This week, I got to see the film, Detective Dee and the mystery of the Phantom Flame, an action/mystery directed by Tsui Hark that is a fictional account of the life of Di Renjie, a celebrated official of the Tang Dynasty. The film was released in Hong Kong and China last year and makes it return to North America for the first time since its debut at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival. I had heard good things about this film and was curious to see if it would live up to expectations.
The film is essentially a murder mystery with a little bit of old world mysticism and political intrigue thrown into the mix. It takes place in AD 690 where the inauguration of Empress Wu Zetian is days away as a series of murders of loyal senior officials threatens to delay the ceremony. To find out the killer, the Empress summons Detective Dee, an official she had imprisoned eight years prior for speaking out against her regime. Although he’s been out of the game for this long, Dee is still well abled as a detective. This is made all the more evident by the many obstacles he must over come to solve the case, including earning the trust of the 2 assistants that have been assigned to the case with him and evading the many assassination attempts on his life. Dee has to use all of his forensic knowledge and martial arts skills to find the killer, no matter the who gets in his way, be it mortal or immortal.
What stands out first and foremost for this film is the performance by Andy Lau in the role of Dee. Lau moves through the movie with such style that he make it look almost effortless. He both gives off a air of confidence towards his assistants Donglai and Jing’er as well as a sense of constant searching for knowledge. Bingbing Li’s performance as Jing’er is also worth note here as she holds her own with Lau in the many scenes they share. I quite enjoyed watching both of these characters. The plot of solving the murders became secondary to me as I was amused by the banter between the two characters and almost didn’t care whether they solved the case or not.
Another strength this film had was it’s presentation. Amazing action sequences and stunts set against the backdrop of some of the most breathtaking sets I’ve seen in a long time. Each setting was a character unto itself. The action was fast but has such grace and style. Any fight scene between Dee and the Chaplain is like a ballet. There is no drag to any of the scenes and most end with some great martial arts.
The film doesn’t show us anything that we haven’t seen before. But what it does well is that it takes a plot with action sequences and characters that could easily become derivative and makes it seem new and unique. It’s a gripping 2 hour tale of murder and betrayal with nice scenery and good acting. I don’t think I could ask for more when it comes to film. Great work.
Detective Dee was given a limited release in the USA back on September 2nd, but opened in both Toronto and Vancouver this past Friday. Check it out for some great adventure.
And if you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!