Tsui Hark’s career has managed to be a conundrum to me, seeing as though I’m a huge sucker for asian cinema, I’ve never really gotten much out of his films. Sure, I’d seen things like Once Upon a Time in China, Black Mask and even Knock Off, which I think is one of the funniest films in Jean-Claude Van Damme’s career. I certainly enjoyed them, but never felt truly captivated by his work, until recently. With 2005’s Seven Swords and 2010’s Detective Dee: Mystery of the Phantom Flame, Hark managed to convert me into a believer, in terms of both his technical prowess and storytelling ability. Now, Tsui Hark has returned to the character of Detective Dee, in an origin story that manages to be a captivating kung fu film, that anyone of any age can truly enjoy.
Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon goes back in time, where we encounter a younger Dee Renjie, who’s trying to become an officer of the law. He gets involved in a mysterious case of a sea dragon, that has single handedly destroyed entire fleets and the stalks the Imperial Capital at night. In order to appease the dragon, the Empress Wu (Carina Lau) sends a young beautiful woman, a courtesan named Yin (Angelababy), as a means of a sacrifice, in order to appease the giant sea creature. In the process of her sacrifice at a temple, Dee comes across another sea creature, one that seems very much human and in love with Yin. In the process of this mystery getting deeper, Dee must contend with Chief Yuchi (Feng Shaofeng), a rival that was appointed by the Empress, in order to find out the true meaning behind the Sea Dragon.
Young Detective Dee feels very much like the equivalent of a comic book movie, which showcases both Chinese history and stunning kung-fu sequences. While his previous films have been action packed, the recent endeavors by Hark, which include The Great Magician and The Flying Swords of Dragon’s Gate, come off as the director truly having fun with the material at hand and Young Detective Dee is no exception. Everything from the art direction to the costume design breathes life into the material and makes it feel awe inspiring. While the entire cast of this Detective Dee is different, minus Carina Lau reprising her role as the Empress, the actors present the roles with energy and enrich the overall Detective Dee universe.
The Blu-Ray from Well Go USA for Young Detective Dee offers a fantastic video and audio presentation, but is very much lacking in the extras department. The video is presented in an AVC encoded, 1080p transfer, with an aspect ratio of 2.39:1. The level of detail and clarity is pristine on the Blu-Ray and showcases the level of artistry for all of the visual aspects of Young Detective Dee. The audio on the disc comes in two Mandarin tracks, a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track and a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix. The DTS track is pretty much the way to go, with the surround activity being immersive and engaging for the entire film. The dialog is clean and comes through the center channel crystal clear. The only thing that Well Go’s release doesn’t contain is extra features, which would have been interesting to see, in order to compare this film to the previous entry or even a generic behind the scenes.
The first Detective Dee film was a huge amount of fun and Young Detective Dee is another fantastic entry, not only in this series but also in Tsui Hark’s career. Seeing as how the character has been serialized, let us hope that there is more Detective Dee in Hong Kong cinema’s future. Highly Recommended!