Wuxia movie fans, you're in for a treat. If elegant swordplay and massive choreographed duets are what is in your mind, perhaps you might be surprised as The Four turns in a scorecard of interesting elements to revitalise the otherwise deemed "old-school" genre play.
Co-directed by Gordon Chan and Janet Chun, the first of a recently-announced planned trilogy exudes distinct personality with a fusion of wuxia action, detective crime mystery, and a supernatural setting within ancient dynasty-era China. Thanks to its central league of extraordinary personnel forming a covert bureau under the direct orders of the Emperor himself, the film indeed deviates away from the traditional genre practice with good intensions. It feels very much like X-Men meets wuxia.
Arguably, this may not go down well with orthodox wuxia fans.
Based upon the original novel by Wen Rui-an, fans have been commenting on how the filmmakers have led their production astray from its source material. The supernatural element has been introduced in hope of creating something new for the audience. For one, Chan and Chun have captured the fascination and interest of this film opinion.
Chan is not strange to such genre productions, with his Painted Skin that drew positive response from both the audience and critics alike and last year's Mural, both a fantasy action drama set in ancient China. Not only do they present themselves with contemporary art direction, but also feature Chan's signature female bath scenes. Chan has reportedly shared that a woman is likely to reveal her secrets in her bath in his opinion (some food for thought there).
Yes, The Four also includes a couple of the said titillating bath scenes for those who need to know.
With a range of intriguing characters, it is anti-climactic to learn that the most impressionable characters are those easiest imaginable - veterans. Hong Kong veteran actor Anthony Wong dictates with composed screen charisma together with the jokey villain of sorcery played by Chinese veteran Wu Xiubo. There is also a notable pitting of acting chops between Crystal Liu as the wheelchair-bound Emotionless wielding telekinetic abilities (think Professor X) and Jiang Yiyan as one of the female constables. Both excel in their own means and seem to be promising actresses of their generation (both in their twenties).
Visuals are beaming with not just the adequate CG effects, but also the imaginative photography by Lai Yiu-Fai (Infernal Affairs, 2046). The first third of the film often features apt slanted shots that help to set the tone and feel of the film, but pleasantly not abused to the extent of Transformers: Dark of the Moon
(2011) and Thor
(2011). Production design and art direction is also commendable with the various designs on a mechanical wheelchair and zombie warriors, though not quite on par with its closest genre production in similarity - Tsui Hark's Detective Dee
and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame
Of course, the film is not without its observed flaws. The main story might have been compromised by the film's need to express itself visually over narratively. For those who are new to Wen's novel, the premise may actually be overwhelming for consumption. In a way, the plot moves along briskly with little moments of drag less the (minor) romantic plot scenarios that require it.The Four
whets appetite proficiently and should induce most to look forward to its upcoming second and third instalment of the trilogy.