The Four II
Hong Kong/China, 2013, colour, 2.35:1, 3-D, 117 mins.
Directors: Chen Jiashang 陈嘉上 [Gordon Chan], Qin Xiaozhen 秦小珍 [Janet Chun].
Second leg of the costume martial-arts mystery is a marginal improvement on the first.
Ancient China. Zhuge Zhengwo (Huang Qiusheng), head of the secret investigative group Divine Constabulary, asks Liu (Cheng Taishen), a lord who heads state security organisation Department Six, for permission to investigate the case of Ouyang Da (Gao Tian), a member of the murderous Gang of Twelve who was thought to be long dead but recently reappeared. Liu allows the Divine Constabulary – which comprises former Department Six constable Leng Lingqi (Deng Chao), crippled mind-reader Sheng Yayu (Liu Yifei), martial artist Tie Youxia (Zou Zhaolong) and former debt collector Cui Lveshang (Zheng Zhongji) – to go ahead but instructs his own people to keep an eye on them. The case of Ouyang Da, whose real name was Gao Fu, seems linked to a series of massacres that the Gang of Twelve committed 12 years ago. One of these was the killing of Sheng Yuya’s family; she survived only thanks to Zhuge Zhengwo solving the case and then adopting her. Liu suspects that Zhuge Zhengwo knows more about Ouyang Da than he is letting on, and sends Department Six’s chief female constable, Ji Yaohua (Jiang Yiyan), to tell him so. Zhuge Zhengwo made his name at the time by claiming he’d killed all of the Gang of Twelve, but he never published a list of the names, thereby leaving doubt that he hadn’t in fact killed them all and Ouyang Da had survived. When Leng Lingqi asks Zhuge Zhengwo to tell him the truth, Zhuge Zhengwo says he can’t tell him why Ouyang Da survived; he asks Leng Lingqi to give him two days to solve the mystery on his own. Meanwhile, Sheng Yayu is kidnapped by the shape-shifting Ruyan (Ada Yan), a onetime female friend, and taken to meet An Yunshan (Yu Chenghui), who is still seething for revenge against Zhuge Zhengwo for exposing the traitorous plot of his son, An Shigeng (Wu Xiubo), a lord who now barely survives in an underground chamber as a “tree man”. An Yunshan tells Sheng Yayu that she will take over Department Six one day. Suspicion between the members of the Divine Constabulary starts running high, especially after Zhuge Zhengwo kills Liu for no apparent reason and it seems that Zhuge Zhengwo himself was responsible for the massacre of Sheng Yayu’s family. Zhuge Zhengwo and Sheng Yayu end up arrested by Ji Yaohua and incarcerated in the underground Iron-Blood Prison.
Though it’s marginally better packaged than The Four 四大名捕 (with the addition of okay 3-D), this second leg of a planned trilogy makes few allowances for viewers who haven’t seen the first film or read the original series of novels by Malaysian-born Wen Rui’an 温瑞安 [Woon Swee Oan]. Picking up the characters soon after the end of the first movie, The Four II 四大名捕II immediately careens into a complicated story of mutual suspicion between the Emperor’s Gestapo-like Department Six and the autonomous Divine Constabulary (a group of misfits with super-powers), plus a 12-year-old case that involved the family massacre of crippled Sheng Yayu, a member of the Divine Constabulary. If that’s not enough, the father of the villain of The Four (who is actually still alive, as a half-man, half-tree) is out for revenge on the head of the Divine Constabulary.
The visual effects are better this time round without being at all top-class; but the action still has an old-fashioned, Hong Kong 1980s feel, with wire-work that’s again hardly smooth. One advantage is the often leisurely pace, which gives more time for dialogue and the cast to do some acting. But the film’s curious construction – in 10-minute blocks, separated by fade-outs as if to leave room for commercials – gives the film a bumpy feel. Hong Kong veteran Chen Jiashang 陈嘉上 [Gordon Chan] and journeywoman Qin Xiaozhen 秦小珍 [Janet Chun] still direct as if the costume martial-arts genre has hardly changed in the past 30 years.
On the male side, Mainland actor Deng Chao 邓超 forges a much stronger screen presence than in the first film, matched on the female side by fellow Mainlander Jiang Yiyan 江一燕, looking super-cool in her purple uniform as a female constable. Among their compatriots, Liu Yifei 刘亦菲 doesn’t have much of a role until the latter stages, when the action conveniently gets her out of her wheelchair, and sexpot Liu Yan 柳岩 adds some welcome physicality as a shape-shifting villainness. Among the non-Mainland cast, Hong Kong’s Huang Qiusheng 黄秋生 [Anthony Wong] punches the clock this time as the head of the titular Divine Constabulary who may or may not be up to his ears in betrayal.
Music by Hong Kong’s Jin Peida 金培达 [Peter Kam] is a vast improvement on the score by Li Yunwen 黎允文 [Henry Lai] for the first film, and the interior sets by Hong Kong’s Lei Chuxiong 雷楚雄, who replaces He Jianxiong 何剑雄 [Cyrus Ho], are also much more striking, especially the vast underground caverns of Iron-Blood Prison where the later action is set. The movie ends with a development that sets the scene for the final part of the trilogy.
Presented by Beijing Enlight Pictures (CN). Produced by Top Gun Creative (HK).
Script: Chen Jiashang [Gordon Chan], Chen Shuxian [Susan Chan], Wang Simin, Tan Guangyuan, Lv Guannan. Novel: Wen Rui’an [Woon Swee Oan]. Photography: Li Yaohui [Lai Yiu-fai]. Editing: Chen Qihe [Chan Ki-hop]. Music: Jin Peida [Peter Kam]. Production design: Lei Chuxiong. Styling: Yu Jia’an [Bruce Yu]. Costume design: Guo Shumin [Petra Kwok], Zhao Ruizhen. Action: Gu Xuanzhao. Visual effects: Feng Bing. 3-D direction: Chloe Dai.
Cast: Deng Chao (Leng Lingqi/Leng Xue/Coldblood), Liu Yifei [Crystal Liu] (Sheng Yayu/Wu Qing/Emotionless), Zou Zhaolong [Collin Chou] (Tie Youxia/Tie Shou/Iron Hands), Zheng Zhongji [Ronald Cheng] (Cui Lveshang/Zhui Ming/Life Snatcher), Huang Qiusheng [Anthony Wong] (Zhuge Zhengwo), Jiang Yiyan (Ji Yaohua, Department Six’s chief female constable), Cheng Taishen (Liu/Sheriff King, lord, head of Department Six), Liu Yan (Ruyan), Wu Xiubo (An Shigeng/The God of Wealth, lord), Deng Cuiwen (Jiao Niang/Aunt Poise, Drunken Moon Inn owner), Yu Chenghui (An Yunshan, An Shigeng’s father), Bao Bei’er (Dalang/Big Wolf), Xiang Tianran (Ling’er/Bell), Wu Yingjie (Dingdang/Dingdong), Liu Junwei (Jiang Lei, male constable), Li Zixiong [Waise Lee] (prince), Zhang Zhaohui [Eddie Cheung] (Sheng Dingtian, Sheng Yayu’s father), Zhou Haimei [Kathy Chow] (Zhen Xiuyi, Sheng Yayu’s mother), Lu Huiguang [Ken Lo] (Ximen Gongzi/West Gate, Gang of Twelve member), Cao Bingkun (Cai Xiang, prime minister), Miao Chi (Da Yong/Guts), Zhang Yuwen (young Sheng Yuya), Gao Tian (Ouyang Da/Gao Fu, Gang of Twelve member), Liu Ziwei (Gao Tianzhao, male constable), Jiang Yifan (Li Wei, male constable), Liu Fengchao (Guo Tao, male constable), Li Shanyu (Xinying/Firefly, female constable), Li Xinye (Chunchan/Cicada, female constable), Li Wanzhen (Fengming/Wasp, female constable), Qiu Ye (Caiting/Dragonfly, female constable).
Release: Hong Kong, 6 Dec 2013; China, 6 Dec 2013.
(Review originally published on Film Business Asia, 25 Mar 2013.)