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Young Detective Dee - Rise of the Sea Dragon Review

Review: Young Detective Dee – Rise of the Sea Dragon / Cert: MPAA (US)/ Director: Tsui Hark / Screenplay: Chia-lu Chang, Kuo-fu Chen, Tsui Hark / Starring: Mark Chao, Feng Shaofeng, Lin Gengxin, Angelababy / Release Date: Out Now (US)

Rarely does a sequel – or in this case, a prequel – surpass the original, but Young Detective Dee – Rise of the Sea Dragon is one of those exceptional moments in cinema.

It’s 665 A.D. during the Tang Dynasty and there is big trouble in big China. A fleet of ships is mysteriously wiped out by an unseen underwater menace, a war rages, a beautiful courtesan (Angelababy) – due to be sacrificed to the sea dragon – is kidnapped by sinister Dongdoer islanders, then rescued by a humanoid reptilian creature and this is just the beginning of  the problems to solve for Detective Dee (Chao).

As Detective Dee, the newly appointed magistrate, begins to put the pieces of this mysterious puzzle together, he gets thrown in jail for interfering in an investigation by his sometimes friendly adversary and intellectual equal, the blonde albino and head of the Dalisi, Chief Commissioner Yuchi (Feng Shaofeng).

Here Sherlock Dee meets his future Dr Watson: Shalou Zhong (Lin Gengxin), who is the prison’s physician. Devising a clever escape, Zhong is reluctantly pressed into Dee’s service along with Yuchi and the game is afoot to solve this mystery before the three of them end up with their heads on the chopping block.

Hark’s direction is fast paced, but also expertly draws the viewer into the complex conundrum. Mark Chao is a worthy predecessor to Andy Lau’s characterization of Detective Dee from the first film. He makes mistakes, he’s not the best fighter, but this is the charm of young Detective Dee as we get to know him in his early days.

Suspension of belief is part of the fun with these movies. Whereas in the first film there was a talking magic deer, here we have a swimming war horse who's more at home in the sea than on land. On top of that, there are enough physics-defying fights to please any martial arts fan, and the 3D is the best we’ve ever seen, with vibrant colours that pop on the screen. You have to stay for the end credits too as the story continues with some tongue-in-cheek humour along with beautiful, pre-production artwork and sketches for future Detective Dee films. 

Expected Rating: 8 out of 10

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