I’ve read a lot of glowing reviews for director Tsui Hark’s Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame, but I still have yet to see it. Considering how positive the word-of-mouth was, I was anxious to see how his follow up — Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon, a prequel — measured up. Hark isn’t known for his storytelling skills, but he sure can direct the hell out of an action scene. And while the story of Young Detective Dee starts to edge over into convoluted, Hark keeps the tone light and the action ramped up enough to keep it chugging along. Now, the Sea Dragon can rise in your own home on Blu-ray, February 11.
In the Imperial Capital, Empress Wu (Carina Lau) has just begun her reign when an attack at sea takes out a fleet of ships. Wu sends Detective Yuchi (Feng Shaofeng) to investigate and gives him ten days to close the case or lose his head. Meanwhile, young Detective Dee (Mark Chao) has just arrived in the Imperial Capital to work as part of the Da Lisi justice department. Dee and Yuchi immediately clash when a sea monster attacks during a ceremony trying to get his hands on Yin (Angelababy), a young courtesan being used as a sacrifice to the sea gods. After Yuchi imprisons Dee, he escapes with the aid of doctor Shatuo (Lin Gengxin). Now, everyone is embroiled in a case that’s much bigger than the rampaging sea monster —who happens to be Yuan (Kim Bum) — whose famous teahouse has produced an addictive poisonous tea sweeping all the up to the Emperor himself.
Well Go USA delivers Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon on a flimsy 25GB disc, but have no worries. In typical fashion, the genre label delivers another top notch transfer. Detail is sharp as a tack, lending every stitch of clothing, ruffling feather, waving flag, or makeup effect as realistic as possible. I’ve read some have spotted a few instances of banding, but it never showed up on my TV. This isn’t demo worthy material, but it delivers the production design and cinematography in all its glory. Colors pop but never bleed.
Blacks are dark but never crushing, with shadow detail easily discernible. Aliasing or shimmer never rears its head either, something that shows up more than anything else in most Well Go USA transfers. The Mandarin 5.1 DTS-HD Master is spot on as well. Directionality is impressive whether it’s a character talking while moving around screen, pouring rain, flying debris, or even a random lightning strike. LFE is deep and booming making the action hit as hard as it should, and the finale against the sea dragon even livelier. A 2.0 Mandarin track is also included, along with English subtitles.
Convoluted as it all may be, the story is fairly easy to follow, and the action scenes certainly make up for the plot confusion. The last battle with the sea dragon is a doozy, easily on par with the biggest Hollywood budgets, namely the Pirates of the Caribbean Kraken attack. Hark throws a lot of objects at the camera because it was originally in 3D, which makes some of the CGI elements questionable. But the end battle would certainly be an even bigger event if Well Go USA had taken the time to release the 3D Blu-ray. Considering there are absolutely no special features on hand — all you do get is the film’s theatrical trailer — it would have been a truly welcome addition.
Chao turns the young Detective Dee into a precocious Sherlock Holmes who loves outsmarting Detective Yuchi, and they have a fun rapport as the characters continue to try and one up each other. Hark continues to impress as always with his action direction. Considering most of the film takes place during the day is also a nice change of pace for an effects-heavy film. Typically all of this would have taken place in the dead of night and probably doused with rain to cover up the visual effects. It’s nice to be able to see what’s going on. Something a lot of directors should take note. Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon may not be the best entry in Hark’s canon, but it’s a great way to spend an afternoon.
Photos courtesy Well Go USA