Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon

Genre: Action

Director: Tsui Hark

Writers: Tsui Hark and Chang Chia-Lu

Cast: Mark Zhao, Angelababy, Carina Lau, Feng Shaofeng, Lin Gengxin, Ian Kim, Chen Kun

Running Length: 133 minutes

Synopsis: The young Dee (Mark Zhao) arrives in the Imperial Capital, intent to become an officer of the law. He becomes embroiled in solving the mystery of a “sea dragon” that had attacked the Imperial Navy, and also the mystery of another sea monster that seems bent on attacking a courtesan (Angelababy) and anyone around her.

Review: Tsui Hark’s second 3D outing after 2011’s Flying Swords of Dragon Gate (which I felt that was an unmitigated disaster of a movie), Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragons is the prequel of the successful 2010 movie Detective Dee: Mystery of the Phantom Flame, but devoid of any returning actors other than Carina Lau, reprising her role as Empress Wu Ze Tian.

The fresh faced cast is sure to appeal to a younger audience, but the bloat of the movie very nearly obliterates everything positive in the film. It is, after all, supposed to be a fun movie, but Tsui and Chang assemble a plot with so many different plot threads, many unsatisfactorily resolved, that the movie very nearly implodes under the weight of the narrative. The fact that a pretty straightforward tale takes over two hours to resolve is a sure sign that more prudent editing would have made Young Detective Dee a more palatable film.

That doesn’t mean the film is without its merits. The action choreography is top notch, and Tsui Hark does give these moments more than adequate screen time. The use of stereoscopic cameras in the filming of the movie should also mean better 3D effects, but Singaporean audiences will not know better as the only version airing in the cinemas seems to be the non-3D digital release. There’s great attention to detail in the film’s lush set design and opulent art direction, and while the computer generated imagery is still quite visible and occasionally jarring, it never detracts entirely from the rest of the movie.

Already facing the challenge of being much less charismatic than Andy Lau, Mark Zhao is simply unable to muster up enough screen presence to even make his Detective Dee stand out from the rest of the cast. The rest of the cast is similarly unremarkable, and even Carina Lau seems to be present to only up the star power of the film. Young Detective Dee also gets a bit too cute at times, imbuing Dee with what apparently seems to be X-ray vision and some very farfetched equipment (most notably, a horse that can travel faster underwater than on land). While suspension of disbelief is a must in such films, the level to which it must be done for this film makes it an almost impossible task except the truly forgiving, 

Perhaps the biggest problem with Young Detective Dee is that, despite being a movie about an intriguing mystery, telegraphs the answer from a mile away. There is no real mystery about the sea dragon nor the investigation of the case, and even the reveal is so long drawn out that the actual solution brings little joy. It always spells trouble when the b-roll spliced into the end credits feel more interesting than what ensued in the two hours prior.

Rating: * * ½ (out of four stars)

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