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The titular four on their promotion ceremony. Left to right, Ho Sum, Liu Kit, Luk Kong, Yiu Hong.
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The Powerful Four is a 1992 Hong Kong drama and crime thriller set in the 1960s, dealing with the rise of four police lieutenants who forms a bond while facing a common enemy. While loosely based on real events surrounding the 1970's indictment of Hong Kong police superintendent Peter Godber, which leads to the eventual formation of the Independent Commission Against Crime (ICAC, similar to an "internal affairs" department in a US police department), the film details the further backstories involving the British and Chinese relations within the police force, for both legal and illegal activities, which first comes to a head in area of corruption.

Danny Lee (best known for his role in The Killer as the super-cop Lee), Hong Kong's go-to actor for portraying police officers, plays Inspector Luk Kong, who is recently promoted while dealing with the rising triad activity in Hong Kong. When his long-time friend Liu Kit (Simon Yam, Bullet in the Head), which Luk assumed he would never meet again, ends up in the same department as him, their investigations attracts the attention of officers Yiu Hung (Waise Lee, Bullet in the Head) and Ho Sum (Kent Cheng, Once Upon a Time in China), at which point the quartet forms an unlikely brotherhood to take down the growing triad activity in Hong Kong.

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This film provides examples of:

  • The '60s: Majority of the film is set in the early 60s, during the time when the British authorities are implementing a new legislation over Hong Kong.
  • Actor Allusion: Yim Ping is played by Yolinda Lam, who previously in fellow Heroic Bloodshed movie Bullet in the Head played another nightclub singer who’s sold to the club’s owners at a young age, groomed to be a singer to serve the club for the past 20 years of her live, and secretly longs for her freedom. Although unlike the former movie where she dies before the first act is even concluded, here she survives the whole film.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Yim Ping lose an arm from the wrist after being assaulted by thugs sent by Sam Keung, and spends the last twenty minutes of the movie recovering in a hospital. Although the film states that she did eventually get her arm re-attached by the end.
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  • Badass Crew: The titular quartet, the four police Inspectors - Luk Kong, Liu Kit, Yiu Hung and Ho Sum. Especially the climatic shootout, where they take on Sam’s entire legion of mooks and taking names with ease.
  • Badass in a Nice Suit: The Powerful Four after their promotion. See the screenshot above.
  • Bash Brothers: The Powerful Four, of course, although they don’t start off as sworn brothers, only growing close after being on the same police unit for several years.
  • Blatant Lies: The two Mamasan nightclub owners who owns Yim Ping claims that Ping is "like a family to them"… despite clearly being rude, abusive, and condescending towards her, verbally and physically abusing Ping multiple times and keeping her locked in the club’s hostels against her will.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Inspector Ho Sum, frequently called "Fatty B" by the other characters, which he doesn’t mind the least. He’s played by the tubby Kent Cheng.
  • Bulletproof Vest: It turns out that besides reserving a machine gun for himself, Ho Sum also kept a bulletproof vest under his shirt, which help him survive being shot by a mook’s dual guns.
  • Captive Push: in the final moments of the film, with Sam arrested and handcuffed to Luk to be brought back to the rest of the team and the entire police force, Luk is shown shoving Sam ahead of him the whole way.
  • Casual Danger Dialog: In the middle of a heated shootout, Yiu Hung saw Ho Sum getting shot. After shooting the mook, both men managed to have a rather lengthy conversation despite there being additional mooks around them.
    Yiu Hung: (shoots a mook who shot Ho Sum) "Fatty! Hang on, I’m coming! You alright?"
    Ho Sum: "… don’t worry, I’m fine! (pulls open his shirt to reveal his vest) Man, I got a great bargain for this vest, at half price too!"
    Yiu Hung: "Wait, you have a vest? And a machine gun? You bastard, why did you keep all the best stuff to yourself?"
    Ho Sum: "Well, I could’ve gotten you a vest, but I don’t know your size…"
    Yiu Hung: "Just get a random one will do!"…
  • The Chanteuse: Yim Ping, a nightclub singer who’s sold to the club owners as a child and raised to serve the club. Inspector Luk eventually buys her freedom, and she later has a better life as a pop singer.
  • Cuffs Off, Rub Wrists: The suspect arrested by Luk, but ultimately released due to lack of evidence, does this after his cuffs are off, rubbing his wrists while taunting Luk for the wasted arrest.
  • Dead Man Writing: Played with. Cheng Hong, the informant working with Sam Keung, ends up getting betrayed and brutally killed, and Sam immediately orders his men to use Cheng’s blood to write down Luk’s name, making it look like Cheng spent the final moments of his life scribbling his true killer’s identity in an attempt to frame Luk for murder. Luckily, Luk’s Superintendent insists that Luk is innocent and manage to give Luk and his team one more chance to uncover the truth.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Inspector Luk’s nickname? "Headless Prawn". It’s a Cantonese slang word for calling a person a ditz, even though Luk isn’t one.
  • Guns Akimbo: Taken Up to Eleven in the final shootout; the titular four attacks Sam Keung’s hideout with double pistols (except Ho Sum, who keeps a machine gun for himself) in the middle of his dealings with the triad higher ups, but it turns out 70% of his mooks are also armed with dual pistols. In the middle of the final shootout, six of Sam Keung’s mooks are seen rushing out of his cabin to intercept the four, and ALL of them are holding a pistol on each hand. So if there’s ever a movie where audiences wants to see twelve pistols being wielded and fired at the same time, this is that movie.
  • Handy Cuffs: In the final confrontation scene, Sam does this while Luk is transferring his handcuffs over to lock Sam’s wrists together, by using a brief moment of distraction to choke the nearby Chief Inspector with his cuffs and demand for an escape vehicle.
  • I Can Rule Alone: Sam Cheung’s reasoning for betraying and killing Cheng Hong, and later on ordering his men to kill off the four triad lieutenants he’s supposedly partners with, right in the middle of finalizing their business deal.
  • The Dog Bites Back: The Big Bad Sam’s eventual demise involves him escaping into his getaway vehicle, which still contains the triad officer he stabbed and betrayed earlier in the backseat. But the triad turns out to be Not Quite Dead and absolutely pissed off at Sam’s double-cross, where he then responds by suddenly attacking Sam from the back seat, stabbing Sam multiple times before getting hold of a discarded pistol and shooting Sam In the Back causing the vehicle to crash, resulting in a successful Taking You with Me moment.
  • It Works Better with Bullets: Inverted during a police re-enactment of an earlier robbery scene, with police officers acting out as robbers using guns filled with red paintballs while Inspector Luk plays the arresting officer. One of the cops playing a robber fires at Luk, but it turns out that gun contains real bullets, which misses Luk’s head by a few inches.
  • Janitor Impersonation Infiltration: Postman Impersonation Infiltration, during the scene where the four inspectors infiltrate a suspect’s apartment while posing as postal workers.
  • The Jimmy Hart Version: During the night arrest scene, a few musical notes from Ennio Morricone’s score from The Untouchables can be heard. Considering the titular Powerful Four is close to an Expy to Elliot Ness and his crew, its very likely an intentional homage.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: The Police Senior Inspector who spends most of the movie butting heads with the Powerful Four and behaving like an Obstructive Bureaucrat was eventually outed as a Dirty Cop working for Sam and the mob. While his demotion is sure to happen, he gets punched, kicked, and having the snot whacked out of him by the Four for good measure.
  • Leap and Fire: Happens all the time in the final shootout, mostly by the titular four. Except Ho Sum, though, he’s too portly to do that.
  • Machete Mayhem: Yim Hung, while being escorted by Liu Kit, gets attacked by a trio of machete-wielding thugs sent by Sam, who wanted the Powerful Four dead for interfering with his business. The timely arrival of Luk managed to save them both, although Liu Kit ends up badly hacked up while Yim Hung lose an arm from the wrist.
  • Meaningful Funeral: The movie begins with Inspector Luk’s funeral, being attended by Liu Kit, Yiu Hung and Ho Sum, before flashing back to their past.
  • Mêlée à Trois: The final gunfight is kicked off when Sam Keung, deciding his triad colleagues means nothing to him, orders his mooks to gun down all the triad higher-ups. After the seniors have died, the triad’s bodyguards barges in, causing both sides to fire at each other in a frenzy… just as the Powerful Four decides to barge in and take out every criminal in the scene.
  • Money to Burn: During the nightclub scene, the Caucasian mobster Liu Kit is having a conversation with boasts about his power, while sticking a cigarette between his lips and tries looking for a lighter. Liu Kit responds by taking out a burning 100-dollar note - his own money - and offering it to the mobster.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Inverted, everyone knows Inspector Luk’s full name, but they insist on calling him "Headless Prawn".
  • Police Brutality: And how! From physically beating a suspect, forcing said suspect to sit on a block of ice for an hour while clad in boxers, firecrackers between the toes being set off… to be fair, said suspect did try to attack Inspector Yiu Hung using a machete.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Inspector Luk Kong’s Superintendent and immediate superior, who is clearly frustrated by Luk’s vigilante actions and frequent disobeying of his orders, but knowing that Luk is fighting the illegal gunrunning activities in Hong Kong that the police are unable to take actions about due to lack of evidence and fear of retaliation, the Superintendent instead tries covering for the consequences of Luk’s actions and secretly aids the Powerful Four.
  • Throw a Barrel at It: A variation, in the final shootout when Luk noticed that Sam and one of his henchmen is about to flee from the battle, both of them being at the bottom of a sloped hill, Luk then jumps into a barrel and sends himself rolling downhill to instantly catch up with Sam. Somehow, he didn’t end up dizzy when he caught up with Sam, still capable of leaping out and firing his dual guns.
  • Saved by Canon: Considering the film literally begins with three of the titular Powerful Four still alive, while one of them had died of natural causes, its glaringly obvious that they will survive the entire movie despite whatever danger they may come across.
  • Token White: Luk’s Superintendent, the British Police Commissioner. While there are a few other Caucasian Inspectors and Commissioners in the Hong Kong police station, however the Superintendent is the most recurring character who had the most amount of development.
  • Whole Episode Flashback: The movie begins with the funeral of one of the titular Four, while the other three, now old men with graying hair and near to retirement, starts reflecting about their pasts as recently promoted police officers trying to make a living in the brutal, crime-infested 60s Hong Kong underworld.


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