After Midnight digs through the glut of new and old genre films arriving each week on DVD and Blu-ray, singling out the horror, action, smut, and cult items that stand out from the schlock.
Tsui Hark’s 2010 action-mystery Detective Dee And The Mystery Of The Phantom Flame pales in comparison to his classic wu xia films of the 1980s and 1990s, but it is a fun genre hybrid, mixing Sherlock Holmes-style deduction with supernatural creatures and kick-ass kung-fu. The prequel Young Detective Dee: Rise Of The Sea Dragon is even better. It’s brighter and crazier, with more elaborate fight scenes, and more scenes of the hero piecing together clues. Mark Chao plays the hero (replacing Andy Lau from Phantom Flame), an upstart gumshoe who gets in trouble with the local law when he interferes with their investigation into a mysterious bipedal sea monster that’s been terrorizing the capital city. With the help of a cutting-edge, Watson-esque doctor (Lin Gengxin), Dee uncovers the secrets of an island cult that has been conspiring for years to strike at the heart of China.
Like a lot of recent Chinese martial-arts films, Young Detective Dee is marred by cheap-looking (and over-deployed) special effects, and there’s a faint stink of cash-in to the movie, which at times seems to swipe images and ideas directly from the Pirates Of The Caribbean movies and the multiple recent Arthur Conan Doyle re-imaginings. But Tsui packs the frame with colorful clothes and scenery—and colorful characters—and the movie doesn’t lack eye-popping action. In keeping with the long Hong Kong tradition of sequels topping the original, Young Detective Dee throws in everything from killer bees to an enormous underwater serpent, all while remaining fleet and entertaining in a way that a turgid martial-arts homage like 47 Ronin could never manage. And while Chao doesn’t bring the soulfulness and world-weary wisdom that Lau brought to his version of Dee, his sense of calm and can-do spirit suggests that the only way to defeat ancient evil is though modern cool.