The Divine Constabulary are back in the awkwardly titled “The Four 2”, with director Gordon Chan serving up more fantasy martial arts and mystery in the second part of a planned trilogy based on the novels by Wen Ruian. Like its predecessor, the film is a big budget blockbuster, shot in 3D and featuring an avalanche of special effects and computer enhanced action, continuing the story of Emotionless (Crystal Liu Yifei, “The Assassins”), Iron Hands (Collin Chou, “Special ID”), Life Snatcher (Ronald Cheng, “Vulgaria”) and Cold Blood (Deng Chao, “American Dreams in China”) as they come up against new and old foes and confront their own troubled pasts.
Led by Master Zhuge (the legendary Anthony Wong), the Divine Constabulary are called in to investigate a series of murders and massacres, with links to the slaughter of Emotionless’ own family some 15 years back. Butting heads again with Department Six, they find their bonds and trust in each other tested as deceptions and past secrets are revealed, with double agent Cold Hands caught up in a love triangle of sorts with Emotionless and ruthless rival Ji Yaohua (Jiang Yiyan, “The Conspirators”). Meanwhile, the defeated villain from the first film, An Shigeng (Wu Xiubo, “Finding Mr. Right”), lives on, now connected to a tree(!), and his father puts in motion a plan to turn the constables against each other and frame them for dreadful crimes.
Though “The Four 2” starts off with a helpful summary of earlier events, it’s definitely a good idea to have seen the first film (recently if possible), as it’s very much the middle segment of a trilogy, featuring continuing character arcs, subplots and schemes. Without knowing how much of Wen Ruian’s writing has been successfully transplanted to the screen, there’s certainly a lot going on here, and the script packs in a relatively complicated, if at times confusing string of murders, character reversals and past secrets. To his credit, Gordon Chan is clearly attempting to anchor the narrative and action with strong characters, and this generally works well, at least on an entertainingly soap opera style level, the four constables and their various relationships, loves and hates making for fun viewing.
This time around, the film for the most part focuses on Crystal Liu Yifei’s Emotionless and Deng Chao’s Cold Blood, both of who are fine – the other members of the group are largely relegated to supporting players, which is a bit of a shame, Anthony Wong and Ronald Cheng in particular not having much to do. This aside, though it’s never exactly emotional, the film does engage, in an old fashioned martial arts fantasy nonsense kind of way, and the inevitable cliff-hanger ending sets up the final part of the trilogy in decent fashion.
The film is first and foremost a big, blustering special effects heavy blockbuster, and so unsurprisingly the characters do frequently take a back seat to the action, of which there’s a great deal. Chan constructs much of the story around the set pieces, though thankfully these for the most part are pretty spectacular and well-choreographed, with some solid use of computer effects – much of the screen appears to have been shot green screen, though since there’s no pretense of realism or grittiness this is never really a problem. While there are a few bizarrely shoddy moments peppered throughout, the production values are excellent, and the film is very much on a level with Hollywood in this regard, succeeding as a piece of popcorn event cinema.
In this, “The Four 2” is very much indicative of the direction being taken by commercial mainstream Chinese film, basing itself on the western production style and drawing on local source material and audience demands. The results are above average for this sort of thing, and though by no means an essential trilogy or one likely to be much remembered, Gordon Chan’s franchise continues to prove entertaining in its own overblown way.
Gordon Chan (director) / Gordon Chan (screenplay), Wen Rui-An (based on books by)
CAST: Chao Deng … Leng Lingqi (Coldblood)
Yifei Liu … Shong Yayu (Emotionless)
Anthony Wong Chau-Sang … Zhuge Zhenwo
Collin Chou … Tie Yourda (Iron Hands)
Ronald Cheng … Cui Lueshang (Life Snatcher)