The Four (2012) – By Duane L. Martin

There are counterfeit coins being passed around town, and it’s starting to destroy the economy. As such, rival law enforcement teams, Department Six and the Divine Constabulary have been tasked with finding the culprits and putting a stop to it.

The Divine Constabulary is run by Zhuge Zhengwo, and consists of a group of martial artists with special powers. Department Six mostly consists of normal law enforcement personnel, though they do have one member, Leng Lingqi, who was raised by wolves, and when he loses his temper, he turns into some sort of an animal demon…and fights like one. Leng is sent by the head of Department Six to join the Divine Constabulary, so he can report back what they’ve discovered, but Leng soon discovers that he not only feels more at home in the Divine Constabulary, but that there’s also someone there he’s come to love – a girl called Emotionless who is mostly confined to a wheelchair because of an injury she sustained when she was a child. Not only is she a mind reader, but she also has incredibly strong telekinetic powers. Now Leng is torn between his loyalty to Department Six, and his loyalty to his new friends and teammates, but the ultimate goal remains the same. They have to stop the counterfeiters at all costs, and that means taking down an incredibly rich and powerful man named An Shigeng, who is not only a master of elemental martial arts, but he also has ambitions that run far deeper than destroying the economy with fake coins. He’s forming an army of the dead, reanimated by a rare orchid. Now it’s up to the Divine Constabulary and Department Six to stop him, but unfortunately, Department Six has been infiltrated by a squad of female cops, the leader of which, Ji Yaohua, is working for An and has been tasked with killing the Sheriff King Liu.

Sound complicated? Well, the plot of the film is somewhat involved, and there is quite a bit going on, but it’s not horribly confusing.

While this is a good film with great visual effects and likeable characters, it does suffer from one big problem, and that’s that it has too many characters. So many in fact, that it becomes confusing with some of them as to the role they play in the plot. For example, Ji Yaohua has infiltrated Department Six with her team of female officers, but it’s never really all that clear how involved her team is in what she’s doing. They obviously know about it, but it’s always Ji that takes the lead and is the main focus, with the rest of them, except for her closest friend, Butterfly, seeming to just be there for support and not really taking an overly active role in anything. Then in the Divine Constabulary, the main focus is put on like five members of the team, with the others seeming to take up mostly support roles.

The problem with having a large number of characters in a film, is that almost inevitably, you’re left feeling like half of them were never really explored or brought to life the way they should have been. Mostly they just get buried in the story and end up becoming filler.

The film as a whole is more of a fantasy film than anything, and as such, each of the martial arts masters have special powers that are far beyond ordinary, and which are presented using some really awesome visual effects and CGI. Chinese films have been really coming out with some gorgeous visual effects in the past several years, and this one is no exception. In fact, it’s so common now that it’s almost expected, and as such, may have lost a bit of the specialness it would have otherwise had, which means that to be really impressive, they have to keep raising the bar a bit every now and then. Unfortunately, CGI is often used where none is necessary if they’d just put some budget and effort into real effects. In a film like this however, they’re not only appropriate, but totally necessary and well utilized.

There were characters in this film however that weren’t utilized so well. My favorite character in the film was a guy known as Life Stealer. He worked for underworld types as a debt collector who had a reputation for never letting a debt go uncollected. He could literally find who he was looking for, no matter where they were. He ended up being this super likeable character, and even though he was supposed to be one of the main characters, he could have, and should have had a much larger role. Another underutilized character was a Divine Constabulary member called Iron Hands. He had some great abilities, but most of his focus seemed to be on making life easier for Emotionless in various ways.

The main plot of the story didn’t really come together as well as it could have either. An Shigeng’s machinations were confusing at best, and I’m not really sure how the counterfeiting and his creating an army of the dead were connected, nor what his ultimate goal was other than enhancing his own power. Now I’ll admit that I may have missed something with that because I was pausing and unpausing the movie constantly to take notes. I plan to re-watch the film in one solid run very soon though, so hopefully I may pick up on something I missed.

That’s the thing with a film like this. It really needs a second watching to fully get everything. The first watching will allow you to get to know all the characters, and then in the second, you can pick up on all the plot things you missed the first time around while you were trying to figure out the characters and how they fit into everything.

This release from Well Go USA includes a making of featurette, deleted scenes and the film’s trailer for special features.

In the end, while this isn’t the best film when it comes to the story, it’s not too bad. The characters are good once you get them sorted, and visually it’s just beautiful. It does have some issues, but it’s definitely worth checking out.

If you’d like to find out more about this film, you can check out its page on the Well Go USA website here, and if you’d like to pick up a copy for yourself, you can get the blu-ray or DVD from Amazon, or from any of the other usual outlets.