Tsui Hark’s third Detective Dee movie (Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings) is due for release in July 2018. So it’s not surprising that there’s a 2014 live action TV show on Amazon Prime about young Judge Dee and young Empress Wu, with lots of martial arts, magic, and detective deduction.
The catch is that it’s not called anything resembling “Judge Dee,” “Detective Dee,” or even “Magistrate Dee.”
Yup, it was uploaded by the production company as:
Clip: Young Sherlock.
(Also, whoever did the uploading has classified each of the series episodes as separate movies. And there are 40-some episodes in a season. My advice is to search for the show on your desktop, and then click each of them onto your watchlist in episode order.)
It turns out that the official English title really is Young Sherlock. Presumably this is using “sherlock” as a generic word for a sleuth.
Anyway, it’s a pretty typical Tang Dynasty detective/martial arts show.
(Heh, I just wanted to write that sentence.)
So there’s a hotblooded hero destined to make nonfictional history and become a Chinese god, Di Ren Jie. He is a gifted young scholar and martial artist, but his dad finds him unserious. It’s almost time for him to get married off and take the bureaucrat exams, but he just wants to have fun. He’s crazy for beautiful girls. But he doesn’t want to marry his cousin and childhood friend, a girl with a sharp tongue and a mean right whose nickname is “Tigress.” He also doesn’t want to marry the other leading candidate, a rich and well-educated government minister’s daughter he’s never met, because her nickname is “Ugly.” But on his way to visit the capital, he falls in love instantly (as one does) with a gorgeous young woman who doctors the poor while hiding her face (as one does).
He also has a faithful family servant/sidekick who spends his time being ordered around by both the future Judge Dee and the aforementioned Tigress. (Though they treat him with careless generosity as well, since they were all raised together.)
And Tigress is also destined to meet mysterious love interests, as well as dressing up like a guy. Because that’s what young female martial artists of good family do!
Anyway, the first episode sets up the show with a lot of info about palace intrigue and the Emperor’s troubles, as well as introducing us to a mysterious group of magical ninja terrorists, led by a guy wearing a Western-style helmet. Emperor Gaozong gave up hope of marrying his childhood friend and true love (Wu Mei, the future Empress Wu) upon taking the throne, for an important reason. She had been married off to the now-dead emperor as a concubine, so marrying her himself would count as incest. Further, an imperial consort who didn’t have kids by an emperor was supposed to remain celibate afterwards, to avoid succession confusion, and was to be booked off to be a nun. Therefore, she became the abbess of a Buddhist shrine to the dead emperor’s memory. But for various reasons, the gods don’t seem to think this is good enough, and the omens are bad. So the young emperor, depressed and lonely, contemplates going back on his decision… and of course, there are courtiers trying to get him what he wants!
But the second episode starts with mystery, as a theater accident turns out to be no accident, and Dee shows even the gentlemen of the court just how deadly serious he can be.
On the whole, I think it’s okay for mystery-reading kids… if they are okay with lots of subtitles, scary stuff and mystery murders, as well as pagan and Buddhist Chinese altars and temples. There’s some earthy humor too. (For instance, Tigress complains that, since they were little kids together, Dee has already seen her naked when they were in the bathtub together. Since she complains about this in public, the public misinterpret it!)
There’s also a frequent repetition of a famous Chinese love poem about longing for the beloved so much that she confused green and red, which is written to a married Emperor. (Yes, maintenance of the imperial concubine system is a plot essential.) If your kids already know about King Solomon, there’s nothing shocking.
The main question, as ever, is why the evil Empress Wu has been rewritten as the purehearted Empress Wu in so many recent historical works. Obviously people really really want her to be a positive historical model for women, because many of her policies were beneficial; but that doesn’t mean she can’t also have been a model of dictatorship, cruelty, extravagance, and excess. Heck, that seems to be most Chinese rulers of note — a bunch of powercrazed weirdos, with good administrators doing all the work.
As the linked article above says, Young Sherlock was produced in Hong Kong under Communist Chinese control. Dee is played by Bosco Wong, and Empress Wu by Ruby Lin. Yuan Hong is the Emperor, Ma Tianyu is the sidekick (whose name is Wang Yuanfang), Cindy Sun Xiaoxiao is Tigress (Tong Mengyao is her actual name), and Stephy Qi is the mysterious doctor, Li Wanqing. The director is Lin Feng, and the show was produced for Hunan TV.