Young Detective Dee: Ride of the Sea Dragon

Young Detective Dee: Ride of the Sea Dragon (2013)
Well Go USA
Cast: Angelababy, Mark Chao, William Feng, Carina Lau, Lin Gengxin
Extras: Trailer

Well Go USA is an independent studio that specializes on Asian movies and one of their latest releases caught my eye for two reasons. First off, "Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon" has been directed by Hong Kong legend Tsui Hark, a man who needs absolutely no introduction to fans of Asian cinema, and secondly, Detective Dee is one of the most intriguing figures in Chinese history. Considering how well the first movie, "Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame" turned out, I was very eager to give this new adventure a closer look.

Taking place early in Dee's career, "Rise of the Sea Dragon" is a prequel to the other movie, this time telling us the story of his first case. Though only starting out, Dee has already built a reputation for himself, being the only detective who had been imprisoned before, making him a dubious candidate at best. However, when a sea monster attacks the Emperor's fleet and destroys a large number of ships, Empress Wu is requesting for Dee in particular to handle the case because he proves to see a much bigger picture of the danger, connecting other, seemingly unrelated events, to the case. Or is it, perhaps, simply a strategy of the Empress to rid herself of the man who had previously conspired against her and nearly toppled her influence?

Lavish and colorful, "Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon" is a fascinating movie with many facets. I was very pleasantly surprised to find that this film is actually much better than "Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame" in many ways. While the films share a lot of qualities and similarities in the way they are told and the way the characters are set up, constantly keeping the viewer guessing who is good and who is bad, Tsui Hark has fortunately made sure the look of the film is a whole lot more cohesive than in the previous one.

Gone are the soap-opera-like digital camera shots during the action scenes that looked flat and compromised the experience of the first film completely. Instead, "Rise of the Sea Dragon" boasts a high end look throughout that puts it on par with Hollywood productions. Beautifully choreographed and with a great cast, the film captivates viewers and hypnotizes them with its lush beauty along the way. This film clearly shows why Tsui Hark is one of the most renown directors in Hong Kong cinema and it also shows that he has successfully made the transition to the digital age. Filled with digital effects and computer generated imagery, the film looks a bit artificial at times, but on the whole, it is a highly imaginative vision that is coming to bloom on the screen as the filmmakers throw us in a world where Ancient China and magic come to life side by side.

Spectacular kung fu fight sequences combined with breath taking stunts, perfectly mixed with a host of special effects and a fantasy story that is realistic enough to remain believable throughout, those are the hallmarks of this film. From high-flying martial arts acts to diving horses and a thoroughly imperfect protagonist whose past constantly gets in his way, "Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon" has everything a fan would love.

Well Go USA is presenting the movie in a wonderful 1080p high definition presentation in the movie's original widescreen aspect ratio. Absolutely clean and without blemishes, the image is stunning in its detail and color reproduction. Hong Kong movies have always been forerunners when it came to effective and creative use of colored light, and once again we are witness to something special here. Whether it is the richly textured and colored costumes or the atmospheric set pieces and their lighting, this Blu-Ray disc brings out the very best of the format with its faithful and powerful color rendering. Since a good portion of the film is taking place at night, it is also great to see that the black levels of the transfer are perfectly balanced to make sure details remain fully intact even in those dark scenes. It also adds to the daytime scenes where the blacks create deep shadows that give the image a breathtaking visual depth and add to the magnificent scope.

The release is accompanied by a DTS 5.1 HD MaAster Audio track in Mandarin that is also impressive. It makes aggressive use of the split surrounds and offers a wide sound field with a solid frequency response. Free of distortion, the dynamic range of the track makes sure you won't miss even the slightest whisper of the wind, nor the powerfully, thunderous explosions. A Dolby Digital 2.0 track in Mandarin is also included. All in all, this is a great presentation that perfectly fits the film.

Naturally, "Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon" is accompanied by English subtitles.

Sadly, the release has no bonus materials, other than the movie's trailer. It would have been great to get to see some behind-the-scenes look, but more than that, I have to admit that I truly miss a digital copy of the film, because this is definitely a film I'd love to load onto my iPad to watch on the go, again and again.

"Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon" is a very cool movie, filled with colorful and imaginative imagery. It plays firmly onto the sensibilities of the "Sherlock Holmes" movies and combines influences from that and other films, but never without straying too far from its own identity. So, while I'm hoping for another Detective Dee film to be made, I think you should go and check out a copy of this film to witness the genius of Tsui Hark.