Okay... What comes out in China next week? Any prequels to movies I saw at previous Fantasia? My Lucky Star last week, Young Detective Dee this one, and both opening at Boston Common the same weekend they opened on the other side of the world, is probably not the start of a trend that can be extrapolated past this week (although it would be pretty awesome if AMC saw them doing well enough that they tried to bring something else in next), but it's been fun.
As with Lost In Thailand seven months ago, this seems to be a deal that AMC negotiated directly with the Chinese studio, which on the one hand is pretty cool if they're going to make a regular thing of it, but must kind of stink if you like these movies but don't live in an area with AMC theaters. I kind of wish they'd picked it up in 3D, but having been around for the thud Tsui Hark's Flying Swords of Dragon Gate landed with when it played in Imax 3D, I can't blame them for not being willing to test how much the folks in Chinatown will pay for a movie ticket.
Maybe it will be one of those 2D/3D Blu-rays, although I kind of wonder who will distribute it. There's no region 1/A Lost in Thailand yet, for instance, and the guys who distributed the first movie, Indomina, don't really seem to be doing much any more. I could see the likes of Well Go picking it up, but if so, wouldn't they have done so for the theatrical run, too?
The upsot of all that meandering: This movie's a ton of fun, and the way its US release is happening means your best chance to see it is probably if it's playing at an AMC theater this week. Catch it now, while you can.
Di Renjie zhi shendu longwang (Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon
* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 September 2013 at AMC Boston Common #3 (first-run, 4K DCP)
I've got to confess: When I hoped for more Detective Dee movies after seeing Mystery of the Phantom Flame a couple years ago, I didn't really think I'd get them. Happily, it seemed the people of China also wanted more, and director Tsui Hark also seemed to have a soft spot for the character that revitalized his career. Apparently star Andy Lau wasn't quite so enthusiastic, so Hark went and made this one a prequel. But don't worry about that making it predictable; despite knowing Dee will still be around at the end, this bit of martial-arts-mystery-fantasy-adventure is even more crazy - and just as much fun - as its predecessor.
Things kick off in 665 AD, with Empress Wu Zetian (Carina Lau) effectively in control of a Middle Kingdom at war with its neighbor Yuya. When a fleet sent north to confront them is eradicated and the survivors make noises about a sea dragon, she orders Da Lisi chief Yuchi Zhenjin ("William" Feng Shaofeng) to investigate while the commoners make plans to appease the gods with a ceremonial fasting by courtesan Yin Ruiji (Angelababy). A new arrival in the capital city of Luoyang, Dee Renjie ("Mark" Chao You-ting) gets wind of a plot to kidnap Ruiji even before reporting to Da Lisi headquarters to begin as a detective, and gets to the temple just in time to break it up - although he does not have an immediate explanation for the lizard-man who shows up midway through.
Yes, a lizard-man. Those who had issues with the more fantastical elements of Phantom Flame may as well just accept that things are going to get weird here as Dee and company find themselves faced with creatures of all shapes and sizes. Hark happily takes detours into horror territory here, but in some ways, that just adds to the "Chinese Sherlock Holmes" vibe of the character, as Holmes debunked his share of monsters and didn't always play fair with the reader in his adventures. While Hark and co-writer Chang Chia-lu put a fair amount of not-always-sophisticated humor into the flick, the Sherlockian aspect of the story certainly comes through as he tries to find a logical explanation for the monsters plaguing the city with his close observation of the evidence, broad knowledge of many subjects, and physician sidekick Shatuo Zhong (Lin Geng-xin).
Full review at EFC.