From legendary action director Tsui Hark and the creators of international smash hit Detective Dee - Mystery Of The Phantom Flame comes the captivating tale of Dee Renjie's beginnings in ... See full summary »
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This is a movie set in the late Ming Dynasty. The 3 main characters are all elite guards for the palace. One of their fellow guardsmen goes bad. His former companions must now forget their ... See full summary »
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Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings is quite different from the other two entries about the modest, intellectual and clever Tang Dynasty investigator. While the first movie relies on its mysterious atmosphere and investigative techniques and the second film explores the detective's early career, the third movie is set between the two and is best described as an intrigue with supernatural elements. This is a very entertaining fantasy movie with dynamic martial arts elements and colourful costumes and settings but it doesn't have much depth, doesn't feature a surprising plot and doesn't rely on investigative techniques. Some people might therefore consider this the weakest entry in the franchise thus far. However, I have a different opinion. If you are ready to accept this movie as a wu xia fantasy film inspired by classic Hongkong cinema of the late eighties with contemporary images and sounds, you will experience a most entertaining blockbuster that doesn't only equal contemporary Hollywood fantasy movies but also beats most of those thanks to its intriguing historical references.
The title of the movie is somewhat misleading. The four heavenly kings are only statues that are referenced in a note and then shown in one scene mid-way through the plot that lasts for about five minutes. They are never mentioned again afterwards and have no significant influence on the story. Detective Dee and the Dragon Taming Mace would have been a much more appropriate title.
The story is set between Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon and Detective Dee: The Mystery of the Phantom Flame. Emperor Gaozong appoints Di Renjie to head the Department of Justice and gives him the mysterious, powerful and prestigious Dragon Taming Mace. Empress Wu disapproves of this as she realizes that Detective Dee might be her biggest obstacle on her ambitious quest for ultimate authority. She orders Di Renjie's sworn brother Yuchi Zhenjin to steal the mace and discredit her opponent. She hires a group of sorcerers to see the plan through and promises to not assassinate Di Renjie and his family. Di Renjie has however realized that the Empress wants to steal the mace from him and starts to investigate her motivations. He quickly realizes that she is manipulated by a group of discredited Indian sorcerers who want to take revenge for having been used and abused by Tang Dynasty officials. Di Renjie has to rely on his colleagues, a renegade criminal and a Buddhist monk to save the empire.
The movie convinces with a steady pace and introduces the main plot right from the first scene. The film keeps this pace from start to finish and remains highly entertaining despite a running time over two hours. The most important characters are introduced quickly and coherently. The settings in old Tang Dynasty look incredible even though they appear to be a little bit too extravagant, polished and shiny. The visual special effects are astonishing and show a fascinating world between fantasy and history. The martial arts sequences are creative, dynamic and inspiring. The intrigues at the court are interesting to follow even though they don't offer anything new to the formula. The film's showdown is quite intense and of epic proportions in the key of something you would expect from The Lord of the Rings and the likes.
On the negative side, the plot is somewhat predictable and lacks the wit, precision and cretaivity of previous installments. The investigative techniques that characterized the first two films of the franchise are certainly lacking in this movie. Still, Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings is such a colourful, dynamic and imaginative movie that these minor flaws don't drag the film down.
Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings might be a cinematic blockbuster that is lacking depth and precision from time to time but it's the perfect film to escape your everyday life and explore a fascinating world between fantasy and history. You might feel disappointed if you are looking for a profound drama or clever thriller but you will explore a dreamy martial movie and an entertaining fantasy flick for sure. If you take this film for what it is without comapring it too much to the style of the previous two installments, you will get your money's worth while watching this Chinese blockbuster at your local cinema or at home.
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