Tag Archives: Film Review

Film Review: Detective Dee: Four Heavenly Kings

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

Detective Dee: Four Heavenly Kings

Empress Wu (Carina Lau) has been mistrustful of Detective Dee (Mark Chao) ever since the emperor (Chien Sheng) bestowed the Dragon Mace upon the loyal detective. The empress approaches the head of her royal guard, Yuchi Zhenjin (Shaofeng Feng), relying on his loyalty despite knowing how close he is to Dee. She questions whether should she request him to take the Mace from Dee would he do it?  He replies that should he do that, Dee would be subject to execution, his family ruined. She swears she will protect them all.

The Empress lies…

Empress Wu has brought some newcomers to court to replace Dee, claiming they have greater powers. Huan Tian (Aoyue Zhang) and his group demonstrate their abilities before the royal couple. Wu sends them to retrieve the Mace, but that is easier said than done as Dee is wily and no man’s fool. In the meantime, he has been sent on a fool’s errands, but he sees through this and hurries back to the Bureau when someone trips the alarm.


Yuchi is torn between his loyalty to the empress and his friendship for Dee, but Dee’s faith in his friend 

never wavers. It is imperative that he figure out what is going on before something terrible happens – namely, the destruction of the Tang dynasty! And what exactly is on the Empress’s agenda?

This was a really good movie, action-packed and full of intrigue and mystery, as well as magic, and a little comedy. It’s easy to accept how evil the Empress is from earlier acquaintance with her. She is a very power hungry woman. But she is also human and fallible, as we discover.  I liked the interplay between the female assassin (Sichuan Ma) and Dee’s right hand man Shatuo Zhong (Kenny Lin). I have to admit I missed the doctor from the last installment, but that did not detract from my enjoyment of this film..

Ancient grudges, sinister magic, spirituality, intrigue… this film has it all and then some.  I’m sad that there are no more movies with this same cast, although there appear to be others utilizing the same character.  I think I’ll give those a pass. Although there may be, if the glimpses in the ending credits are any indication. If you are interested, check out the Judge Dee stories, the original inspiration for Detective Dee. I reviewed the first book on this blog already.

I’ll give this film a strong 4.5 Stars

Film Review: Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

 Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon

Dee Renjie (Mark Chao) is newly arrived in the Imperial Capital with the intention of joining the Court of Judicature and Revision. There is tension in the city due to the attack of a mysterious sea monster which destroyed many ships. Empress Wu Zetian (Carina Lau) has charged Yuchi (Feng Shaofeng) with solving the problem within ten days. A courtesan is also arriving in the city, Yin Ruiji (Angelababy), who is to be a sacrifice to the creature. Dee overhears a plot to kidnap her. As he fights the kidnappers, Yin is kidnapped another sea creature who is more humanoid than the one she is meant to be sacrificed to. Dee rescues her and the creature escapes. Yuchi has Dee arrested and Yin put into protective custody, but Dee is able to escape with the aid of a friendly medical assistant Shatuo (Lin Gengxin).

Yin is visited by the sea creature again, which is when she realizes who he is – her missing lover, Yuan Zhen (Kim Bum). Masked thugs attack the house, but luckily, Dee, Yuchi, and Shatuo arrive to save the day and Dee is able to rescue Yuchi. Yin covers for Yuan so he can escape, then tells Dee the truth abut her lover. Dee, using his remarkable powers of deduction, deduces that the culprits come from the small war-ridden nation of Dondo, who plan to use Yuan to poison the imperial tea and kill the emperor. They find Yuan and take him to the Imperial Doctor Wang Pu (Kun Chen), who uncovers the cause of Yuan’s transformation and is able to cure him.


But how to deal with the enormous sea dragon that is still menacing the kingdom?

This film takes place before Detective Dee: The Mystery of the Phantom Flame. This is Dee’s first case and Mark Chao’s first appearance as the detective. I loved this film from the beginning. I thoroughly enjoyed the first film and was not disappointed with this one. The action is fast-paced, young Dee is as delightful as his older self, and just as clever. Watching him square off against the Empress is a delight. Keep a special eye out for the appearance of Kun Chen as Doctor Wang Pu. He is just delightful (and he has a monkey arm. You’ll have to watch to find out why).


There is a third movie in the series, and hopefully will be others, and I will watch it, for sure. In the meantime, I’ll give this film a strong 4 Stars.

Film Review: Mojin: The Lost Legend

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

 Mojin: The Lost Legend

In ancient times, a Chinese emperor who was strapped for cash allowed for the formation of the Mojin Xiaowei, official tomb raiders who would enter tombs to “borrow” gold for the use of the emperor. The practice has carried into modern times.  One group consists of Hu Bayi (Kun Chen), Wang Kaixuan (Bo Huang) and Shirley Yang (Shu Qi). Twenty years previously, Hu and Wang and another partner, Ding (Angelababy) found themselves in a tomb with their fellow party members. The three wished to leave the tomb but the others foolishly decided to destroy the statuary, which did not end well and brought about the death of Ding, whom both men were in love with. Twenty years later, another bad scenario causes Hu, Wang, and Shirley to leave China for New York City, but life is not good and Hu decides to quit.


Wang tries to carry on, but it’s not easy when you’re only one person out of three. However, he is 

enlisted to go to China to search for the Equinox Flower – the same flower that was involved with the death of Ding. He tells Hu, who says he isn’t interested, so Wang goes on, hoping Hu will follow, which he and Shirley do. Leading this new group is Sister Hong (Xiaoqing Liu), head of a global corporation who is determined to find the flower for altruistic purposes. The Mojin trio find themselves in the same tomb where Ding lost her life, Is history about to repeat itself? Can the ghosts of the past truly be laid to rest?


This was a fun movie to watch, reminding me of Raiders of the Lost Ark but with even deeper roots in Chinese history. I loved the dynamics between the main characters, and the love/hate relationship between Hu and Shirley. You just knew that when push came to shove, neither would abandon the other one. Same with Hu and Wang, longtime friends. I watched one of the bonus selections about Kun Chen in which they dealt humorously with their relationship and suggested the actors were together. The movie was exciting and action-packed and did not actually delve into the realm of disbelief – it all made sense. I understand, unfortunately, that the Mojin Worm Valley did not fare so well, being not exactly a sequel or a prequel and having been recast for some unknown reason. The reviews are really bad, so I’ll pass on that. I do recommend watching the Lost Legend, and I’ll give it a solid 4 Stars.

Film Review: Sanjuro

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes



Iori Izaka (Yuzo Kayama) is the nephew of the chamberlain, Mutsuta (Yunosuke Ito). He hopes to enlist his uncle’s aid in making much needed reforms in the village, but his uncle doesn’t seem interested. The superintendent, Kikui (Masao Shimizu) is very interested, and tells Iori to gather his friends quickly so he can speak to them. As the young men discuss their plans, they are startled to discover that they have been overheard by a ronin sleeping in the next room. Sanjuro (Toshiro Mifune) is quick to tell them why they are wrong and, without even knowing either the superintendent or the chamberlain, he can describe them to a tee. Too late, he realizes the meeting is to take place at the spot where they are. And actually they are already surrounded. If they are to survive, they must listen to Sanjuro.


Sanjuro bluffs his way out of the situation with the men, and garners an invitation from vice-chamberlain Muroto to work for him. They learn that Iori’s uncle has been kidnapped and his wife and daughter are being held. The young men protest when Sanjuro tells them they need to rescue the women first,claiming that they must save the chamberlain. But common sense prevails when Sanjuro reminds them they don’t even know where he is being held, and perhaps the women have overheard something. Through the use of Sanjuro’s crafty plan, they rescue the women. Mutsuta’s wife (Takako Irie) is grateful but serene. She advocates that they not use so much violence, but that isn’t always possible. Especially when the young men don’t listen to Sanjuro and attempt to carry out their own plans.


They hide in one of the young men’s homes, which just happens to be next to the home of Kurofuji, one of Kikui’s allies. Who would look for someone under their very noses? The enemy is cunning too and lead them on wild goose chases because the young ones are so quick to react. They just might ruin one plan too many!


Sanjuro is the sequel to Yojimbo, with Toshiro Mifune once again playing the titular character, a wandering ronin. I liked this film as much as I liked Yojimbo. It definitely made me laugh at times.  I loved the interplay between Mutsuta’s wife and Sanjuro. I think he would prefer not to kill either, but sometimes he is pushed into a situation where it is inevitable. She is a great character, and so is her daughter Chidori (Reiko Dan). Once again, the cinematography and direction are excellent, as is the soundtrack. Definitely worth watching. I give this film 5 Stars.

Film Review: Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

 Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame

Following the death of her husband, Empress Wu (Carina Lau) has been regent, but now she is to be inaugurated as empress. An enormous statue is being constructed for the occasion, but it’s imperative that it be completed on time. However, during an inspection of the statue, an official goes up in flames, burned to death. But how? The Empress’ chaplain, speaking through his special deer, suggests that Detective Dee be put on the case. But Detective Dee has been imprisoned for the past eight years, following his denouncement of the empress’ regency!

Under the watchful eye of Pei Donglai (Chao Deng) and Shangguan Jing’er (Bingbing Li), Detective Dee (Andy Lau) is placed in charge of the investigation, but only after the second mysterious flaming death.  Jing’er has been given express orders from the Empress to guard Dee, while Pei mistrusts him immensely. There are those who believe the deaths were caused because the men were disrespectful of the talismans placed on the statue. But Dee doesn’t subscribe to that particular theory. Yet he’s at a loss to explain their spontaneous combustion. Can he solve the mystery before the scheduled inauguration?


This is definitely a very interesting whodunit, with a lot of twists. Detective Dee is a great character, 

unconventional and yet very steadfast in his loyalties, remaining true to his principles. I wish there were more movies featuring Andy Lau as the detective, but the next two films are actually prequels about the younger Dee. I’ll watch them too, of course.

I loved the action sequences, the story was well-written, and I felt the film had great direction. All of the actors did a good job, but I especially enjoyed watching Andy Lau. This was a fun film to watch. I give it 4 Stars

Film Review: The Great Battle

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

 The Great Battle

When Emperor Li Shimin (Park Sung-Woong) of the Tang dynasty invades the Korean kingdom of Goguryeo, he is met in battle by forces led by General Yeon (Nazeeh Tarsha). Yeon believes his defeat is due to the refusal of one of his commanders to obey his orders to send troops to the battle. He brands Commander Yang Man-Chun (Zo In-sung) a traitor and dispatches the head of his cadets, Sa-mul (Nam Joo-hyuk) to the Ansi Fortress to kill Yang. Sa-mul is from Ansi and is loyal to his general and doesn’t even know Yang, so he agrees to under take the mission.

On his arrival, Sa-mul encounters Yang just outside of the city. The commander is helping an older couple whose wagon has become stuck. Yang isn’t stupid and he figures out why Sa-mul is there, but welcomes him anyway, and tells him that he can carry the flag in battle and stand next to him, thus showing the people that he is fighting. Just then word arrives that Yang’s two lieutenants are at it again, and Sa-mul follows everyone to see what the fuss is about. A conflicted Sa-mul follows Yang at night and begins to see what the commander is really like and he begins to question his mission.


The Emperor decides to attack Ansi Fortress next and is determined to take it. The odds certainly seem 

in his favor, as he has 200,000 men to the 5000 men defending the fortress. But Yang refuses to be defeated, and he devises plans to keep the wolf at bay. But how long can he keep this up without some sort of reinforcements? And how likely is that considering General Yeon wants him dead?

This was a really good film, one I thoroughly enjoyed. I loved the human element as the young Sa-mul began to think for himself based on what he saw rather than just blindly obeying orders. I laughed at parts, and at others I cried. The battle scenes were magnificent and truly epic. You can’t help but root for the underdog against the Tang oppressors, and you can’t help but admire Commander Yang. I give this film 5 Stars.


Film Review: Kagemusha

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes


In the time just before the Edo Period in Japan, rival war lords known as daimyo were often at each other’s throats, vying for supremacy. One such lord is Shingen Takeda (Tatsuya Nakadai), while his fiercest competitors are Ieyasu Tokugawa (Masayuki Yui) and Oda Nobunaga (Daisuke Ryu). One of Shingen’s commanders is his brother Nobukado (Tsutomu Yamazaki), who resembles him to such a degree that he sometimes takes his place in the field. One day, purely by chance, Nobukao runs across a petty thief who is about to be crucified and looks even more like Shingen than he is. In fact, they could be twins. So he brings the thief back with him, thinking he’d be useful as a double for the war lord.

The thief (also played by Tatsuya Nakadai) grudgingly accepts his role as double. His presence becomes even more crucial when Shingen is shot in battle. It’s imperative that his enemies not know. When the war lord dies, the thief is thrust into the position of the new war lord and has to learn about a whole new life. Nobunaga and Tokugawa begin sniffing around at rumors that Shingen is dead, trying to learn the truth. Shingen’s son Katsuyori (Ken’ichi Hagiwara) is itching for war but cooler heads prevail. He might be a little salty since he is not his father’s heir, rather his son Takemura (kota Yui) is. He realizes his father is dead but has to pretend otherwise. The angry Katsuyori heads off to take a castle on his own. When Shingen/thief discovers this, he feels he has no choice but to support his “son”:

.Inevitably, the truth comes out, and now the battle begins.

This film is one of Kurosawa’s finest. It’s big and beautiful, with the most amazing cinematography and music. The role of the thief/double was originally given to actor Shintaro Katsu (best known for playing Zatoichi, the blind swordsman/masseuse), but creative differences ended that and Nakadai received the role instead. The production ran out of money before the film was finished, but thanks to a little help from Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas, they persuaded Twentieth Century Fox to come to Kurosawa’s aid, and the rest is history.

In a historic note, less than thirty years later, in 1601, the Battle of Sekigahara cemented Tokugawa’s

position as shogun, and the family would continue to rule for the next 250 years. Kagemusha is a very rich film, and Nakadai gives a stunning performance as the poor thief, caught up in a world he never wanted to be a part of, but his devotion to Shingen during the brief time of their acquaintance led him to do what he considered to be the right thing. I give this film 5 Stars

Film Review: Shadow

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes



An uneasy alliance exists between the kingdoms of Yang and Pei. Yang holds Jing City, which by rights belongs to Pei. The king of Pei (Ryan Zheng) has no wish to go to war, and forbids his commander to do so. However, all is not as it seems. The man who presents himself as the commander is actually another man named Jing (Chao Deng). Years ago, the real commander’s father found him in Jeng City and noticed the resemblance to his son and raised him to be his shadow, training him to fight. The time has come, as the actually Commander has taken a turn for the worse, after being wounded some time before in a battle, by General Yang.

The king doesn’t seem to take the situation too seriously, much to the chagrin of his sister, the Princess (Xiatong Guan). The commander’s wife, Madam (Li Sun) is aware of the situation with her husband, who is hidden where the king cannot find him. She maintains the facade of her marriage to Jing/Commander, but it’s easy to see there is an attraction between them, although they both fight it.


When Jing/Commander insists that they must take Jing City, and that he has challenged General Yang 

to a duel, the king strips him of his title, so Jing makes his departure, with or without the king’s blessing. In the meantime, his adviser Minister Lu (Jingchun Wang) has an offer from General Yang regarding the Princess. But he doesn’t want her as a wife, however he’ll take her as his concubine. A very insulting offer indeed, but the Princess accepts, in order to prevent further violence.

Shadow is a beautifully crafted and directed film by Yimou Zhang. Intrigue and secrecy abound, and the truth is not always easy to see. Jing is led to believe his mother is waiting for him in Jing City, as an enticement to get him to fight. The Commander himself, although not in great shape, helps to train Jing for what he needs to do, with the assistance of his wife, who actually comes up with a clever strategy for fighting involving umbrellas. Although a color film, it employs a black and white palette that is quite beautiful. Who will remain standing when the smoke clears? Ah, there’s the rub.


I give this lovely film 4 Stars.

Film Review: Yojimbo

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes


A wandering ronin (a samurai without a master) who calls himself Sanjuro (Toshire Mifune) allows Fate to lead him where it will and ends up in a small town where two rival criminal gangs are fighting each other for dominance. Sanjuro has a distinct distaste for injustice, and feels for the plight of the poor townspeople, whose very livelihood as well as their existence, is threatened by these hooligans.  The only person who is making any money is the coffinmaker. So Sanjuro decides he will help the town out by pitting the gangs against one another.

Sanjuro takes up residence at the tavern, despite having no money. The tavern keeper, Gonji (Elijiro Tono) thinks he is crazy to attempt to take on both gangs. One side is as corrupt as the other. Sanjuro goes to the head of Seibe (Seizaburo Kawazu) , who owns the brothel, and contracts with him to take care of the opposition for 50 ryo, half in advance. Having struck a bargain, he overhears a conversation between Seibe and his wife in which they reveal they will kill him when the job is done and take all their money back. Sanjuro returns the money and heads to the other side, to bargain with Ushitora.


Sanjuro’s plan is about to work, with both sides taking out each other, when the unexpected appearance 

by a government official in a fancy palanquin brings a halt to everything. The rivals have no wish to be perceived as having trouble in their town, not wishing to bring any scrutiny on themselves, so they decide to play nice. For now.

It doesn’t take long for Tanjuro to figure out why this minor official has such a fancy ride, so decides to

take care of him himself.  Then he learns about the abduction of a woman in the town. Her poor husband, unable to help her, builds a hovel next to the mansion where her captor lives, and can do nothing but witness her nightly ravishment at his hands. Sanjuro maneuvers her escape and gives the couple and their child money with which to leave town. He is caught and beaten up, then held captive.

He manages to escape. In the meantime, a new player has entered the scene, Unosuke (Tatsuya Nakadai). He is a gunfighter, and Ushitora’s brother. It’s inevitable that the two face off as Sanjuro cleans house once and for all.

Yojimbo means bodyguard, which is basically what a ronin is, being a samurai who has no master and thus available to be employed by anyone willing to pay his price. I really enjoyed this film. First off, it’s Akiro Kurosawa, so you know it has to be good. Secondly, it stars Toshiro Mifune, the finest actor to ever come out of Japan. The cinematography is great, and the use of the music in the soundtrack is genius.  Besides the obvious drama, there is an element of humor, especially on the part of the bemused samurai whom Unosuke nicknames the Two Bit Samurai. 


While putting on a tough front, Sanjuro reveals his tender side through his actions, first of all because he feels bad for this town and the hell they are being put through because of other people’s greed. He doesn’t do anything for his own gain. Even when he took money from one side, he ended up giving it to the family he reunited. And when all was said and done, he went on his way.

I will give this film 5 Stars. You can find it at Amazon