(director/writer: Tsui Hark; screenwriters: Zhang Jialu/Chang Chia-lu/based on the story by Chen Kuo-fu & Tsui Hark; cinematographer: Choi Sung-fai; editor: Yu Baiyang; music: Kenji Kawai; cast: Mark Chao (Detective Dee), Angelababy (Yin Ruiji), Feng Shaofeng (Yuchi Zhenjin), Lin Gengxin (Dr Shatuo Zhong), Carina Lau (Empress Wu), Ian Kim (Yuan Zhen), Chen Kun (Dr Wang Pu), Hu Dong (Huo Yi), Seng Chien (The Emperor), Lin Chao Hsu (Cheng An); Runtime: 134; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Zhang Dajun/James Tsim; Well Go USA; 2013-China-in Mandarin & Putonghua with English subtitles)

A lively and lushly filmed action-packed adventure film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A lively and lushly filmed action-packed adventure film by famed US educated Hong Kong filmmaker Tsui Hark(“We’re Going To Eat You”/”Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain”/”The Butterfly Murders”), who is now based in Beijing. Tsui co-writes it with Zhang Jialu and Chang Chia-lu, and it’s based on the story by Chen Kuo-fu & the director.

It’s set in China, 665 A.D, in Luoyang, the capital city, where the Tang Dynasty rules with the Emperor (Seng Chien) and the real power behind the throne, Empress Wu (Carina Lau). Whenthe Imperial fleet is attacked by a sea monster and destroyed, the country fears they are being attacked by insurgents and a full-scale investigation is ordered by the Empress. At this time, Detective Lee (Mark Chao) arrives from another territory for duty at the Department of Justice and is placed under the command of the Detective Yuchi (Feng Shaofeng), the department head. Yuchi is commanded by the Empress to find the attackers within ten days or be beheaded, and Lee is determined to help. Using Sherlock Holmes powers of deduction, Lee deduces an attempt to abduct the courtesan Yin Ruiji (Angelababy), who is held before her ritual sacrifice to the Imperial regime at the Sea Dragon Temple, under Imperial guards. It turns out the masked kidnappers are her rescuers, who are led by her lover Yuan Zhen (Ian Kim), who was poisoned with parasites placed in his tea and the handsome poet was turned into a scaled monster. Lee stops the abduction only to be wrongfully arrested by Yuchi, but is determined that he must help the courtesan and her deformed lover. So through his cunning and people skills, Lee convinces the young prison doctor, Shatuo (Lin Gengxin), to free him from prison and for the doctor to treat the former teahouse owner turned monster vic with an herbal cure. After more complex developments clues lead to evidence that the neighboring island people of Dondo are using a different sea monster in their plans to conquer the Tang Dynasty and rule the land after invading it with heavy weaponry, and it’s up to Lee to save the day despite Yuchi being jealous and never completely trusting him.

The Imperials are depicted as not so nice royals, who care only about themselves and not their subjects, while the rivals are also not nice. You would think Hark is dropping some message about working blindly for those in power or those trying to get power.

It played in theaters in Imax 3-D versions, as Hark has made a visual masterpiece using his invention of stereoscopic cameras and a host of special effects to make it a first-class spectacle. The film is an entertaining action-packed film with one great choreographed fight and chase set piece after another–ad nauseam–to keep things pleasingly fast paced.