|(All images courtesy of Celestial Pictures.)|
MUST a movie make sense to be enjoyable? Not really, and don't believe any high-brow film critic who says different. (Once in a while, they like something a little illogical, too.) Even if there's a followable storyline, it doesn't take much from the filmmakers' side of things to unintentionally envelop the audience in a fog if they're trying to establish a particular look or style to their picture. Sometimes, the results can come back to bite them on the butt, artistically and financially; when they work out favorably, it can be a unique anomaly of cinema, if not a cult classic. That said, does the Shaw Brothers oddity Four Riders measure up with the other entertaining doses of yang gang from the formidable Chang Cheh?
Korean War. A Chinese veteran of the conflict, Feng Xia (Ti Lung), drives to Seoul for some relaxation after collecting his pension (in American currency) and liberating a jeep from an army colonel (Lo Wai) he recently decked. Along the way, he picks up a fellow soldier, Gao Yinhan (Wong Chung), who's heading in the same direction to see Li Weishi (Chen Kuan-tai), a retired First Lieutenant recuperating at a hospital from wounds received in battle.
The title Four Riders (re-titled as Strike 4 Revenge in the US) comes from a scene when Weishi reads aloud his favorite piece of Biblical scripture to his nurse; it's the only time this reference shows up in the entire film. In turn, the only things these four heroes ride are jeeps, and they're more concerned with saving their own hides than unleashing an apocalypse on the world. It's their urgency to rescue Xia, along with the need for all of them to survive long enough to stop Hawkes and have their names cleared, which propels this testosterone-drenched melodrama (with a hint of swagger) that could've only been directed by Chang Cheh.
For all the unevenness of FR, the picture doesn't lack in thrills and drama. Would FR be a better movie if Cheh had the money to make the production appear more authentic for the time period depicted? That notion can be debated, and Cheh's later historical epics like 7 Man Army, The Boxer Rebellion and The Naval Commandos are (for some) three good arguments that giving him bigger budgets didn't always yield better motion pictures.
Anyhow, I finished with trying to understand why Cheh let this film veer off course like he did a long time ago. I decided to stop making sense of FR and just enjoy it.
Brother Fang says: "Another 'sleeper' from Chang Cheh that's been nearly forgotten by people and shouldn't be! Warts and all, Cheh delivers the violence and suspense more than capably!"
Keeping it trivial....
Fang Shih-yu, Shaolin Temple.
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