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Friday, October 22, 2010

[8.00/10] Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame (2010)


Di Renjie

a.k.a.

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


Set during the reign of China’s first female Emperor, Wu Zetian, "Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame" revolves around a series of inexplicable spontaneous combustions that have killed dignitaries. Feeling threatened by the mysterious deaths, the Empress Wu sends for Detective Dee, whom she had ordered to be arrested and imprisoned eight years before, after he criticized her grab for power. Dee is an unlikely candidate to be at the court of the Empress, but he is also the only one capable of solving the mysteries. Vietnamese-born Tsui Hark is very much a 'hit and miss' director. He has a long list of films behind him, of which "Once Upon a Time in China" series and "The Blade" are arguably the best and most successful, and "The Legend of Zu" and "Black Mask 2: City of Masks" are probably his weakest efforts. Fortunately, Hark's latest big-budget martial arts/fantasy/mystery hybrid, "Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame", is not only a feast for the eyes, but also quite intriguing to watch. Although the film has some slight pacing problems and a few plot holes here and there, the story is overall well-structured and consistently engrossing, and the mystery keeps you guessing through most of the story. Plus, "Detective Dee" is probably the most sumptuous, most beautiful and most stunning-looking movie of 2010. Visually, the film succeeds boldly, thanks to production designer Sung Pong Choo and cinematographers Chi Ying Chan and Chor Keung Chan. The settings are lush, picturesque and wonderfully-created, without being over-the-top, and the art direction is top-notch. Tsui Hark is full of creative ideas and imagination and it shows - here, his camera shots are well-planned, inventive and rather effective. The action choreography, by martial arts superstar Sammo Hung, while certainly not first-rate, is dynamic and thrilling enough. There are a couple of great fights and a couple of a very unimpressive ones, probably due to the fact that Hung was "forced" by Tsui Hark to work as an action director on "Detective Dee". One of my favorite Asian actors, Andy Lau, brings a lot of charisma to the title character. He gives another strong performance and makes Detective Dee a very engaging and sympathetic protagonist. Carina Lau also turns in a great performance as Empress Wu, as she acts really convincing and has an incredibly strong screen presence. Li Bingbin, best known to the Western audience as the white-haired Ni Chang from "The Forbidden Kingdom", is not only pretty, but also does a good job portraying her character, Shangguan Wan'er. Spectacularly-lavish, hugely-engrossing and often magical, "Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame" delivers a perfect combination of dazzling visuals, enthralling story and interesting characters, and proves that Tsui Hark is back on top form.

4 comments:

Dempsey Sanders said...

You have a great nak for reviewing movies I would have never have heard of. Again another movie I would like to see, and my list is now growing because of you George! Great review

Jaccstev said...

Another wonderful review mate, totally agree with you on this. I forgot to mention the pacing problems and plot holes in my review so I'm glad you didn't :)

Nebular said...

Well, not as good as yours, but thank you my friend :) Because you forgot to mention those issues, I did it for you ;) We both gave this the exact same rating, right? ;) Cool!

Nebular said...

Ah, Demps, I'm really flattered by your words:) Thank you so much, mate. I'm so glad that my reviews make you wanna see a films you're not familiar with :)