Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame (2010)

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom FlameDirector: Tsui Hark
Action Director: Sammo Hung
Starring: Andy Lau, Carina Lau, Bingbing Li, Chao Deng, Tony Leung, Richard Ng

Tagline: Dr Donkey Wang I presume?

I was really looking forward to this movie as Seven Swords was five years ago now and although there had been a lot of historical epics since then, some of them have been a bit of a chore to sit through to be honest.

Set just before the coronation of Empress Wu (Carina Lau), a mysterious series of incidents is hampering the construction of a 66ft tall Buddha and threatens to bring down the empress herself.

Although she has her personal guard Shangguan Jing’er (Bingbing Li) and Pei Donglai (Chao Deng) from the court to deal with it, she also decides to bring in Detective Dee (Andy Lau) from jail where he has been locked up for eight years for trying to depose her as it is so serious.

Jing’er cracks the sads immediately and Dee turns up in his prison clothes saying “I don’t know if I’ll just end up back in prison again”, the empress likes him giving her lip so lets him work on the case, pissing off Jing’er even more.

Pei is more by-the-book, but gradually comes around to Dee’s style of thinking and they run around trying to find out the culprit behind the mysterious cases of self-combustion that seemingly strike at random.

It is a historical drama with a lot of fantasy asides such as the talking deer and supernatural kung fu battles. I did like the trip to the Phantom Bazaar and them trio attempting to track down Dr Donkey Wang (Richard Ng), only to be assailed by assassins throwing tree-trunks at them. Watching Pei realise he jumped off a mountain by accident in that sequence was funny. It was really great to see Richard Ng again, I haven’t seen him in a movie for ages.

I really enjoyed the story and didn’t manage to work out ahead of time who the real villain was. I could easily forgive some of the sillier aspects, such as Detective Dee fighting the reindeer in the temple as the fight after it was very artistic and looked like a painting at times.

The costumes were magnificent, especially those of the Empress Wu who even managed to make Queen Amidala look like a bag lady. She really does have an impressive aware of hairstyles in this movie, but my favourite was the inexplicable 1920’s style fur coat and flapper hat she turns up in since it was meant to be 960AD. Hopefully someone else will write about the costumes in length as they really do deserve it.

There was quite a bit of CGI used in this movie, but it was used to good effect for the locations and some of the bigger fantasy elements and didn’t really feel put-on. As Stephen Chow said it really show be an aid to the imagination and not a replacement to it.

The fight scenes are well staged, especially the big fight in the giant Buddha but not the usual sort of thing you would see in a normal martial arts movie (Once Upon a Time in China was made in the 80s.)

It does set up nicely for another movie and the film was based on a series of novels about the detective in question so I would like to see another film in the series from the same director.

Rating: 8/10

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