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June 6, 2013

Movie Review: The Four (2012, Well Go Entertainment)

...this viewer recalls quite well, the first time being privy to the jaw-dropping martial arts action style and dynamics of filmmaker Gordon Chan...and that one film, which I saw at the time, had me indelibly hooked on his films, from then on. It was 1994, and my local mom-and-pop, hole-in-the-wall cult film movie revival theater (, regretfully, a stuffy, experimental/independent/art-house movie theater, which I rarely visit) was running it's yearly, two-week long Asian film festival. One of the films on the double-feature bill, on the particular day of my theater patronage, was "Fist of Legend", starring the up & coming, flavor-of-the-moment martial arts star, Jet Li; now, I had heard of Jet Li...knew of his growing film presence, long before he was revered by a general movie-going audience in the U.S. Heck, this viewer even had a couple of his older films, in an ever-swelling film collection (...a paltry 3,000 or so titles, at the time; don't EVEN ask the official number, now...lest your jaw drop to the floor). "Fist of Legend", without a doubt, gave Li a respectability in film, nearly equal to that of the late great Bruce Lee. However, as far as behind the camera, and relatively unknown to this viewer at the time, was director Chan...and WHOA!! What a place to start!! The viewer could assuredly scribble a pretty lengthy review, praising the greatness of "Fist of Legend", and how well it was filmed & put together. In short, to say that I was blown away, would be an understatement. After that, I made it a point to seek out any of Chan's earlier directorial efforts, as well as any future film endeavors, which bore his name. Notable titles in his respectable repertoire include..."18 Golden Destroyers", "Fight Back to School", "Royal Tramp", "King of Beggars", "Beast Cops"...but in this viewers mind, it always came right down to the fact that "Fist of Legend" was (...and as you will soon read, STILL is) the pinnacle triumph of his career...his absolute finest achievement. Admittedly, I have not been particularly privy to anything notably stand-out, deriving out of Gordon Chan's still prolific film making arena, over the past several years. And unfortunately, if his latest...the 2012 martial arts fantasy actioner, "The Four" is any indication of his furthered evolution...well, I guess that this viewer will have to continue hoping that one day, Chan will top, or at the very least match the likes of his celebrated "...Legend"...'cause "The Four" sure as heck ain't gonna cut it, in that respect... the flourishing capital city of the Northern Song Dynasty, early 1100's, two investigative factions vie for authority and jurisdiction, in the midst of populous unrest and instability, as the result of a growing threat of counterfeit currency being distributed. The preponderantly militant, and openly government-sponsored Six Panels investigative constabulary eventually and reluctantly concedes to the smaller, mysterious...more infiltrative, influential and covert Devine constabulary, on the underlining stipulation that one of their agents...a skilled, albeit reckless young martial artist named Coldblood (...who becomes monstrously beast-like when enraged) deceptively 'allowed' to join the ranks of the secretive and independent eclectic number of special powered martial artists, consisting of Emotionless (...frail and handicapped, but having the power to read minds and move objects by merely thinking about it), Life Snatcher (...with the ability to freeze...or burn) and Iron Hand (...invisibility and force fields are his forte). Untrusted and estranged, Coldblood finds his loyalties tested, when his 'mission' is discovered, and he finds that he is falling for one of the beautiful members, in BOTH dueling investigative factions. Will Coldblood succeed in putting all of these difficulties aside, in order to amiably fight along side powerful allies...pitted against a fiendishly, supernaturally endowed overlord, and his army of the living dead, who are instigating formidably diabolical plans of domination?? visually striking and initially intriguing as this ensemble-driven film most assuredly is...especially with the participation of award-winning actor Anthony Wong...seemingly displaced here, as well as being very ill-used in the tense and gripping, albeit disjointed is alternately very difficult to identify what exactly this film is trying to be; it seems that everything...INCLUDING the kitchen throw into the foray here, despite whether or not the mismatched concepts used, makes any sense together...the assumed, albeit reckless 'tried and true' method of throwing whatever on the wall, with hopes that what sticks, will make for a good movie. Martial Arts Combat...Government Conspiracy and Corruption...Romance...Superheroes...Covert Operations...Estranged Family...Zombies...Puppies...Evil Overlords...You Name It...It's Here. This sense of wayward and seemingly random conceptual disjoint is all the more genuinely surprising, giving director Gordon Chan's deftly skilled and well structured direction, in many of his earlier martial arts film productions...almost as if, with the exception of the high-octane action sequences, herein...where Chan's direction continues to exhue...the rest of the film was lazily, directorially 'phoned in', for lack of a better phraseology. Even the action scenes themselves are never fully allowed to impress and awe-strike, in their own uniquely breath-taking throes, without the almost distracting peppering of CGI-enhanced special effects (...sheesh!! Do they even do any of that smooth, acrobatic wire-work anymore?? Seems that the philosophy has progressively become, "...heck, we have CGI...why bother??"). The overall production quite literally overflows in contrived, imitated and tired, well-worn concepts, seen many times elsewhere (...and better, in fact; even the displaced-in-time 'superhero' concept seems to possess a way-too-familiar feel of shaded 'darkness', substandardly not unlike that of 'Hellboy'), and which are haphazardly strung together, in this total mish-mash of a film, which at times, makes no sense whatsoever... eye-popping...even going as far as saying 'dizzily eye-straining, in one's attempt to take it this mess of a film is, for the most part, it's a very difficult film to recommend, in the foremost sense that those drawn to certain, specific aspects of the film, might well be put off at how unwell such concepts come across, when forcibly and unmatchedly melded with the other assorted concepts...the irony here being that one of the film's plot points deals with counterfeit currency, and yet, the greater whole of the film itself comes across as counterfeit. Reportedly, this is the first in a literary three-part saga...itself based upon a series of novels; knowing that, we can only hope that the continuing storyline, despite the convulatedly contrived ideas herein, wroughts a direction much more original than what this first installment suggests...

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