America has its fair share of superhero groups on the big screen. From the Avengers, Fanastic Four and the X-Men, in Asia, we have seen many films featuring people with supernatural powers. But what about an investigative team with supernatural powers?
This is the concept featured in Gordon Chan's ("The Medallion", "Fist of Legend", 2000 AD") and Janet Chun's ("All's Well Ends Well 2011″, "La Lingerie") film "The Four", the first film of a planned trilogy and a loose big screen adaptation of Wen Ruian's novel series "The Four Great Constables".
Featuring a cast with talent from mainland China and Hong Kong, the film stars Chao Deng ("Assembly", "Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame"), Yifei Liu ("The Assassins", "White Vengeance"), Ronald Cheng ("Fatal Contact", "Vulgaria"), Collin Chou ("The Matrix Revolutions", "The Matrix Reloaded", "The Forbidden Kingdom", "Fearless") and Anthony Wong Chau-Sang ("Infernal Affairs" films, "Ip Man: The Final Fight", "White Vengeance").
"The Four" is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:20:1 aspect ratio). The film looks fantastic when it comes to close-up details but also its use of the spider-cam to really capture the sense of movement and blend in the wirework and CG elements wonderfully. Contrast is well-done, some scenes may be a tad too dark but for the most part, "The Four" looks very good on Blu-ray.
I personally didn't notice any banding or compression artifacts issues during my viewing of the film.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
"The Four" is presented in Mandarin 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. One thing I learned while watching this film is how amazing the film sounds in lossless and surround. There are times where I'm watching the film and you can hear the environments such as wind blowing through the wind, good use of surround during the more action-intense sequences. Lossless audio for the film is fantastic!
"The Four" comes with the following special features:
Making Of - (24:22) A combination of several short making of featurettes, featuring interviews with the director Gordon Chan, interviews with the cast about the characters and the use of the Spider-cam, the amount of makeup for Cold Blood's feral look and more!
Deleted Scenes - (4:10) A combination of deleted scenes featuring the other characters who are members of the Divine Constabulary.
Trailer - (1:41) Theatrical trailer for "The Four".
"The Four" comes with a slipcover case.
"The Four" will probably be known for two things.
The first is for its spectacular use of a spider-cam in which multiple cranes were hold wired cameras above the set, so the camera can travel up from high above and carefully following the wire back down and to go back again. The spider-cam would be able to capture people jumping from building to building without the use of CG but actual wire work. And complicated as it was to film, Gordon Chan and his crew were ready for the challenge and were successful, despite the various attempts and mistakes before getting the final cut.
The second part about "The Four" that will be known for its its criticism by Chinese publications for the film trying to be a combination of "X-Men", "Resident Evil" and "Van Helsing", characters with supernatural ability and of course, with the Chinese flair.
And in some ways, I can see the comparisons because I thought of the film the same way. I immediately saw the comparisons to "X-Men" with Professor X preaching to his X-Men to fight for the positive cause and not cause trouble and not to be like the others (ie. The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants). The same can be said with the wise Zhuge Zhengwo (portrayed by Anthony Wong). Emotionless has similarities to Jean Grey, Iron Fist has similarities to scientist Henry Pym (The Beast) but with the strength and ability to wield iron ala Colossus. While Life Snatcher is like Warren Worthington (Angel) and his ability to woo the women but in this case, the ability to use his feet as weapons and last, Cold Blood. The person trying to be on the side of good but has a feral side (ala Wolverine) because he was raised by wolves.
Throw in an antagonist who tries to revive the dead and thus the "Resident Evil" zombie comparisons. And you have the crazy antagonist with the God of Wealth who is able to wield hot and cold and whatever unknown power that he is responsible for.
As the first film in the planned trilogy, with the film establishing its characters and their abilities but also the mysterious background of certain characters who may be good or bad, "The Four" is kept interesting because of its characters and the predicaments they are in.
While fight choreography looks amazing, some will find the comparison to other American films to be bothersome or unoriginal. But the fact is that Gordon Chan wanted to do something different from Wen Ruian's novels by focusing on the characters and giving some back story to them, but as some questions are answered throughout the film, some tend to linger and keep viewers waiting to get answers for the second film.
Plus, aside from the action and drama, there is also a romantic love triangle storyline tacked into the film as well.
As for the Blu-ray, picture quality is very good but its the lossless soundtrack that stands out with great use of ambiance for the surround channels. You literally hear the wind all around you and of course, a good number of action sequences throughout the film.
Overall, "The Four" is a film that really goes all out in showcasing the challenges to shoot with the spider-cam and with Chinese cinematic innovation, they really made certain scenes look fantastic but yet so difficult to pull off. I was impressed! While some may criticize the film for having similarities to "The X-Men" and the addition of the undead to this film, if anything, it's an enjoyable popcorn action Chinese film with enough differences that it's far from being an X-Men wannabe but becoming its own intriguing storyline about an investigative team with supernatural abilities.