Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame is a special film that showcases martial arts and cleverly choreographed set-pieces. Andy Lau stars as Detective Dee, a former police officer jailed for treason. At this point, Wu makes the smart move of pardoning Dee, when the mysterious deaths of a series of loyal subjects threaten to delay the 690 A.D. inauguration of Empress Wu. Dee is a uniquely appealing counterpart to his modern western equivalent, Sherlock Holmes. So if you enjoy that character this will be right up your alley. Just like Guy Ritchie’s version, the lead actors are watchable, the fights are inventive and fast-paced, and the script is nice and tight.
After a lot of missteps, Andy Lau gets out of his recent rut with his first character I enjoyed since Warlords back in 2007. Like I touched upon earlier, the character Wu is a great on screen presence. The story is set in 687 A.D. as the emperor’s widow is about to become the country’s first female ruler. With her coronation and the construction of a towering Buddha statue in her honor drawing near, court officials begin to inexplicably and horribly burst into flames. Dee accepts the challenge and partners with gung-ho Commander Bei and the Ghost Doctor, a master of disguise, to solve the crimes. Although it lacks the historical aura of classic Chinese wuxia backdrops, it is still a satisfying ride.
Detective Dee runs on its genre engine well enough, and although it doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, it is definitely something different. Sammo Hung’s choreography doesn’t miss a beat and the action is quite spectacular. Shot in China for a reported $13 million, Dee is an appealing combo of classic Chinese martial arts and mystery.
The result is a curious hybrid and enjoyable film only when you let your imagination fly in the way you let your mind free when you watch a mindless action film from the U.S. This director is no slouch. Together with Jackie Chan and Wong Kar Wai, he is instrumental in what was the golden age of Hong Kong cinema back in the day. So rest assured, this film is handled with precise care and great attention to detail. In addition to the grand staged battle scenes, you will enjoy the character of Dee. He is an investigator, whose personality and work ethic strongly reminiscent of the Private Eyes of the classic film noirs.