Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon – 2013
Into the Trash: Made in China are Jeremiah’s blurbs of floundering in movies set in Ancient China (and other Asiatic locales, but for heaven’s sake let’s be reductive about this) in search of treasure and pureness of heart/gold. These will pop up as a mini-series amidst Into the Trash normal posts, probably.
Also most will be much shorter than this.
YDD:RSD is a prequel to Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame (2010). The movie from China is about a court detective uncovering a conspiracy to kill the imperial court while also explaining away why a giant sea creature and a merman exist and are doing the things they’re doing.
Our super-smart detective hero solves everything by undermining the script instead of actual logical deduction, an approach I call Batman-logic:
“Holy Toledo, Batman, what’s blue and has eight legs and a menu?”, “A bird’s egg on a spider waitress! Quickly Robin, the Riddler will rob the bank at twelve o’clock! We’d better hurry!”
The film takes stylistic cues from Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes (2009) (even borrowing the internal-body-zoom during a fight scene) mixed with things like Iron Monkey (1993 – we’ll get to that one).
Lots of wire rigging and distractingly fake CGI projectiles and debris make up the fight scenes. They’re practical enough to be fun at times, but the fights are not about style or choreography, it’s just meant for popcorn fun, while being cartoonish at times.
The two main fight scenes with the evil old man are good – one is just a solid fast-paced close-quarters fight, the other is on the side of a cliff wall with a ridiculous amount of rope and cliff.
The movie does drag on. I might have enjoyed a good 80-90 minute cut of this. But there’s just so little substance or character to latch onto here, making it shorter or longer doesn’t fix the problem that you’re just kind of tired of seeing stuff and want to feel something. But color grading up the wazoo helps keep the visual interest going.
I liked the merman trying to return to his (conveniently in peril) courtesan girlfriend, (and I liked that he was just an actor in a rubber Creature of the Black Lagoon suit–that’s just my style and I found it terribly endearing) but that’s about all the ‘character’ we get in this story. Everyone else just kinda talks past each other until the movie is over.
There are two major threads in this story: the rival detective to Dee, who is given a 10 day ultimatum to solve the mystery of a … sea monster? (I didn’t realize how ridiculous that sounded until I wrote it) or rather to find out what or who is behind the destruction of a fleet of ships. He conducts this maritime investigation entirely on land.
Secondly, some girl is about to be kidnapped, and upon arriving in the city Dee happens upon the kidnappers and uses his lip reading detective skills to find out about this. He intervenes in the kidnapper’s plans just as the merman shows up. Helping out the merman links a physician sidekick to the plot, sort of. The would-be kidnappers are found out to be spies so that leads us to the conspiracy enemy state thing which ties into the sea monster mystery by osmosis.
My point is, these threads are less woven and more just twirled together to the point that you realize how many things and people were tangentially added to the story just so that they could bridge plot holes. If they wanted mystery or coherence they’d have done better just re-purposing a Poirot or Sherlock Holmes script and adding sea monsters to it.
While the Pirates of the Caribbean 2 battle with the Sea Dragon himself holds the film’s best visual effects (and a shit-ton of the budget), the main threat/mystery is over by that point in the story and ultimately had little to nothing to with the monster, it’s just tacked on to the end as everyone is headed home. But they have this giant subplothole they haven’t tied up, and you can’t in good conscience call this movie Rise of the Sea Dragon without involving a Sea Dragon. That said, it’s hard to be sad when a horse rides underwater, jumps 100 feet from floating debris onto a ship and gets poisoned fish catapulted into its and our hero’s face.