Wednesday, 8 January 2014

The Four 2 (四大名捕 2) (2013)

Hong Kong’s Gordan Chan wants to redo the X-Men as a wuxia franchise

A group of Chinese mutants kungfu experts from a detective agency investigate a series of murders that appear to point towards someone in their group. Somewhere, a big bad supervillain plots their collective demise as payback for blowing up his supervillain son in the previous instalment (but don’t worry, Junior’s sort of indestructible), and the collapse of the Chinese empire for dessert.

The gimmick of both The Four and The Four 2 is taken directly from Wong Swee Onn’s wuxia novel, i.e. the imperial Chinese equivalent of the Special Crimes Unit is staffed solely by top kungfu experts. The twist provided by Gordon Chan is to portray the kungfu experts, the mysteries they solve, and their antagonists as straight out of a Marvel superhero comic book. There’s even an attempt to mimic the Marvel Studios “phase 2” gimmick with the supervillain team enacting their nefarious scheme over the course of several instalments.

Now as far out as this cross-genre premise sounds, it could work. After all, Kungfu Panda is basically a Shaw Brothers kungfu flick done as an animated slacker comedy. What Gordon Chan didn’t count on was that the film would be written and directed by Gordon Chan. While having over 20 years as a writer and director, The Four was plagued by pacing issues, gaping plot holes, and an incoherent script (I dare you to name me “The Four”). The Four 2 has better pacing since Chan apparently discovered the secret of scripting an action film to setpieces, and introducing a mystery that has existential ramifications for the superhero team.

Yet Gordon Chan forgets one important thing he did right in the first film: if your movie franchise is based on a team of mutant detectives, you’d better make them use their superpowers outside the obligatory fight scenes (otherwise it’s just a plan old wuxia), and you’d better show them solving the mystery with their superpowers. While pacing problems, setpiece-propelled narratives, and clunky writing can be forgiven, this particular flaw sticks out the most and diminishes what should have been an unquestionably superior sequel.

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