Mirror Wars: Reflection One (2005)
It was with some interest that I sat down to watch this one, as it has a bit of a spotty reputation amongst my online community of military jet enthusiasts (my other time-wasting hobby) for its showcasing of Russian fighter planes doing lame Top Gun-ish things. Coming out in 2005, Mirror Wars: Reflection One was built from the ground up to be one of Russia's first big budget American-style popcorn action movies, a non-stop festival of explosions and screaming jets and hot women that would make Michael Bay weep with envy. It totally bombed, however, though that's not really surprising once you actually watch it. To illustrate how badly it stunk let me give you some box office numbers from 2005. Mirror Wars was only the 50th highest grossing movie in the CIS that year, right above the Paris Hilton masterpiece House of Wax and right below Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. When your uberawesome action flick gets smacked by a dubbed imported claymation cartoon, you know you aren't getting that call-back from the studio again. Among Russian-only films, it didn't fare any better, coming in at 11th place, making back just a sliver of its production budget (supposedly one of the biggest in Russian movie history at the time, though I'm not sure what they spent it all on). Despite all that, Mirror Wars does, on average, deliver a fair amount of fancy airplanes, chattering machineguns, and icy Slavic femme fatales, all of which interest me greatly, so I didn't mind the effort spent watching it.
On to the show...
As soon as our opening credits start, we see that this movie is going to be about a plane. Specifically, a Russian Sukhoi Su-35UB Flanker two-seat multirole fighter, an exceptional combat aircraft designed to attack and defend against any number and type of potential threats. The Flanker is indeed a suitably awesome looking airplane, but it's basically a 30-year old design, the first models flying in 1977. For our movie, this Flanker is playing the part of the "Sabertooth", the latest and greatest Rooskie fighter plane, a jet so powerful that it will change the balance of power in the world (Firefox, anyone?). There is only one for now, and it's based at an air base in Siberia, where young and attractive test pilots are putting it through its paces.
We see one of these pilots pull the Sabertooth out of a dangerous dive, ignoring the tower's calls for him to eject. This brave and handsome pilot will be our film's hero (though gratingly so). He's tall, he's got floppy hair, and he looks like a Russian Nathan Fillion.
Nathan Fillionski, ace pilot.
The other fighter pilots think Nathan Fillionski is a hothead and a loose cannon (please, really, is this 1982?). As these men talk to each other you can instantly see where this movie's box office problem lies. This film was made for the English-speaking international market (might explain why it bombed domestically) and so those actors that can speak English do so, even if they are terrible at it, and those that can't are dubbed by some lispy, mumbly ex-pat American they found living in a van down by the river. The movie just can't ever get over this language hurdle, and I can't believe they didn't think it wouldn't be a problem.
For some reason, the fighter pilots are now going out to hunt a rogue stock footage tiger that has been terrorizing a local stock footage village. On the way to the hunting grounds, they bump into American ecologist Dorothy Hamill, who is out here studying the endangered stock footage Siberian tiger and is pretty annoyed that these men are trying to shoot one. Since she and Nathan Fillionski are mean and rude to each other in their first meeting, she will clearly end up being a romantic foil for our hero (yawn). We also learn here that, and I quote, "All ecologists are nuts."
Dorothy Hamill (surely you see the resemblance).
While tracking the elusive stock footage Siberian tiger, the pilots are attack by masked Chinese ninjas hanging from the trees! Seriously! One pilot is shot dead before they can drive off the (awfully pansy) ninjas and make it back to the base. You'd think that this scene would be a perfect time to showcase your hero (Nathan Fillionski) by having him karate kick a ninja into a burning building or something, but all he does is hunker down behind a tree while the other guys take the hits. Missed opportunity, I say.
Ninjas use guns?
We go now to a private government meeting in Moscow, where we meet Fillionski's father, who is actually the head designer for the Sabertooth (nepotism?). He says it's so "stealthy" due to external anti-radar coatings and not the actually shape of the plane, which to me means the producers could just use an existing airplane instead of going to the humongous expense of building a prop plane (ala Firefox, or Stealth, or even Godzilla versus Megaguirus).
They say that the upcoming Moscow Air Show is vital to selling this plane to world, and that seems the most important thing here. I say with conviction that his movie is nothing more than a feature-length advertisement for the Su-35UB Flanker, aimed at the burgeoning international arms market and the multi-billion dollar deals that come with advanced fighter jets. The closing credits even give a not-unexpected lengthy shout-out to the "creator of the main character of this film", the Sukhoi family of fine aeronautical products.
Though, in all seriousness, the best bang for your buck is still with the later blocks of the General Dynamics F-16 Falcon. Plus you get bonus Obama hugs with every purchase.
As they are running out of pilots who can fly Sabertooth, the bosses send a couple of men to Siberia to keep an eye on the rest of them. So two KGB agents (just going to call them "KGB", even though they are really "FSB" in 2005, they just changed their names, not their stripes) show up at the air base to go to work. The KGB guys are laughable ethnic Russian stereotypes with blousy rayon Addidas track suits, flashy gold necklaces, and greasy Guido hair (not sure what they are trying to subtly say about the Security Services with this image, but I'm sure it's not good). The agents talk about Nathan Fillionski and his daddy issues and about another pilot named Boris, who is a suspect due to his background in other projects.
Was Yakov Smirnov unavailable?
The next morning we get more plane porn as Sabertooth has a mock dogfight with another jet. What we really learn from this, without saying, is that all the supersecret high-tech anti-radar "stealth coatings" mean absolutely nothing in a dogfight when you are fifty feet from your opponent and he can track you visually. "Buckle up, you're running with the big dogs now!" one pilot boasts. "How bout we play a game of chicken, little man?" another goads. Really, guys? It's like the studio sat around trying to think of how we Americans talk and their only references were DVDs of Iron Eagle and Top Gun.
The Tom Cruise strut in full effect.
On the ground, Nathan Fillionski is dressed down by his bosses. I should note that we are half an hour in and so far this has been a PG-13 rated movie, with the exception of some fairly mild cussing. I don't know why this surprises me, but I think I was expecting something grittier.
Yelling never solves anything.
We leave the frozen tundra of Siberia now to go to the fashionable part of London, in perfidious Albion. There we meet a respectable commercial insurance salesman played by the still-sorta-awesome Malcolm McDowell, slumming his way through a ten-day contract in between better movies. While McDowell seems like a legit businessman on the surface, he's actually an international arms merchant, a womanizing tax cheat, and an all-around unscrupulous bastard.
You know he killed Captain Kirk, right?
We see that Britain's MI6 spy service is following McDowell around because they suspect he's up to no good. We see a redheaded spy chick sneak up and steal an Apple laptop from McDowell's car when he's not looking, though the files on it turn out to be just boring business stuff (that's called "illegal search and seizure" here in the Colonies). For whatever reason, throughout this movie, the English are portrayed as bumbling Keystone Cops. Perhaps there was some bad blood between the producers and the Brits? Did England beat Russia in a soccer match or something?
Redheads are not to be trusted!
The CIA is also spying on McDowell from their UK field station. We go there now (we know it's not just a random office cubicle in Russia because of the huge filling station-quality US map and tacky souvenir shop American flag on the desk, awesome job, prop master) to meet the head CIA agent, played by has-been c-lister Armand Assante. CIAAssante has been hunting McDowell for years and he's got the twitches to prove it.
"Acting is hard, I'm just going to take a little nappy."
CIAAssante comes visit his arch nemesis McDowell for a friendly chat (think Heat, but without the Oscars or the self-respect). We learn here that McDowell used to be a CIA agent with CIAAssante before going over to the Dark Side (typical). They banter a bit about good and evil, and McDowell warns him against "looking for a black cat in a dark room", which makes no damn sense. As they part, McDowell gives CIAAssante a cigarette lighter emblazoned with an eagle as a gift. I waited all damn movie for this lighter to have some meaning, to play some part in the final resolution of their story arc, but it never did (don't have lingering close-ups on props if you don't intend on them having a purpose, seriously, where did you Rooskies go to film school?).
Waste of time.
Later, back at MI6 headquarters, CIAAssante is raging about how everyone sucks but him and how the lousy Brits let McDowell slip away because they were too busy eating kidney pie and grooming polo horses. Does MI6 really kowtow like this to the CIA, in their own country? I hope not, but probably so, where's Maggie Thatcher when you need her?
Maggie would smack him down, even if she did look like Admiral Akbar most days.
Knowing the gig is up and on the run now, McDowell seeks to eliminate a loose end. To show that he's not opposed to getting his well-manicured hands dirty, he drives to some warehouse area, shoots a security guard dead, barges into an office, shoots some desk drone in the face a few times, jumps up on his desk, pours a can of gasoline around, tosses a hand grenade to ignite it, and then finishes it off by leaping through a plate glass window as flames lick his balls on the way out. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you 62-year old classically-trained Shakespearian actor Malcolm McDowell being Bruce Willis. I officially love this movie.
Ok, enough of that. Back in the Siberian woods, we rejoin the pixie American ecologist Dorothy Hamill as she walks her pet bear Baloo around her base camp (watch the stunt bear, who clearly isn't in the mood to work today, and how he drags the poor actress around, causing her to struggle with her lines, great stuff). Nathan Fillionski shows up with some wild flowers (aww...). He apologizes for his friends being douche bags and asks for a date. "I find you interesting." he says in broken, tortured English, and her womanly parts being to tingle. They agree to hook up the next night, as she needs time to shower and stuff (though, even in this scene, she's dressed more like a Parisian fashionista than a tree-hugger ecologists in a primitive field camp in Siberia).
"I just picked these, fresh like your face."
The next morning he wakes her up with a thunderous low-level pass over her camp at the crack of dawn. That seems like a major dick move to me, but she's suitably impressed by this manly, if dangerous, spray of testosterone and gazes lustily up at his flaming afterburners (I have no idea how to make that sound sexy). Dorothy Hamill is clearly the type of girl who goes for the "bad boy with a soft side" type, you know, the type that only exists in crappy movies?
That night, we join Nathan Fillionski and Dorothy Hamill on their first date. They run through woods holding hands, giggle and tickle under a pine tree, visit some Orthodox Gregorian church, navigate a rowboat to a mid-90s Macy Gray tune, and run to her tent when it begins to rain (oh god I'm going to hurl...). They stare at each other by candle light and she purrs, "You better get out of those wet clothes". Hey, remember when I was saying how this movie was PG-13 so far? Well, someone email the MPAA because we now have full-frontal nudity, bouncing boobies, and some of the barebackingest anal sex this side of Unfaithful (that kinda stuff didn't happen under Stalin, you know).
Figure skating keeps you in great shape, eh?
The two KGB guys have been following them around all night, as they think she's trouble. Oddly, they don't worry she's CIA or anything, but are more worried that she's working for Lockheed or Boeing, rival aerospace industries (jet fighters are big business). As they play checkers (?) and tease each other with some homoerotically charged double entandres (!), the KGB guys joke about how the KGB still runs Russia behind the scenes and they have the power of life or death over virtually anyone (true, that).
He should really get that mole checked out.
The next morning, after rinsing off the Astroglide and pickled cabbage juice, we see Dorothy Hamill talking with...well, with Meatloaf. It turns out, surprisingly, that Dorothy Hamill is, in fact, marking that poor sap Nathon Fillionski. She's working for Meatloaf, who in turn is working for McDowell, who is apparently trying to steal the Sabertooth jet by wooing the pilots with hot girls (old, old, old trick, works all the time in the espionage business, we men cannot resist boobies). The problem is that Dorothy Hamill, after a single night of sweaty Greek sex in an underlit tent, has fallen in love with Fillionski and wants out of the game (awjesuschrist, really?).
Seeking to explain herself, Dorothy Hamill just walks onto the Russian air base and saunters into the pilots' locker room and tells Nathan Fillionski that she loves him before pulling a gun on him (?). There's some punching and a few stray gunshots, and the security guys show up to take Dorothy Hamill away in handcuffs. Fillionski is in a heap of trouble now, as well he should be, and some guy notes that, "Your father will be deeply disappointed."
You always shoot the ones you love.
The KGB then "interviews" Nathan Fillionski about his romantic involvement with a suspected spy. One of them notes ominously, but truthfully, that, "if this were still the USSR, you would have been shot on sight for collaborating with the enemy." He's suspended from all Sabertooth operations, grounded from flying, and generally told repeatedly what a dumb idiot he is. Fillionski's dad shows up, royally pissed at his son. "Now they're wondering about me.", he says with some worry, as he knows the KGB doesn't mess around.
Of course, they have a file on him already.
Dorothy Hamill is then brought in to talk to the KGB guys. She'll cooperate, but she wants one last chance to tell Nathan Fillionski that she loves him (killmenow). Feeling especially giving, the KGB arranges for Dorothy Hamill and Fillionski to meet out in a parking lot. She says she loves him but before she can say anything else she's shot by Meatloaf! Perimeter security at this base sucks! She just walked in with a gun earlier and now Meatloaf is able to take up position inside the wire with a sniper rifle, take a public daytime shot, and escape with no trouble. Perhaps the KGB needs to be...ahem, chatting with the base's Security Commander...
"Wait, I never gave you my class ring!"
Ok, back to McDowell, who has now made it out of Europe and is somewhere in the Middle East on a train. Into his cabin walks Rutger Hauer, playing a mysterious, shadowy Emperor Palpatine kind of guy, grooming and pointing the Sith-like McDowell at his enemies. His age notwithstanding, Rutger Hauer is looking really old and uncomfortable in his suit here, and, frankly, in very poor health (or perhaps just drunk). He tells McDowell that he's still the boss and he better buck up and do a better job of being evil. Hauer then disappears for the next hour of the movie. Despite getting top billing in a number of press releases for this movie, Hauer only has about 3 minutes of screen time in all (his name must have been more marketable in 2005 than McDowell's or Assante's).
Hauer looks like Bill Clinton in another 20 years.
Because every Cobra Commander needs a Baroness, a sexy dark-haired Russian woman shows up now to act as McDowell's armed assistant and ball-holder. Aziza is her name, supertight are her pants, and cool, detached aggression is the way she expresses her feelings. In the end, though, the Aziza character is just eye-candy, any sort of potential she has is wasted as the producers can't seem to decide if audiences would rather have endless shots of Malcolm McDowell chewing scenery like a wolverine or bland, boring landscape pans of the Pakistani desert (answer: neither, show us Aziza's boobs, you idiots).
Ok, Sabertooth is on a training flight over Tajikistan with Boris and RandomPilot at the controls (recall that Nathan Fillionski is still grounded). They meet up with a tanker, but before they can refuel, the tanker is shot down by an air-to-surface missile fired by some vaguely Arabic looking mercenaries on the ground below. Critically low on fuel now, Sabertooth can't return to its Siberian base, so it has to land at the nearest airfield, which happens to be an old semi-abandoned Soviet-era base in neighboring Kirgizstan.
Tanker blows up.
Kirgizstan was/is an Old West lawless frontier state and so it's no surprise that we see the Kirgiz guards at the airbase easily swamped by a mercenary raid. Led by McDowell and Aziza, the mercs blaze away with all sorts of guns in a bloody, explodey scene very reminiscent of Bridge of Dragons. The local guards are mauled and McDowell is in control of the base in no time.
Get that window! Get it!
Sabertooth lands at the base, not knowing it's in enemy hands, and is quickly captured by the mercenaries. RandomPilot tries to disable the plane but is shot dead. The other pilot Boris is fine, as he's on McDowell's payroll (dumdumdum!). McDowell is frothing angry, both at his men for shooting RandomPilot and for letting RandomPilot damage some crucial microchipthingie that was needed to make the stealthhootchiethingie work right. Now he's going to have to find another way to get the jet out of the country.
Hey, cut that out.
Before anything can happen, though, a team of Russian commandos in a couple of helicopters arrive to do battle with the mercenaries (sure got there quick...). The head commando (geez, is that Randy Quaid?) orders rockets fired to suppress return fire and the troops to fan out and shoot a lot. Leaving the mercs to their bloody end, McDowell and Aziza run off, she in a stolen truck, he in a hijacked helicopter (sure). Despite overwhelming firepower superiority and a hovering Hind firing rockets like rain, Randy Quaidski is unable to catch McDowell and Aziza and they make good their escape. They do get Sabertooth and the pilot Boris back intact, though.
Back in Moscow they are watching the battle on a satellite feed, and one Rooskie turns to another and attempts to say in English, "They really turned this one into hamburger meat." but it comes out as, "Roy currly tskurned dis un sinta aaahmmburser moot." Seriously, people, either find actors who are fluent in English, or just subtitle the damn thing. Making actors mangle a second language just so you don't have to pay for dubbing just makes your movie suck more than it already does.
Is that Robert Foresterski?
Back at the Siberian air base, the Quisling Boris gets interrogated by the KGB agents, who are suspicious about his survival in such a dangerous free-fire zone. Boris is spinning yarns, but they are good, high-quality yarns, and the KGB can't find anything to stick so they have to let him walk (if this were 1968 he'd be gulag'd). Boris later meets with Meatloaf at a cafe and they talk about money and treason and stuff. Meatloaf offers to get him out of the country if he tries to steal the Sabertooth again (plus doubling the money). This movie has become a parody of every Tom Clancy and Dale Brown novel ever written, and I don't mean that in a good way.
Boris has shifty eyes.
Nathan Fillionski's dad visits his son in his crappy apartment, where he's drowning his sorrows in vodka and cigarettes. He's still whining (and whining, and whining...) about Dorothy Hamill and he blames her death on his father's obsession with that "hunk of metal with wings" (misplaced anger). His dad understands his rage, but he needs Fillionski and Boris to fly the Sabertooth at the upcoming Moscow Air Show. President (for life) Putin himself signed the orders giving Fillionski back his pilot's wings, as he's the "best of the best" (I can't take this cliched crap much longer...). "I'll try to do my best." he says earnestly, to which his father sternly replies, "No, don't try, do your best." I can't tell you the number of times this movie (made in 2005!) made me roll my eyes and audibly groan in embarrassment for my species.
Hope he sobers up by tomorrow.
Anyway, to the Moscow Air Show (really filmed on location there) where we have a few minutes of plane porn to pad out the running time. As an admitted airplane nut, I was pleased to see some footage of a 75-year old plywood and canvas Polikarpov I-15 biplane trundling down the runway beside all those mega-expensive modern jets.
Impending plane-bike collision.
Before the flight, Boris and Nathan Fillionski chat about girls and planes and stuff. Boris, up to no good, drugs Fillionski's chamomile tea and he's woozy before he even makes it onto the tarmac. I do have to say that the Random Anonymous Rooskie Guy playing Boris is perhaps the best of the native actors in this film (really, only he has been able to come across as anything more than a wooden puppet).
Boris is a bad man.
So, as the loudspeaker announces the pilots' stats and flight times like the opening line-ups of a basketball game, Sabertooth takes off to the applause of the crowd. By now Nathan Fillionski is out cold and Boris is flying from the backseat (the Flanker series had back-up flight controls for the RIO). Boris disables the autopilot and the radio and zooms off out of sight. Back in the tower, everyone is sure "terrorists" have hijacked the jet and are freaking out. Fillionski's dad, however, won't let them shoot it down because he's worried about his son.
Taking off (note the huge air intakes for those thirsty turbines).
Boris lands Sabertooth somewhere and McDowell and his men load it up with missiles and send it back into the air. In glorious slo-mo, it then turns its belly to the camera for a close-up fly-by, and you can just hear what the fine folks at Sukhoi are saying with this shot: "Hey, foreign buyers looking to upgrade your fighter inventory, look at how deliciously awesome our Su-35 looks here! And check that full weapons load-out, much greater than those wimpy Rafales and Typhoons you're thinking of buying. Did we mention that the Su-35 will cost you much less? And we'll throw in free vodka! Please buy our planes!"
Twelve missiles free with every purchase!
Suddenly, totally out of thin air, Air Force One shows up (what the fuck?). Apparently, Dubya is on his way to an "Earth Summit" in Moscow and Sabertooth is racing to shoot him down. Sooooo...all along Rutger Hauer (via McDowell and Meatloaf, etc) has been gunning for the US President? Really? Why? Maybe we should have been told this before now? Does the term "plotline set-up" have any meaning to these people?
Look out, Dubya! Rooskies!
In Sabertooth, Nathan Fillionski wakes up early (hey, Boris, next time use stronger drugs, how 'bout that?) and the two of them start fighting to control the plane (not for certain, but surely modern two-seater jets have some sort of system built in to give priority to the pilot over the RIO). As they struggle, they are also yelling at each other, saying some really bad words and offending their mothers and everything.
They never learned to share.
Now, Air Force One doesn't travel alone, and thanks to the fine work of some nameless Bulgarian FX company, we now see a flight of computer-generated F-15 fighters peeling off and coming to engage Sabertooth. "I think they need a Yankee missile up their ass! Here's one for old time's sake, Rooskie!", one freedom-loving USAF jock growls, and my chest puffs with jingoistic pride (I hate Commies...). As the missiles fly, Nathan Fillionski and Boris are still fighting over who is the better pilot, but relent enough to keep from getting shot down. Note that throughout this scene, the Russian plane is never shown firing any missiles, or even turning on its targeting radar, which might have more to do with "closely guarded state secrets" than any technical filming issues.
They duck and dodge two incoming missiles, but Boris has had enough and ejects. This scene of him ejecting mid-air became quite a hot topic on the air enthusiast forums I hang out on, as it was originally thought to be real, but later we learned it was fake, they shot off the ejection seat from a parked plane and then digitally tweaked it to look like it was flying. Boris' evil ways are at an end, however, as the booster rocket on his ejection seat draws a third missile to him and boom, he's toast.
Nathan Fillionski is now flying combat maneuvers in a supersonic plane with no cockpit (and minus the heavy back seat, which is going to throw the center of gravity off, notfornothing). Like the ejection scene, this was also the topic of some vociferous debate on the message boards, before it was determined, that, indeed, the well-paid Ukrainian stunt pilot actually flew the jet without the canopy (albeit very slowly and with his right hand resting on his own ejection handle just in case).
Chilly in there.
Sabertooth is now flat spinning towards the ground and Fillionski is desperately trying to pull it out in an eerie echo of the movie's opening scene. "No way!" he yells at no one in particular, before managing to get the plane under control again. There's a celebration back in the tower as they see this, and his father radios him to ask how he's doing. "It's kinda cold here, dad, but I'm good." Fillionski replies nonchalantly, like this sorta thing happens to him all the time (well, from what we've seen, it does). He lands and there's some manly back-slapping hugs and all is well.
Hug out the hypothermia.
OK, let's tie up the loose ends now. Once the attack is foiled, Meatloaf's cover is blown and he runs back to his hotel room to hide out (he was at the Moscow Air Show). The two KGB agents (who've become the action stars of this film, surprisingly) attack and kill Meatloaf, sans pants, and get ahold of his laptop full of incriminating evidence. This subplot is going nowhere, I didn't pay to see Meatloaf in his underwear, I paid to see Aziza get naked and roll around with Dorothy Hamill in a vat of tapioca pudding. Oh, and some airplane stuff, I guess.
Leopard print boxers? Really, Meatloaf?
McDowell and Aziza go to the hotel to see Meatloaf, unaware he's already dead. All of this was going on at the same time as the air battle, by the way, but I've separated the scenes for your convenience (you're welcome). McDowell and Aziza escape to the airport, but there McDowell kills off Aziza with a hypo full of poison (again, a waste of a perfectly good character).
30cc's of pain!
One KGB guy runs fast and catches McDowell as he's about to board a plane. Just then Rutger Hauer shows up and takes over. Obviously Hauer is supposed to be some big wig Rooskie, either in the KGB or the government, because he can just saunter up and tell the KGB flunkie to beat it. It's odd to see Rutger Hauer in a movie where all he does is stand in one spot and speak a few lines of dialogue before waddling off (must have a bad back). When I think of his long and storied career, images of exploding cyborg aliens and rocket-propelled laser sharks blissfully come to mind.
"Here you go sir, enjoy your flight and thank you for flying Aeroflot Airlines today."
The stinger is an awkwardly staged award ceremony, with the Sukhoi design team giving out kudos to the pilots. Nathan Fillionski is here, and while he does have some nice words to say about his fancy jet, his heart clearly still remains with that dead girl who he met one day, plowed like a cornfield the next night, and then got arrested by the KGB for trying to kill him the next afternoon (comeonbuddy, that's love, who's with me?). His croaking voice-over moans wistfully, "I fly over her tent every night in my dreams." I've just airbrushed that quote on the side of my Chevy van.
"I am a raging dork."
PS. What the hell kind of title is "Mirror Wars: Reflection One"? None of those four words have anything to do with this movie, they're just random words picked out of a hat. Rooskies suck.
The End (thank god).
Written in March 2011 by Nathan Decker and edited by Pam Burda.
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