The other night the Husband and I watched a movie called Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame. This title sounds like a middle-grade kids’ novel, but it’s actually a 2010 Tsui Hark film starring Andy Lau as the titular Detective Dee.
Now, this isn’t great cinema, but if you’ve seen Hark’s films before you know what to expect: very, very loose historical setting, fantasy elements and ass-kicking. Detective Dee has all of these. The movie is set way back when, as the Empress Regent is about to be crowned honest-to-god Just Empress, because she is so awesome even her son, who is now old enough to be the rightful Emperor, wants her to take over. Eight years before Detective Dee protested her taking the regency, and was summarily locked up in jail for eight years. But now the Empress-to-be wants him to come out and help her, because he’s a fucking awesome detective and a couple of her state officials have mysteriously caught fire and burned to death. Which is a problem because it’s right before her coronation and she doesn’t need this shit.
Detective Dee gets on the case. Along the way we get to see CSI: Ancient China, Tony Leung Ka-Fai, dudes catching fire, the spectacular collapse of a monstrous statue of the Buddha, Andy Lau kung fu fighting a fucking deer, and a guy named (I am not making this up) Donkey Wang.
The movie is about 30 minutes too long and while Lau is a decent martial artist, he’s nothing particularly special (Sammo Hung’s action direction helps with that). Even with these flaws, Detective Dee is a fun diversion for two hours, with an interesting mystery and a metric fuckton of style.
Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame is currently on Netflix’s Instant Stream.
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