AKA Hellfighters of the East, Strike 4 Revenge
Starring David Chiang, Ti Lung, Chen Kuan-Tai, Wong Chung, Lily Li Li-Li, Ching Li, Yasuaki Kurata, Tina Chin Fei, Andre Marquis, Lo Dik, Lo Wai
Directed by Chang Cheh
On one hand, Four Riders wants to be a serious film about how G.I.s deal with the end of a war and what they do with themselves in its wake. But on the other hand, Four Riders wants to deliver all kinds of thrilling, ridiculous action that goes completely against the grain of realism. I expected the over-the-top action — how could I not when the DVD box reads: “…as a kung fu master, combat instructor, explosives expert, and missile specialist must take on a venal drug smuggling gang.” Reading that prior to watching the film really played with my expectations, as I imagined all sorts of mid-’80s action extravaganzas built on similar team-based premises. But this is all a misnomer, as Four Riders has nothing to do with what these men did while they were in the army.
The film opens in the snowy countryside of Korea. The year in 1953 and the Korean War has just come to a close. Chang Cheh spends the first few minutes of the film letting us take in the Korean landscapes, showing us the mountains, the gentle streams of snow water, and eventually the luscious green foliage of spring. This natural progression leads us to a military camp, where Ti Lung is currently stationed… but not for long. As his superior officer drives up, Ti rips off his stripes, throws them in the general’s face and proceeds to start a brawl. In the chaos he steals the boss’s jeep and heads off towards the urban fun of Seoul. The war is over, so he’s indulging his spontaneous, reckless spirit and making up for lost time.
But as I mentioned this isn’t just a simple drama about four soldiers coping with returning to civilian life, it’s also an action movie. To facilitate this, our soldiers are pitted against a drug smuggling ring operated by a Japanese man (Yasuaki Kurata) and an American (Andre Marquis) out of Hello John! Their scam is pay returning G.I.s to smuggle dope home in their uniforms, but one thing leads to another and our soldiers end up clashing with the criminals.
But perhaps the most entertaining part is the multi-fight ending. While David Chiang takes on all comers at the Hello John bar, Ti Lung, Chen Kuan-Tai and Wong Chung do the same at a gymnasium. I can’t say that a barbell being swung around as a martial arts weapon is particularly realistic, but I can confirm that it is ridiculously entertaining. I also found it amusing that the gym featured a trampoline, with the fighters freely able to do their trampoline jumps with the trampoline in full view of the camera.
So while Four Riders might not hit the artistic strides that it felt like Chang Cheh was reaching for, it is an effective and entertaining film. It’s exceptionally well-shot and the Korean locations add an exotic fare that make it much different than your average Hong Kong movie. If you’re a fan of Chang Cheh, this is definitely a unique, under-the-radar film worth checking out.
Next up in this chronological jaunt through the Shaw Brothers Martial Arts catalog is Chang Il-Ho’s The Thunderbolt Fist! See ya then!