Tsui Hark struck gold with 2010’s Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame, marking a return to form for the Hong Kong director following several lackluster, effects-driven flops.
Therefore, no one blames Hark for wanting to mine Dee for franchise potential. Unfortunately, the result is the kind of unfocused, overindulgent mess that saw the shine wear off his reputation in the first place.
With Mark Chao taking over the part, Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon is a prequel concerning the 7th-century China crime-solver’s first case, involving the kidnapping of a courtesan, her rescue by a Black Lagoon-esque fish-man and the titular beast that lays waste to fleets of naval warships.
Throw in swarms of bees, bird’s-tongue tea, toxic fish and a cliffside sparring that pales to the similar scene in G.I. Joe: Retaliation, and Hark is working with such a full plate that the film’s bloated 134-minute running time does not go unnoticed. Nor does the absence of what made the first film such a gas: its Sherlock Holmes approach to wire-fu spectacle. Almost all the detection has been sucked out, leaving things too dry for a high. — RL