Legendary Hong Kong director Tsui Hark returns! A prequel of the colossal moneymaker Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame, which dominated the box office of Chinese National Holiday week (starts from 1st October) three years ago, and a similar (if not higher) lucrative income will repeat this year in the 7-days stretch too. But the film is at best to be referred as satisfying, compared to its predecessor, the whole “dragon king” case doesn’t measure up to the intelligent reasoning required for a grave and ambitious scheme such as toppling over an entire nation, maybe it is because of a “young” detective Dee, not weathered enough yet. The freshly-recruited cast brings new and drop-dead gorgeous faces to the franchise (quintet of beauty,Chao, Feng, Lin, Kim and Angelababy in their prime appeal), but they are all employed as chessmen to follow the procedure without any further digging into their personalities or plainly reduced to eye-candies.
The film tells how the young Dee rise to become a respectable detective for the Tang Dynasty, befriends the doctor Shaluo (similar to Sherlock Holmes and Watson) and his rival, Chief Commissioner/Detective Yuchi, unravels and solves an intriguing mystery case which involves a plot to assassinate the royal family and palace officials to overthrow the entire kingdom. In order to fully enjoy the film, it requires some suspension of disbelief from the audience for some of the fantasy or action elements shown in the film such as riding a horse underwater, ‘Kraken’ beast, parasites that can change a person’s looks and behavior entirely, flying around fighting in the air, etc. Although the wire-action choreography was great and well handled throughout the film, but the action scenes gets a little too much and it feels tedious to watch as the film moves on. It took away the focus of the mystery plot and a lot of potential character development required in the film. However, most of the lead and supporting actors did a fine job in portraying their character roles.
Also, instead of having a single conundrum to mull over at a time, having a multitude of inter-linked puzzles makes for brilliant, brainstimulating entertainment. Chao puts in a noteworthy effort, while Angelababy is spectacular eye candy. Just don’t cringe when the beast kisses her because, well, he actually turns out to be the prettier one. The two hour plus story arc, holds us rapt as it tells a riveting tale, enough to have us gripping our seats. Being a huge fan of Jerry Bruckheimer, I can confidently put Tsui Hark in his category.
As with Tsui Hark, one can expect fantasy elements to appear in his films. And also with Tsui Hark, you know the plot is quite predictable, it’s not too hard to guess what’s the “mystery” behind this film although it’s supposed to be a crime solving film. Well, though I just said the plot is predictable, there are several things that keep you watching on, all of which I have described above. I enjoy films like these and I have no qualms whilst they are continually being made. The next two hours of non-stop action are another example of Tsui’s typically convoluted brand of storytelling – one which ropes in at least three loosely linked missions for our protagonists.