Movie Review: Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings (Cmovie, 2018)

Mark Chao, Kenny Lin Gengxin and William Feng Shaofeng reprise their roles as the crime-solving trio from Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon in this sequel, directed by Tsui Hark (who is quickly becoming my favorite Chinese director). Joining them are Sandra Ma (“Oh My General”) and Ethan Ruan (“Legend of Fuyao”) in this mystery involving magicians, sorcery and an Empress eager for power. It’s a fun, summer flick with laughs and plenty of action.

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The movie begins with the Emperor giving the head of the Bureau of Investigations, Detective Dee (Mark Chao, Till the End of the World), the Dragon-Taming Mace in recognition for his work keeping the empire safe. He tasks him with using it to defeat all enemies of the empire even if, one day, that enemy should be the Emperor (Chieng Sheng, Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon) himself. But Empress Wu (Carina Lau, Asura) is furious that the Emperor would give Dee that much power and wonders if he is trying to use Dee against her, despite all that he’s done to give her more power.

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The Empress tasks Yuchi (Feng Shaofeng, The Monkey King 3), the Commander of the Golden Guards, with leading a group of assassins with supposed magical powers to steal the Mace for her. Torn between duty to his Empress and his friendship with Dee, he agrees under the condition that Dee will not end up being punished for losing the Mace. But he quickly grows suspicious of the group as a bunch of charlatans who try to use this opportunity to kill Dee.

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Called to the scene of a theft at the house of a famous artist, Dee and his friend, Shatuo (Lin Gengxin, “Princess Agents”) quickly realise that the crime scene has been staged and that someone is leading them into a deadly trap. Dee knows that, as long as he has the Mace, trouble is sure to follow and quickly prepares for the trouble he foresees coming.

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Of course it turns out that the Mystic Clan are just a distraction from the real enemy, the Wind Warriors, a clan from India whose masked leader has them use their powers of sorcery for illusions and mind control in an effort to destroy the empire. It’s up to Dee and his friends to figure out their next move and find a way to stop them.

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I always enjoy seeing Mark Chao and Lin Gengxin together as their real life friendship also translates into great chemistry on screen. Mark Chao is convincing as the clever detective who is two steps ahead and Lin Gengxin’s medic provides great comic relief while also helping his friend, especially when he meets Water Moon (Sandra Ma), a member of the Mystic Clan, whom Dee urges him to get to know better after she starts following him. The two of them have some pretty hilarious scenes together and I always enjoy Lin the most in these kinds of roles.

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Feng Shaofeng really hams it up in this movie as the loyal commander and friend who wants to do the right thing and there were a couple shots that I wish I had screengrabs to share as his expressions just cracked me up. He also has some of the best fight scenes in the movie.

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Ethan Ruan has a smaller role as Yuan Ce, a disciple of the deceased leader of the Shanzang Temple, who has been studying the Wind Warriors in an effort to find a way to defeat them.

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There are CGI effects and stunts galore in this action-mystery with the final fight a melee of odd monsters created by the Wind Warriors to cause confusion as the Bureau and the Golden Guards attempt to save the day and protect the Emperor. (Hope you don’t have a thing about eyeballs.) While the CGI monsters are not completely realistic, given that they are supposed to be the product of sorcery, it works for this movie.

Overall it’s a fun story, though Dee is almost too perfect of a protagonist and there never seemed to be much of a challenge for him in solving the mystery. The only challenge he really faced was a mysterious demon illness that he would suffer from periodically, but which is never fully explained or resolved and, ultimately, never really gets in the way of his goal. I would have liked to have seen him challenged a little more rather than always being ahead of the game. Instead you only see the challenges through Shatuo’s or Yuchi’s eyes, with Dee popping up just in time to reveal that he’s expected this all along and showing what he’s done to prepare.

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There are a couple scenes during the first half of the end credits that also could be hinting at yet another Detective Dee movie, which I would enjoy. Chao, Feng and Lin (the brains, muscle and heart of this fictional trio) make a well-balanced and fun team, and I would like to see them on screen together again. But if they do, I hope they make the Empress a more dominant villain. Both this movie and the previous one kind of dance around Empress Wu’s ambitions, but never really go into it fully and I think Lau could be more fully utilized as an antagonist.

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Trailers:

Teaser

Theatrical

Longform

 

Behind the Scenes clips (may have spoilers):

Production

Mark Chao, Feng Shaofeng, Lin Gengxin

Lin Geng Xin and Sandra Ma

Sandra Ma

Carina Lau

  1. 8 thoughts on “Movie Review: Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings (Cmovie, 2018)

    Thanks for the review post. This is a movie that I wanted to see on the big screen. The set designs and costume designs look very good, and the actors are attractive. I would like to see how the CGI vision has advanced in China. I watched a few Tsui Hark movies over a lapse of time, so I have kept his name filed in my head.

    I was praying for a wide theatrical release in USA since the first Chao Dee movie earned decent box office dollars. It’s showing in Monterey Park, CA, which is 18 miles away. The trek to the cinema would be onerous by public transportation. It is disappointing that USA cinemas are not interested in Chinese movies, like they were, earlier at the start of this century. The timing of this release is also awkward. The USA summer theatrical release slate is booked solid. The movie was reviewed in Variety, L.A. Times, Village Voice, so there is some attention to the movie.

    Go Chao! Go Lin! Go Feng! Is Ruan, the fourth king? Go, Wu Ji, anyway!

    • 8 thoughts on “Movie Review: Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings (Cmovie, 2018)

      Loved it. Saw it yesterday at our local AMC in Tempe, AZ.

    • 8 thoughts on “Movie Review: Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings (Cmovie, 2018)

      I saw it at the Monterey Park AMC which is 12 miles from me and is the place I go to see all these movies. It’s worth the half hour drive. (I usually go for the first showing and traffic is not bad.) It’s at the Santa Anita theater as well though I’m guessing that’s farther from you.

      • 8 thoughts on “Movie Review: Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings (Cmovie, 2018)

        I originally went to an AMC 18 mi from home at the Puente Hill Mall (they had the reserved recliner seats) to only find out that there was a problem with that particular theater room the movie was to be shown in. Ended up going to the 1 much closer to home in Orange the next day.

    • 8 thoughts on “Movie Review: Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings (Cmovie, 2018)

      I think there were quite a few C movies in US AMC theaters last year. Especially for cinemas near universities in select cities. But the ticket sales were poor. AMC may have given up on that endeavor. Now I rarely see C movies in the theaters. I wanted to see Legend of Demon Cat in the cinema and couldn’t find it anywhere. When the Zhou Dongyu Takeshi Kaneshiro romcom was out, it was possible to watch it in the cinemas.

      It’s not easy to search C movie availability in the US on the internet either? I wish there’s a clear algorithm for it.

      • 8 thoughts on “Movie Review: Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings (Cmovie, 2018)

        I thought the declining availability of C movies at AMC had something to do with Wanda Pictures (one of AMC’s investors) selling off their movie studio?

        • 8 thoughts on “Movie Review: Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings (Cmovie, 2018)

          Yeah, there were some issues with Wanda. So far I’ve noticed that if it’s an H. Brothers production, it definitely will show up, but others I have to find online. Actually I’ve been really lucky and was able to find Legend of the Demon Cat and a couple others on YouTube (usually searching by their Chinese title helps). Dramafever has started adding more Chinese movies as several I saw in theatres, like Wasted Times and Till the End of the Earth are on there now, and I’m seeing more on Netflix. Amazon also has quite a few, including many on Prime so that you don’t have to rent them.

  2. 8 thoughts on “Movie Review: Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings (Cmovie, 2018)

    I was lucky it was showing in my area (less than 4mi away). Definitely stay through the entire ending credits or you’ll miss out! When I saw it, people left a little too early during the ending credits and ended missing the final one.

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