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February 15, 2014

Movie Review: Young Detective Dee: Rise Of The Sea Dragon (Well Go USA, Blu-ray, 2013)

Review By: Rob Sibley

Now this is a proper return to form! Tsui Hark has been (in my opinion) a slump until his previous film "Detective Dee". It was a very good take on a Sherlock Holmes style character dropped into the Tang Dynasty era. But the first film was hit and miss. Sure it was thrilling to an extent but at the end of the day it was underwhelming.

I'm happy to report part II  is better then the first. It's a damn near perfect film actually. I know many of you like me kind of tuned out on Hark after he made three clunkers in a row. Knock Off (not Van Damme's finest moment), Zu Warriors (horrid) and the fun but very cheesy Black Mask 2 which had Traci Lords, Tobin Bell and Tyler Mane. Then out of the clear blue came "Seven Swords" with Donnie Yen which made me think "This kat still might have it. Now skipping ahead to Detective Dee: Rise Of The Sea Dragon. It's one of the best prequels of all time.

With the first Detective Dee it felt like something was holding Hark back from reaching the levels of his early work. But with this prequel, it really seems Hark is back to his roots. The film is visually stunning, features strong performances, never takes itself too seriously and features plenty of insane wire work. This film is pretty much on par with Hark's 1983 masterpiece "Zu: Warriors Of the Magic Mountain". The film feels like it was made in the 80's, the costumes, the wire work, the arty direction, the insane stunts and swordplay.

Hark even throws in something else... the sea dragon. Which looks like a sting ray meets a Kaiju! So yes you get a coherent story that supplies the romance but without the silly melodrama that plagues many of these movies. The problem with 90% of these martial art pictures is half the time the screenplays are a mess because they rush into production and are editing the screenplay as they go along. This time Hark planned things out and was luckily given a sizable budget to work with.

That leads me onto the next win for this film... the rather stunning CGI. As seen above this isn't Playstation style CGI that sadly plagues a good portion of Asian films. The creature deserves it's own movie, it's that damn awesome. It makes the Kraken from those silly Pirate movies look like a pussy. This is the kind of monster you'd want to see take on Godzilla (Yes I'm well aware Zilla is Japanese and this is a Mandarin film).

Now obviously it should be noted, Andy Lau who played Detective Dee is a HUGE STAR. Pretty much world wide known for his brilliant work. But obviously since this is a prequel, Lau couldn't play the detective. So stepping into some pretty big shoes is Mark Chao a relative new comer to HK film. But he makes a huge impression. He's sure to be well known once more people see this film. 

The plot is simple and to the point, we watch as a fleet of ships are taken out by an unseen foe as they attempt to sacrifice a Yin (Angelababy) to please the gods so to speak. Luckily she survives and eventually teams up and falls in love with the Detective. The romance between the two is both touching and erotic. It doesn't hurt that Angelababy is a stunner. She's actually Chinese/German which adds even further sex appeal. She's currently one of HK's most promising young actresses. Since she always delivers nuanced and realistic performance despite the "far out" material she's given. Pointless but fun fact, she was born February 28th just like me. Yes I know a selfless plug, sue me. 

So Detective Dee spends a good portion of the movie trying to figure out what the hell is going on. Why they want Yin sacrificed, he's teamed up with a detective he doesn't like who get's into his way. He butts heads with the officials, he's a skilled martial artist but he doesn't always win the fight. He's not superman, he actually get's his ass kicked now and then. Especially when dealing with a pure Tsui Hark style character... a swamp creature dude... a whole group of them actually. 

To discuss the plot too much would give away all the fun surprises but be certain this is one of the best Mandarin films I've seen in years... and trust me I've seen thousands of them. The film runs about 2 hours and 15 minutes (including credits). Sounds a bit long right for this type of film? Nope. Never a single dull moment, the second this film was over I re-watched it twice. Here's hoping for a third film or even better yet a TV series. Also take note, despite a few sex scenes which are more arty and tame, this is a film you're kids will love as well. It's not a blood bath, it's pretty much PG-13 stuff. The film is like a protean bar, it's got everything your body crave and could want and then some. 

Young Detective Dee: Rise Of The Sea Dragon is brought to us by the fine folks at Well Go USA. If your an Asian film fan, you know them. 

The film is presented in it's original aspect ratio and is given a rather flawless transfer. I don't have much to say about the video or the DTS HD master audio because it's perfect. The film is crisp, ultra clear, colorful, skin tones and black levels look superb. Fine detail is present and even the CGI holds up well on Blu-ray. 

Sadly as is the case with most Well Go releases... we don't get any special features... nothing. Which is a shame because a film this good deserves a deluxe treatment. But I can't complain because the film is so damn awesome it doesn't require any. The film itself is special enough. 

I thank my brother from another mother James DePaolo over at Wicked Channel for turning me onto this film. You can check out his review here...

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for everyone. Sea Monsters, swamp people, sword fights galore, romance, hot women, bad ass dudes, no melodrama, kid and adult friendly. One of the biggest surprises of 2014! 

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