Inspired by the ever popular wu xia novels of Wen Ruian, The Four is the story of a very special group - a "Divine Constabulary" in fact - each of whom have various special talents that can be put to use fighting crime or protecting the people of Feudal China. However, the Divine Constabulary is not the only police force in town and its activities have begun to ruffle the feathers of Department Six, who feel that theirs is a more legitimate authority and that the Divine Constabulary keep getting in their way. Unfortunately for them, the Divine Constabulary have the direct backing of the Prince so there’s not much Department Six can do about it. Accordingly, when counterfeit money starts turning up in the town and both departments are supposed to be investigating, Department Six send in a previously disgraced former policeman named Leng Lingqi, who they feel has the qualities to fit right in.
The Divine Constabulary consists firstly of their leader Zhuge Zhongwo (Anthony Wong), a self-professed ‘boring old man’ who claims not to have any special powers. Then there's Iron Hands (Collin Chou) whose special ability seems to be... hands of iron, and being really, really good at metalwork. Finally we have Emotionless (Chrystal Liu aka Liu Yifei) who, though wheelchair bound, has extraordinary powers of telepathy and telekineses - though she’s not too good with the whole ‘feelings’ thing. Added to this rag tag gang of misfits is Life Snatcher (Ronald Cheng), a petty thief who recently assisted them on another case and was eventually persuaded to join the gang after noticing what nice wine they seem to have - his special talent is everything related to thievery, including lock breaking and not getting caught. So that’s three - the fourth? The aforementioned Leng Lingqi who seems to transform into some kind of werewolf demon when upset. Emotionless knows there’s something not quite right about Leng Linqi, but also knows he seems to like her - something which she finds rather confusing, causing her to act in quite a hostile fashion towards him. Together they’ll have to prove their worth by unmasking the perpetrator of the counterfeiting scam, and Leng Lingqi will have to decide where his loyalties lie.
Yes, The Four is a bit X-Men goes wu xia, and true enough the special abilities of the four titular heroes don’t seem very well thought out or particularly well defined even if they often make for an interesting spectacle. The super-hero antics aren’t (to this extent, as I understand it) a part of Wen Ruian’s novels and the mix of genre styles here don’t always reconcile very well with each other - the film seems uncertain of what sort of tone it wants to strike and its cartoonish silliness doesn’t always feel intentional. It also falls into some of the same traps as many comic book movies in that it simply crams too much in. Far too many supporting characters and subplots make for a confusing mix and the narrative is muddy at best. Warring police forces, counterfeiting, ice zombies, a romance between too people who are completely unable to address their feelings and a totally nonchalant scheming villain make for quite a heady concoction which results in a good deal of dizziness.
Still, the action is (mostly) very well done and fairly entertaining despite the odd bit of clunkiness. The plot may not make a great deal of sense and there are certainly any number of totally illogical plot holes, but somehow its warm sense of humour and general silliness carry it through some fairly rough areas. Even if a lot of the film really doesn’t work, the characters are quite engaging and easy to care about - the four themselves are pretty interesting bunch and investing in them doesn’t take a lot of effort, which is just as well as two sequels are already planned. If the creative team can learn from some of the problems here, the next two installments could be a lot of fun indeed.