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FOUR RIDERS Chinese soldiers adrift in Seoul after the Korean War
FOUR RIDERS (1972) is an odd Shaw Bros. kung fu film set in Seoul in July 1953, just after the end of the Korean War. Director Chang Cheh teams up David Chiang, Ti Lung, and Chen Kuan Tai--who would appear together as the three "Blood Brothers" in Chang's 1973 film of that name--with Wang Chung (POLICE FORCE) to make up a quartet of Chinese soldiers who were fighting on the South Korean side and are now at loose ends in Seoul. When one (Ti) is framed by a drug gang for the murder of an American G.I., all four hide out from both Korean MPs and the drug gang, which is led by an English-speaking westerner named Boss Hawkes (played by Andre Marquis) and his second-in-command played by Japanese actor Yasuaki Kurata, who appeared in many Shaw Bros. and other Hong Kong films.
The slim plot doesn't generate much in the way of suspense, excitement or logic for the first 85 minutes, but it almost makes up for it in the last 20 minutes with a nonstop barrage of kung fu battles (expertly staged by Tang Chia and Liu Chia Liang) as three of the four (Ti, Chen, and Wang) take on Kurata and his thugs in a set of pitched battles, first out on the street and then in a spacious gym, where all the gym equipment is put to use in the fighting. Meanwhile, at the bar where all the trouble started, David Chiang singlehandedly takes on Boss Hawkes and his men and then joins his buddies at the gym. Kurata and his moll, played by Tina Chin Fei, are armed with a rifle, complete with ineffectual silencer, and the action eventually includes a fair amount of gunplay that looks ever so slightly forward to the Hong Kong action films (1986-92) of John Woo, who claimed Chang Cheh as his mentor.
Korean, Mandarin and English are all spoken in the film. It's never explained how these four Chinese soldiers wound up in Korea or how they know Korean. There don't appear to be any Korean actors in any of the major roles and it's not clear how many of these roles are meant to be Korean. The three major female roles are played by Lily Li, as a bar maid with a yen for David; Ching Li, as a nurse who cares for Chen in the early scenes; and Tina Chin Fei as the bad girl and the one with the best part. None of the women are well served by the plot, however.
The actors went to Korea and filmed a lot of the street action there. The rest was shot at the Shaw Bros. studio in Hong Kong. There is absolutely no concession to the historical time period. The cars you see on the streets in Seoul are exactly what you would have seen in 1972, when it was filmed. The fashions on the gang members and their girls are exactly what they would have worn in 1972. (Check out Tina's red hot pants.) The white guys recruited to play American soldiers all have long hair, which never would have been the case in 1953. It all gets a little ridiculous after a while.
Chen Kuan Tai reads from a Chinese-language bible in a hospital scene early on and makes a reference to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Although the blurb on the Celestial DVD case makes a big deal out of this, its relevance to the rest of the film remains a mystery.
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