四大名 (The Four)
Chao Deng, Yifei Liu, Ronald Cheng
Colour 118 mins
A film loosely based on a 1970s wuxia series by Wen Ruian. The film adds fantasy elements into the original stories, and is in the same area as Tsui Hark's "Detective Dee" film. Also similar to another Tsui Hark film ("Flying Swords of Dragon Gate") are the effective tracking shots which show how technically able Chinese film-making is.
The plot of the film is about conspiracies in Imperial China, rivalries between different security services, mixed with necromancy and nastiness. A rich stew of ideas but well stirred and presented. "The Four" has a decent villain with some good lines. I like a decent villain.
The strengths of the film lie in the world it depicts as much as the story and characters. The mechanical contrivances that Merciless has in the Divine Constabulary, the recreation of bygone Chinese streets and inns and waterways, the tableau of the various confrontations of the characters. You could say there are Matrix style moments such as when Merciless stops a load of darts in midair. Or even a steampunk influence on the steam driven machines. But this is a film to sit back and enjoy, not to over analyse.
The English translation I saw was slightly wonky. So Merciless gets rendered as Emotionless which isn't as effective as a name. But I'm used to the English sub-titles being unintentionally interesting in Far East movies. There are apparently sequels in the works and I'm looking forward to them.