago, there is a modern sensibility to the film, which includes lots of computer-generated effects and a contemporary score by Henry Lai. The action is fun to watch and obvious care went into the art direction, but the plot is a confusing jumble.

Set during the Northern Song Dynasty, The Four centers on a clash between the government’s official authorities, Department Six, and a secret group known as The Divine Constabulatory. Amongst the Divine are “the four” referred to by the title: Cold Blood (Deng Chao), Emotionless (Liu Yifei), Hunter (Ronald Cheng), and Iron Fist (Collin Chou). Drawing many comparisons to the X-Men, each member has special powers (Emotionless, for instance, is telepathic). There’s been a flood of counterfeit currency on the streets, thanks to a stolen coin cast. Someone is trying to wreak havoc on the Chinese economy and The Divine Constabulatory and Department Six compete to discover who it is.

Despite the high production values, Chan (who co-wrote with Maria Wong and Frankie Tam) can’t seem to tell a straight story. Seeing people freeze, combust, and disintegrate into dust, all while flying around with swords and executing kung fu maneuvers, is cool. But the action set pieces are somewhat infrequent as we have to wade through long, often dull scenes that attempt to expand on the Divine members’ personalities. While there are, as the title makes plain, four primary constables, the number of characters in The Four is burdensome. I had the damndest time trying to keep up with them and the storytelling was ultimately too muddy for me to care.

At least Well Go USA’s Blu-ray looks pretty terrific, with deep black levels and a relatively high level of fine detail on display. The colors seem a little muted, but since I couldn’t tell if this was intentional I can’t really fault it. There are a few odd grainy shots, such as during the big action climax where we see some noisy slow-motion. Again, I can’t say whether or not this was done on purpose—if so, it’s somewhat unusual. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless mix really took me by surprise. This is a truly awesome audio presentation, with constant surround activity, prominent LFE rumblings, and spine-tingling clarity in Henry Lai’s score (which, by the way, is a highly varied, evocative treat).

There are a few supplemental features, including a lighthearted 24-minute “making of” (that includes some amusing footage of cast members trying to dance like Michael Jackson) and a few minutes of deleted scenes. The Four excels in terms of fight choreography, cinematography, and sound design. Some of the visual effects are shakily low-budget, but for the most part they work well. Unfortunately the plot is difficult to follow and ultimately The Four isn’t a very enticing lead-in to the planned trilogy.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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