The Four (****)

Action packed, thrilling, and very beautifully shot, “The Four” takes the audience into the corrupt world of those who seek power attempting to overthrow those in power. Like an old story unfolding on the screen, the audience gets the lay of the land during the opening credits. Much like the beginning sequence of credits for “The Italian Job” (2003), the opening credits for “The Four” demonstrates how the “Divine Constabulary” operates as a team, the secret service of that society. The audience is then introduced to ‘Department Six’, the CIA of their day. The characters weave an intricate web of power struggles and self-validation before the end of the movie, where the bad guy, An Shigeng (Wu Xiubo), disappears into the night, a cliffhanger of sorts for the audience to wonder about and anticipate resurfacing again in the sequel.

The feel for “The Four” reflects American time-period movies like; “The League Of The Extraordinary Gentlemen” (2003) and “Sherlock Holmes” (2009), but with supernatural elements that spawn from Chinese legends. Instead of reverting to Western fighting techniques, the director, Gordon Ka-Seung Chan (陳嘉上), remains true to the fighting styles of the Eastern world. The clothing, demeanor, behaviors, and personalities are all of the time period, as is the love triangle the main character (Deng Chao) goes through. Beautiful women who fawn for a disheveled main character confuses me, but speaks volumes about the cultural beliefs of the society being presented. And the brotherhood between men and the various levels of their affinity for women and power pushes the movie at an accelerating speed. But I do appreciate that the main male character struggles through his situation and doesn’t make a clear decision until the end, whereas the women know what they want and are willing to do all they can do get it.

The action scenes, somewhat like “The Bourne Identity” (2002), never get old. Always adding new elements to surprise and keep the audiences happy, Chan and his team create a visually amazing masterpiece to behold. Unlike Hollywood, Chan limits special abilities (qi gong) to certain individuals with dark histories, which can be interpreted as consequences of having them. With several different story lines colliding in one moment, each thread is orchestrated finely to a entertain everyone. True to his cause, one of the most impressing scenes in the entire film is when the crippled Shong Yayu (Liu Yifei) and the evil Ji Yaohua (Jiang Yi-Yan) fight off an onslaught of zombies, while fighting each other. The two women who had danced around each other finally, physically, go at it with amazing moves, stunning grace, and without getting dirty.

The usage of color and darkness is well placed and consistent. Very thoroughly thought-out camera angles, movements, and depth give the film a very ‘Hollywood’ feeling. The visual effects are immaculately added and pieces together the complex personalities; who they are, what they want, and how they best fit together. From the live actors to the slimy zombies, everything is color coordinated so well that this film could stand its ground when pitted against Peter Jackson‘s “The Lord Of The Rings“.

Something I respect about Chan’s work is his consistency of having comedy in his action movies and where they are placed so as to relieve tense scenes. Knowing to not be excessive is a definite advantage he has over other international filmmakers. I highly recommend action movie lovers to watch this film and see for themselves the brilliance in it. This will, undoubtedly, be the new standard for the arena of action filmmaking outside of Hollywood.