The Asian film market is widely known for their martial arts epics, but every so often they step outside the box to blend something more to this genre and creates something special. When Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame hit in 2010 it brought together the martial arts epic period piece and blended it with the hint of Sherlock Holmes and fantasy to create something great. Now they are returning to the Dee character but this time to see how it all began in the prequel Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon, but does it capture the same magic and awe of the original?
Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon follows Dee’s very first case, investigating reports of a sea monster terrorizing the town, reveals a sinister conspiracy of treachery and betrayal, leading to the highest reaches of the Imperial family. At first this one is a bit hard to get into as it just doesn’t pack the initial punch as the original film. Thankfully as it moves forward it starts to find its footing and includes a more classic monster tale to the story making for a uniquely different film. There seems to be a slower build to the story than the first one, but the addition of the creature feature story makes it work. The visuals are as amazing as ever, creating a beautifully stunning period look to the time. The film was clearly shot for 3D which makes some of the CGI look a bit off in standard format, but it’s only really noticeable in the opening and a few other moments in the film. Beyond these moments the effects are well done and make for a fun film. The lead doesn’t have the same command of the screen as previous star Andy Lau, but still manages to bring something great to the character. The story is sometimes slow paced as it tries to keep the mystery building, but most of it is out of necessity. Have no fear as there is plenty of martial arts action to break it up from time to time to keep viewers intrigued. Thankfully for the most part they used practical make-up effects to bring this creature to life. They did a good design that not only works with the story they are telling, but also doesn’t come off cheesy.
While this isn’t the follow-up some may have wanted, it does offer a fun addition to the legend of Dee and where it all began. Hopefully this will not be the last we see of the character either in this version or the previous because there is so much they could do with this character and franchise.
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