HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon
HTS Overall Score:73
“Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame” was a surprise to American movie goers everywhere as it brought Tsui Hark’s name out of the dungeon, where it’s been for the last decade. Tsui Hark has always been a bit of a unique Hong Kong director and his movies tend to be a lot more style than substance, especially recently where it seems he can’t keep a coherent storyline, even for fans of Asian cinema where story lines can be left on the wayside many times. “Detective Dee” made some serious money in the theatrical release and became a bit of a cult hit on homed video in 2010, where we actually say that Tsui Hark once again could create a good story AS WELL as good visuals. Playing a bit tongue in cheek, “Detective Dee” was a mix of Sherlock Holmes meets supernatural Asian martial arts. If that alone doesn’t peak your interest, then nothing will as Tsui Hark takes the gloves off and creates a wildly entertaining ride as Dee (Andy Lau) analyzes crime scenes as well as Benedict Cumberbatch and then turns around to beat the bad guys senseless. Now with “Rise of the Sea Dragon”, Tsui has fallen back a bit from his earlier prowess and forgets that good visuals alone doesn’t a good story make.
Now that Detective Dee has been created Tsui decides to go back and do a prequel instead on an actual sequel to his first film, replacing Andy Lau with Mark Chao and focuses on Detective Dee’s first case that got him to where he is in the first film. “Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon” starts out with the Tang Dynasty fleet of warships under attack from a mysterious underwater presence, totally decimating the entire fleet in a matter of minutes. Deciding to find out what has destroyed their fleet, the Empress Wu Zetian (Carina Lau) commands her local investigative force, labeled the Da Lisi, to find out what destroyed their ships, giving the head of the Da Lisi, Yuchi (Feng Shaofeng) only 10 days to solve the case. At the same time, Dee shows up to the Da Lisi with a letter of recommendation to be hired on as a new investigator. In the first day of the job the incredibly observant Sherlock Holmesesque savant saves the life of a young courtesan, Yin (Angelbaby) from being kidnapped by a sea monster of much less size than the one that destroyed the fleet.
Now let me stop you, if that isn’t convoluted enough it gets better. Both Yuchi and Dee realize that the two monsters are connected somehow. After questioning Yin, Dee deduces that the smaller sea monster is actually Yin’s lover who has undergone a dramatic transformation. Now, with this in mind they have to find a way to cure the lover from his turmoil and find out just what’s going on (which the audience most certainly could use at this point in the film). Low and behold it appears that an evil band of foreigners has been utilizing parasites to infect hosts and turn them into monsters for unknown reasons. Once the duo of Yuchi and Dee figure this out they have their missing link between the giant sea monster and Yin’s lover. Now the two have to find out just WHY this group of villains are creating the monsters and stop them by any means necessary (and of course get rid of the giant sea monster as well).
*gasp, ok, I think I’ve gotten MOST of the subplots in there somehow. While it’s not dreadfully confusing, the subplots are pretty thick and heavy and takes someone who’s paying rapt attention to make sure they get it all. I don’t mind subtitles and having to pay a bit more attention than usual since I’m a Hong Kong cinema lover, but this one made me work for it. Tsui seems to have lost the cohesion that made the first “Detective Dee” movie so successful in the first place. Now with that being said there was certainly a lot of fun in the film as well. Dee is played by Mark Chao, who does an admirable job of portraying the enigmatic and astute detective and some of the original cast from the first movie come back to reprise their roles in their younger selves. The craziness is just off the charts and the action is wild and frenetic, with Tsui Hark’s love of “wire-fu” you can bet that our heroes are flitting from rooftop to rooftop and hanging upside down from their feet as they wield ancient Chinese blades of all types. I mean we even have a crazed head physician who has an ape arm to replace his own, a sea monster that looks like it comes from the Black Lagoon and a horse that doesn’t do so well on land, but is fantastic under the water (yes the horse can swim under water like a submarine.. I kid you not). My only other real complain though would be the poor CGI in the film. Asian films in general usually don’t put a ton of budget into the CGI but rather the set pieces and costuming, but this was poor, even by those standard. However, the set pieces and costuming are GORGEOUS, with rich costumes for every character, little or great and the location set pieces just reek of detail and intricate design (minus of course some CGI rocks that explode on impact etc).
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=14383[/img]The 2.39:1 AVC encode of “Young Detective Dee” was absolutely fantastic, as it showcases the lush and extravagance of the Tang dynasty’s courts and citizens. The colors range from every hue known to man, with a teal color grading to give the film a definite blue tinge. I loved the amount of detail shown in every scene, with revealing close ups and stunning cinematography shots, with only a few scenes showing some inherent softness to them. The CGI, as mentioned above, was poor, but I didn’t take any points away from the video score since it has nothing to do with the transfer. Blacks are excellent with tons of shadow detail and only once or twice did I notice any instances of black crush. Skin tones show a natural hue to them and I can’t really complain at all with the compression, as the film is given ample bitrate to breathe, so we can be free of any artifacting as a result. A beautiful transfer and easily the highlight of this film.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=14384[/img]For once I’m actually disappointed in the audio for one of the Wells Go USA titles. I’m not saying the track is bad per se, but rather that it just doesn’t live up to expectations. The Dialogue is clean and crisp with the Mandarin voices coming through crystal clear and the front soundstage has some excellent panning effects. The surrounds are used well and you can hear the creaking of ship boards, the explosion of a beam as a sword decimates it and even the rustle of silk brocade sliding along the floor. The real disappointment came with the dynamic range and the LFE. The LFE was there in spades as the seam monster shakes your pant legs and vibrates things off the wall, but for some reason it felt very boomy, with lack of definition, meant as a rumble track rather than a well-defined LFE experience where you hear the different inflections and notes of the low frequencies rather than a mushy roar. The same goes with the dynamic range. Falling a bit flat, it doesn’t have a wide range of sound levels, which is nice for never having to lower and raise the volume, but everything felt like it was normalized at one level rather than having a wide range to display. The 5.1 DTS-HD MA Mandarin track did its job well, minus those two caveats, but it was enough to make me feel like it was wanting.
• Theatrical Trailer
“Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon” is an interesting film to recommend. In some ways the movie is a ridiculous blast, and in other moments it’s testament to why Tsui Hark fell from grace in the Hong Kong theaters. A bit convoluted, but still a fantastic visual showcase, it falls short of its predecessor in most ways, while keeping itself entertaining for the Asian cinema aficionado. If you like the first Detective Dee outing, than I’d certainly encourage you to check out the sequel, because it tends to be in the same “feel” as the first one, but I’d probably only recommend it as a rental due to its choppy storyline and poor extras. Still a fun movie for me and I recommend anyone who’s curious to check it out.
Starring: Anglebaby, Mark Chao, Kun Chen
Directed by: Tsui Hark
Written by: Chia Lu Chang, Kuo-fu,
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 AVC
Audio: Mandarin: DTS-HD MA 5.1, Mandarin DD 2.0
Studio: Wells Go USA
Blu-Ray Release Date: February 11th, 2014
Buy Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon Blu-ray on Amazon
More about Mike