DVD Review: Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame

PrintE-mail Written by Whitney Scott Bain

Remember when you were a kid and those wonderful independent TV stations offered programs such as Kung Fu Theater where they would show memorable films such as the One Armed Box and Master of the Flying Guillotine packed with images and scenes that stayed with you years later?

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame falls into that same category of being a kid again, with the wonderment and joy of a good story and plenty of action.

It's a fresh and fun blend of wild fantasy, the supernatural, suspense, mystery and martial arts mayhem that inhabit Detective Dee's world. He's a Chinese Sherlock Holmes who believes in science more than superstition as director Tsui Hark masterfully takes us on  Detective Dee's fantastic adventure.

Based on Robert Van Gulik's Detective Dee novels, the story begins as key members of the royal court spontaneously combust during the construction of a 66 story statue commemorating China's first and only female emperor, Empress Wu of the Tang Dynasty in 690 A.D.

When a night visit to the Empress in her domain by the all seeing, yet never seen mysterious Chaplain who speaks in the form of a Magic Deer warns her of impending death and destruction at her coronation, she frees Detective Dee, the only man she knows that will solve the case, whom she imprisoned eight years earlier for opposing her right to the throne.

With his detective status fully restored and an uneasy alliance formed with Empress Wu,  Detective Dee takes on two "Watson's" to join him on his quest. Jing'r, portrayed by Li BingBing, the empresses whip-weilding body guard and former lover of Detective Dee and Chao Deng as Detective Pei Donglai; a young, headstrong and partial albino with blond hair who always has a lot of tricks up his sleeves (and an unorthodox way of dealing with criminals). The game is afoot!

Clues lead them to the Phantom Bazaar; a creepy, atmospheric ghost market built underneath a 1,000 year old city where the trio journey on a boat ride manned by a creature that looks like the grim reaper as they encounter cannibals, a six armed Chinese mandolin player and a key witness named Donkey Wang (Don't ask!) that may know the secret to the strange deaths as their quest leads them closer to solving the mystery.

Tsui Hark does indeed deliver the goods in this film from a screenplay adaptation by Chang Chia-lu, but the major credit must go to Sammo Hung's incredibly stylish choreographed action, wire acrobatics and fight screens that fill the screen. They are fast paced and breathtaking.

Detective Dee is a must see, fun filled movie that has to be seen on the big screen to be appreciated. Don't miss it!

Detective Dee is available on DVD/Blu-ray in the UK

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