Review: YOUNG DETECTIVE DEE: RISE OF THE SEA DRAGON 狄仁杰之神都龙王 (2013) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Sunday, 6 October 2013


Energetic direction and elaborately-staged action sequences are the hallmarks of this worthy prequel, but the mystery plot this time is less engaging than the first movie.

Back in 2010, director Tsui Hark made an amazing comeback in DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME but quickly stumbled in 2011's overhyped 3D wuxia effort, FLYING SWORDS OF THE DRAGON GATE. Fortunately, he recovers with YOUNG DETECTIVE DEE: RISE OF THE SEA DRAGON, an entertaining prequel to the first DETECTIVE DEE movie.


In this prequel set in 665 A.D., the Tang Dynasty is at war with the Fuyu kingdom under the joint dominion of Empress Wu (Carina Lau) and the Emperor (Sheng Chien). During one of their sea battles, the Tang navy is defeated by the Kraken-like monster Sea Dragon. Empress Wu quickly summons Yuchi Zhenjin (Feng Shaofeng), head of the Dalisi -- which is a Justice Department -- to investigate the matter as soon as possible. Then along came Dee (Mark Chao), an ambitious young man who arrives in the capital of Luoyang to serve as a Dalisi magistrate. He is somehow gets involved in the case when he lip-reads a plot to kidnap Yin Ruiji (Angelababy), the capital's most beautiful courtesan who is held at the Sea Dragon temple. Dee hurries to her rescue, only to be intercepted by a human-like scaly creature who emerges from a lotus pond. Apparently the creature happens to be Yin's long-lost lover, Yuan Zhen (Ian Kim), a handsome scholar who's been missing for months from his family teahouse. As the investigation goes further, Yuan's mysterious transformation has something to do with a parasitic infestation as well as the conspiracy involving a tribe called the Dondoers.

Despite the absence of Andy Lau who plays the memorable titular role in the first DETECTIVE DEE movie, Taiwanese actor Mark Chao (MONGA) fits the character quite well as the younger version of Detective Dee with sufficient sardonic wit and boyish charisma. Feng Shaofeng delivers solid performance as the no-nonsense Yuchi Zhenjin, while Lin Gengxin is adequate enough as Dee's sidekick/prison doctor Shatuo Zhong.

Tsui Hark's direction is reasonably swift, while Yuen Bun's and Lin Feng's action choreography recalls Tsui's earlier wuxia efforts -- except, this time, the gravity-defying fight sequences are effectively mixed with traditional wireworks and CGI effects. All the technical credits -- including Kenneth Mak's lavish production design, Lee Pik-Kwan's magnificent costume design and Choi Sung-Fai's sweeping cinematography -- are top-notch.

The epic prologue where the Sea Dragon attack the Tang navy on the ocean; the fight scene between Dee and the masked kidnappers at the Sea Dragon Temple; and the hanging-by-the-rope fight scene on a cliff; and the final confrontation against the Sea Dragon.

At 133 minutes, the movie does feels overlong. Although Tsui Hark's and Chang Chia-Lu's screenplay is more streamlined than the convoluted approach in the first DETECTIVE DEE movie, it's a pity that the mystery plot doesn't engage much even with all the twists and turns. While some of the casts deliver satisfying performances here, the same cannot be said for Angelababy's flower-vase role who spends most of her time looking beautiful and little else. Ian Kim is also wasted in his thankless role as Yuan. In fact, the Beauty and the Beast-like romance between Yin and Yuan doesn't have that heartfelt feeling to make their character sympathetic enough.

Despite most of the flaws, YOUNG DETECTIVE DEE: RISE OF THE SEA DRAGON remains one of the most entertaining Chinese-language movies of the year to watch for. Personally, I can't wait what Tsui will offer next in his future DETECTIVE DEE movie.

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