Tuesday, 19 August 2014

The Four 3 (四大名捕 3) (2014)

Hong Kong’s Gordon Chan concludes his Chinese X-Men franchise with sound, fury, and a flurry of carebear stares!

A group of Chinese mutants kungfu experts from a detective agency investigate an attempted assassination on the Emperor of China. On the bright side, they’re certain (with absolutely no clues whatsoever!) that the emperor is still alive. On the other hand, they haven’t a clue where he could be found. Somewhere, a big bad supervillain who has been brewing up the most baroque plots lately—Counterfeiting in a gold economy AND zombies will cause the collapse of the empire! Help the Okinawans send in the Kraken and destroy the empire!—decides to seize the throne directly this time round. Why the scheming supervillain took so long to achieve his plans through direct, simple, and violent means this time round, I don’t know.

While Wong Swee Onn, the original author of the pulp novels, envisioned The Four as the imperial Chinese equivalent of the Special Crimes Unit staffed by top kungfu experts, he never quite expected Gordon Chan to portray the pugilists, the mysteries they solve, and their antagonists as straight out of a Marvel superhero soap opera—complete with the shadowy supervillain enacting his nefarious scheme over the entire trilogy, a move likely taken from Marvel Studios playbook.

The premise and gimmick do work, though not in simpatico throughout the series. The first movie had the team of superhero detectives employing their superpowers to solve the mystery. And even though the mystery itself was completely tangential to the franchise story, the post-credits scene proved Chan knew his Marvel Studios filmmaking. The second film had a character-based story, a mystery that served to develop the franchise mythology, but forgot to allow the superhero detectives to solve the mystery with their powers. The Four 3 is unique in how the central mystery is directly tied to the series arc, again forgets to let the protagonists use their very useful powers to solve the mystery, and while having the biggest action setpieces, chooses to end it all with a lazy but expensive CGI Care Bear Stare showdown.

Was Gordon Chan’s Chinese X-Men concept worth watching the entire trilogy? I appreciated the newness and boldness of the concept in The Four, and got more and more disappointed at how the superpowered detectives turned out to be more bruisers than private eyes in each subsequent film. The saving grace of the franchise would be the old school wuxia supervillain and his James-Bond-meets-upper-class-twit villain of a son. Gordon Chan didn’t seem to have thought through their development as series villains at all, and what happens to both of them is an indication of the weakness in the scripting department.

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