The Detective Dee Collection
review by Bobby Blakey
When Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame hit in 2010 starring Andy Lau, it brought together the martial arts epic period piece and blended it with the hint of Sherlock Holmes and fantasy to create something great from director Tsui Hark. In 2013 Hark returned to the franchise with the prequel film Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon with Mark Chao stepping into the role as Dee and then again in the 2018 follow up Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings. Now Well Go USA is bringing all three of the films in the epic sage together in one Collection.
Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame follows an exiled detective who is recruited to solve a series of mysterious deaths that threaten to delay the inauguration of Empress Wu. Andy Lau has become a staple in Asian cinema with his films varying from drama to action and he pulls them all off with little to now effort. The easiest way to describe this film is that it is a cross between Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Sherlock Holmes. The story itself is a mystery that is handled very well and keeps you guessing on some levels. One thing that usually ends up being an issue with this genre is the confusing storylines and here it is complex, but easy to follow while maintaining some unique twists and mystery. On the other side of this film it delivers some great martial arts sequences. Lau does a great job as usual and really makes this character his own. This is one of those movies that is easily designed to have future installments. The visuals of this movie are on the huge scale and look amazing. Alongside the typical wire work used in these period action films, they had some pretty decent CGI effects as well. Rarely do you get a film like this that mixes the mystery and martial arts genre that works on such an amazing level.
Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragons follows Dee’s very first case, investigating reports of a sea monster terrorizing the town, reveals a sinister conspiracy of treachery and betrayal, leading to the highest reaches of the Imperial family. At first this one is a bit hard to get into as it just doesn’t pack the initial punch as the original film. Thankfully as it moves forward it starts to find its footing and includes a more classic monster tale to the story making for a uniquely different film. There seems to be a slower build to the story than the first one, but the addition of the creature feature story makes it work. The visuals are as amazing as ever, creating a beautifully stunning period look to the time. The film was clearly shot for 3D which makes some of the CGI look a bit off in standard format, but it’s only really noticeable in the opening and a few other moments in the film. Beyond these moments the effects are well done and make for a fun film. The lead doesn’t have the same command of the screen as previous star Andy Lau, but still manages to bring something great to the character. The story is sometimes slow paced as it tries to keep the mystery building, but most of it is out of necessity. Have no fear as there is plenty of martial arts action to break it up from time to time to keep viewers intrigued. Thankfully for the most part they used practical make-up effects to bring this creature to life. They did a good design that not only works with the story they are telling, but also doesn’t come off cheesy. While this isn’t the follow-up some may have wanted, it does offer a fun addition to the legend of Dee and where it all began.
Young Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings follows the detective embroiled in his most difficult case yet. Accused of wrongdoing by Empress Wu, Detective Dee must defend himself against this formidable foe, all while investigating a crime wave that has engulfed the city, marked by strange and seemingly supernatural occurrences. While I still prefer Andy Lau in the role, Marck Chao has made it his own and really delivers this time around. The story keeps the fantasy and creatures at the forefront making for a great time. The story has an initial slow build before fully launching into the action. The visuals are as amazing as ever, creating a beautifully stunning period look to the time. The film was clearly shot for 3D which makes some of the CGI look a bit off in standard format, but doesn’t take too much away from the finished product as is. There is plenty of martial arts action to break it up from time to time to keep viewers intrigued with some cool designs and weapons that made me think of the old Shaw Brothers films like Five Element Ninjas. The ending of the movie goes all in with a full on creature fantasy fight that is fun to watch making this another fun chapter in the Detective Dee franchise.
Whether you are a fan of the series or have never seen them before this collection is the perfect chance to bring them all home in one simple set. While you can still get all three of these films individually on Blu-ray and DVD you can only get this set exclusively at Walmart available now from Well Go USA.