Did you ever wonder what the X-Men would look like if they all knew kung fu? No? Me neither, but I think I found out something that very much resembles that fantasy. I’m talking about Gordon Chan’s The Four and it’s two sequels. Gordon Chan isn’t a film maker who just decided to dabble in the martial arts genre having already made the classic Fist of Legend starring Jet Li and its sequel Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen starring Donnie Yen. The Four Trilogy may not have the same power as these two films, but they are surprisingly fun and never actually bored me, even though the storytelling can get a little hard to follow.
During the reign of Emperor Huizong in China during the early 1100s, crime was kept under control by Department Six, but there was yet another much more powerful watchful eye being kept over the criminal underworld. The Divine Constabulary, made up of Emotionless (Liu Yifei), Iron Hands (Collin Chou), Life Stealer (Ronald Cheng), and newcomer Cold Blood (Deng Chao), was a department of four super powerful detectives led by Zhuge Zhengwo (Anthony Wong). Trouble soon begins to brew for the Four when counterfeit coins begin circulating throughout the banks and merchants, but that soon becomes the least of their problems. The people behind the counterfeit currency, Lord An (Yu Chengui) and his son An Shigeng (Wu Xiubo) are actually after the emperor’s throne, with only the Divine Constabulary powerful enough to stop them.
That’s the basic plot for all three of the movies. The Four deals mostly with An Shigeng and the counterfeit currency while The Four II and The Four III deal with Lord An attempting to usurp the throne. I still can’t shake the feeling that I missed some stuff in these movies though. The way the story is actually plotted and executed isn’t all that good. There’s so many different characters that just start backstabbing each other and the movies all move at such a fast speed, it’s hard to keep track of everyone. One character in particular seems to have a different motive in every scene, which makes it literally impossible to make up your mind about her. Still, one of the better parts of the movies are all of the characters.
I’m actually seriously surprised that all of the characters in this movie were totally three dimensional and had their own personalities. Maybe I shouldn’t have done this, but I went into these movies expecting mediocre martial arts with a huge cast of characters that I wouldn’t care about. I was wrong on both accounts. Let’s take Life Snatcher and Iron Hands, two characters that very often share scenes. They work great together because Life Snatcher is a thief and provides great comedic relief while Iron Hands is a man of discipline. It’s an odd couple situation that I wasn’t expecting to work so well. Since the characters are all likable and well fleshed out, when something happened to them I actually cared. They’re actually some of the best characters in martial arts movies.
Finally, lets talk about the actual kung fu. Simply put, it’s awesome. It isn’t Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero, or House of Flying Daggers but it is really cool. One of the big things that makes The Four movies stand out is the super powerful characters. The powers are really just them channeling energy in themselves making them super strong or able to control things, but it’s still really fun. Whenever they throw their kicks or punches, splashes of color follow their limbs making it clear that they have the upper hand. Every contact is also heard quite clearly making it almost possible to feel their attacks. Really cool stuff and extremely entertaining.
The Four and its sequels provided me with a lot more than I was originally expecting. After just watching The Sorcerer and the White Snake, I was very hesitant to drive right back into martial arts, but I’m pleasantly surprised. These movies aren’t destined to be classics, but Gordon Chan has made three really fun movies that are great time wasters on a lazy afternoon. If you like kung fu, fantasy, and comic book super powers you should track down and find The Four Trilogy.