Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame
Directed by Tsui Hark and starring Andy Lau, Li BingBing, Carina Lau
China, 2010

Loosely based on the adventures of historical figure Di Renjie, Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame is a fun and fantastical mystery/thriller directed by the undisputed master of Chinese pop cinema, Tsui Hark. From the definitive wuxia series Once Upon a Time in China to A Chinese Ghost Story, if it seeps of quality and is from China, Tsui Hark’s probably had his hand in it.

Detective Dee stars Hong Kong superstar Andy Lau as the titular hero, a Chinese literary figure and a parallel to fellow eccentric detective Sherlock Holmes. In fact, The Phantom Flame shares much with Guy Ritchie’s recent adaptation, as both films are hyper-realized period pieces involving swash-buckling adventures and a mystery that unravels slowly (and a bit confusingly). But instead of being steeped in London’s Victorian/steampunk sensibilities, Detective Dee roams classic Chinese pulp set pieces, along the way dealing with all sorts of semi-mystical creatures to get to the bottom of these bureaucratic assassinations. Whether it’s fighting chainsaw wielding puppets, an enraged herd of forest stags, or dodging assassins’ arrows while embracing a naked courtesan, Dee finds himself in one sticky situation after another, using his wits and his excellent kung-fu to escape from them.

There’s nothing wrong with a quality action flick, especially when filmed with enough humor and wit to carry the lulls in action. And, along with a welcome respite from the pro-Chinese sentiments that seem to be popping up in mainstream Chinese films, there’s a bonus pro-feminist message to be had at the end! What’s not to love?

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame will screen at the 2011 Seattle International Film Festival at these times and locations:

Neptune Theatre – June 1, 2011 7:00 PM

Egyptian Theatre – June 6, 2011 9:30 PM

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