Friday, July 15, 2011

Fantasia 2011: Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame (2010)

Chinese director Tsui Hark finally got back in good shape. His latest film Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame is by no definition Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Nevertheless, his film provides a somehow solid and entertaining story.

In 690 AD, Wu Zetian (Carina Lau) is about to be the first woman to wear the Chinese crown. However, when many highly placed officials die in the palace, her coronation might be threatened. The future Empress believes that because she's a woman, someone wants her away from the throne.

This is why she gets Di Renji (Andy Lau), a former dissident who opposed Wu Zetian's regency eight years earlier, out of his exile in order to investigate. With the help of Pei Donglai (Chao Deng), another official, and Shangguan Jing'er (Bingbing Li), the Empress's right-hand "woman", Di Renji will discover that someone is actually preparing a conspiracy against the Empress.

Obviously, Tsui Hark's Detective Dee combines all the element of what's supposed to make an excellent period drama: nice costumes, spectacular fight scenes and greater than nature decors. However, any comparison with a masterpiece like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon stops there.

While the latter's objective was to explore the complexity of love and jaleousy, Detective Dee rather offers viewers two things: a whodunnit à la Agatha Christie and a martial arts story all in one film. With few fight scenes along the way and a brilliant use of flash-backs near the end of the film, Hark built a coherent thriller that allows us to take part in a criminal investigation.

All in all, the film follows the tradition of the whodunnit by keeping you pinned to your seat.

Rating: 3.5/5

Origin:China/Hong Kong (2010)
Length:119 minutes
Genre:Action drama
Screenplay:Kuo-fu Chen, Lin Qianyu and Jialu Zhang
Director:Tsui Hark
Starring:Andy Lau, Carina Lau and Bingbing Li

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