The equally thrilling and exhausting Hong Kong martial arts fantasy Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings boasts more inventive weapons, monsters, and plot twists than most Western audiences will know what to do with. Like the popular Chinese gong’an courtroom mystery series that it’s very loosely inspired by, Detective Dee has a convoluted, episodic narrative that primarily serves as a showcase for the various tools in the crime-solving kit of seventh-century sleuth Renjie Dee (Mark Chao), a kit that this time includes a Buddhist sutra and a dragon-taming mace.
Thankfully, the shambolic kitchen sink convolutions of Dee’s story — in which he investigates the Byzantine plot of catty Empress Wu (Carina Lau) to overthrow her husband (Chien Sheng) with the help of ninjas, warlocks, and political dissidents — often seems irrelevant given the galvanizing campiness of set pieces that pit wire-fu fight choreography against, among other things, computer-generated dragon-scorpion hybrid creatures.
You may sometimes wonder why director Hark Tsui and co-writers Kuo-Fu Chen and Chia-lu Chang abruptly transition from one subplot to the next. That may happen especially when the villainous weather-controlling Mystic Clan — the empress’s spellcasting henchmen — are revealed as a minor threat compared to the negligibly developed Indian shapeshifting clan the Wind Warriors, whom Dee mystifyingly describes as “dangerous people with weird skills.”
But you will never have to wait long before ninjas strike, a gigantic eyeball demon attacks, or a monster’s blood rains from the sky and transforms into flower petals in midair. Like that one Chemical Brothers song, Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings doesn’t have to make sense to get you high.
Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings
Directed by Tsui Hark
Well Go USA
Opens July 27, AMC Empire 25
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