Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame – Review
Tsui Hark (Once Upon a Time in China) falls back into form with a solid period fantasy that is both entertaining with excellently choreographed martial arts, and masterfully crafted with its sleuthing mystery. Detective Dee is Asia’s answer to Sherlock Holmes, in fact I enjoyed Detective Dee just as much if not more than the latest installment of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes. I can easily see this becoming a new franchise.
Dee is an exiled detective brought back into service to investigate a series of mysterious deaths. The deaths seem linked to the pending inauguration of Empress Wu, the first female to be named Emperor. Dee must confront mystical forces, corrupt politicians, and armies at the ready in order to solve a mystery that could cost him his life, and much more.
The era Hark has created here feels authentic and colorful, yet threatening. Set designs and cinematography are fantastic. The CG is a little over indulgent at times, but competently handled by some of the best VFX people both sides of the pond. A sequence where Dee confronts a group of attacking deer is one such scene. It’s cool to say the least, but overall, it seemed a little ambitious for the CG team. Stunt and action direction is handled by none other than Sammo Hung, a legend in martial arts cinema. There is no shortage of beautifully choreographed wire work and fight sequences, and it really shines in the finale.
A talented cast polishes off this fine film experience, and there is no shortage of talent here. It’s no secret that Andy Lau is one of my favorite Asian stars, so it’s also no surprise that I enjoyed every minute of his screen time. Carina Lau as Empress Wu also delivered a fantastic performance. Strong performances, rich storytelling, awesome choreography and fantastic direction make Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame a must see for any fan of Asian cinema!