It seems like every other week there’s a new video release from Well Go USA, whether it’s on Blu-ray (Muay Thai Warrior) or in theaters (Tai Chi Hero). At least, for the most part, they aim for quality and don’t simply settle for whatever they get the rights to (à la the now defunct Dragon Dynasty). This time they’re unleashing an adaptation of Wen Ruian’s novel series Si Da Ming Bu (The Four Great Constables), retitled to simply The Four. It has also been previously adapted into several Hong Kong TV series. But with Gordon Chan (Jet Li’s Fist of Legend) and co-director Janet Chun calling the shots, armed with some new technological tricks up their sleeves, The Four finally comes into its own before the credits roll.
The Four refers to members of the Divine Constabulary, led by Zhuge Zhenwo (Anthony Wong). We meet the other members while investigating the circulation of counterfeit coins leading them to a fight against Department Six, led by the Sheriff King, Commandant Liu (Cheng Taishen). After a brawl breaks out between the two, their suspect “Life Snatcher” (Ronald Cheng), is brought in by Zhuge while “Cold Blood” (Deng Chao) is fired from Department Six. Cold Blood winds up being taken in by Zhuge as well where he officially meets the members of the Divine Constabulary — “Heartless” (Liu Yifei), “Iron Fist” (Collin Chou), “Big Wolf” (Bei-Er Bao), Guts (Miao Chao), and Ding Dong (Ying Jie Wu). There’s also romantic subplots sprinkled along the way, but the antagonist winds up being An Shigeng (Xiubo Wu), who we find out is raising an army of the dead to destroy both Department Six and the Divine Constabulary.
The Four plays out more confusing than it should, but these films always wind up convoluted. And if you think having a group of super powered Kung Fu masters running around looking for counterfeit coins seems a little weak, just remember it’s all set up for the big showdown — even if it takes 90 minutes to get there. The final battle is quite the royale, where co-writer/director Chan gets to display some fun stunts with a cast who are clearly having a ball. One of the special features is a “Making Of” that’s 24 minutes long and Chan mentions that series creator Ruian is not a fan of any of his own work. The only other special features are a four minute collection of Deleted Scenes, the film’s trailer, and skippable trailers for additional Well Go USA titles: Tai Chi Zero, The Assassins, and Dangerous Liaisons.
Well Go USA kicks and spins The Four to Blu-ray on a 25GB disc framed at 2.20:1 in a 1080p AVC-encode. While it may not look quite as good as Tai Chi Zero, it definitely beats Muy Thai Warrior to a pulp. There’s no doubt each title depends on its source — it should come as no surprise that Chan clearly had plenty of money to spend on his wire-fighting; even though his much talked about spidercam shots were put to better use than the actual visual effects. A few soft shots crop up here and there (probably to help the CGI) but overall things look nice and crisp. There are a few blink and you’ll miss them instances of noise, but with a lot of the film taking place at night, thankfully there’s no crush to speak of. The audio comes in a Mandarin 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio with English subtitles which far surpasses the video. Each punch and kick gets the appropriate LFE usage while the surrounds make the most of things adding the appropriate ambiance whether it’s a quiet scene of dialogue or a high flying action sequence with the action never overbearing the dialogue.
I seem to find myself in the minority who enjoyed The Four, but now that Chan has what could be considered an elongated pilot out of the way, a lot more fun can be had with future films now that The Four can go up against some real villains.
Cover art courtesy Well Go USA