Sunday, September 25, 2011

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame

Hark Tsui's "Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame" unfortunately amounts to nothing more than just another martial arts film. It has its flourishes, its beautiful setpieces, but not enough of them to keep it afloat, what with the pointlessly convoluted plot and underdeveloped characters. Though I've never seen any of his other films, I know that Tsui's some sort of Hong Kong legend. That seemingly earns him the right to a free pass from some. What can I say though? I wasn't really that entertained, and if a film like this fails on that level, then it doesn't have a lot going for it.

Set in the 600's, the film follows Detective Dee (Andy Lau), previously imprisoned for treason and now appointed Commissioner, as he tries to figure out why exactly a bunch of people are bursting into flames. The deceased have all been involved somehow in the building of a giant Buddha statue, which is supposed to be complete in time for Empress Wu's (Carina Lau) coronation. Though he works his way through the puzzle as well as anyone would, the case is so damn complex that he needs some help along the way: in the form of the essentially albino Pei Donglai (Chao Deng) and the Empress' confidant, Shagguan Jing'er (Bingbing Li).

What action there is, and there's not a lot of it, is mediocre. Better fight scenes are not hard to come by. The only spectacular scene in the film is an extended one set in a cavern called Phantom Bazaar, where the trio of sleuths heads to find the wizened Wang Lu, also called Dr. Donkey Wang (Richard Ng/Teddy Robin). The fighting is inventive and crazy. Only here, and in the image of the inside of the giant Buddha, did I feel any real justification for having taken the time to watch this film. C


Greg said...

I liked it as a fun, popcorn movie, but yeah, it didn't break any new ground.

Nick Duval said...

The other other movie I've seen this year that's remotely like it (also nominated for last year's Golden Lion), 13 ASSASSINS, was far more entertaining and a lot more cohesive. DEE kinda fell flat, though I did like certain bits.