Dir: Tsui Hark (Once Upon a Time in China film series, Seven Swords)
Cast: Andy Lau, Bingbing Li, Carina Lau, Tony Leung Ka-fai
China/Hong Kong, 2011
Reason to see: Sounded like a totally cool Sherlock Holmes spin on historical martial arts film
I was totally psyched to see this mystery/Martial arts flick set during the reign of China’s first female Emperor Wu Zetian and based on and actual person: Di Renjie (Detective Dee), a minister of state who was known for his ability to solve the complicated cases through knowledge of science and human nature plus a mastery of martial arts.
Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame / Di Renjie stars Andy Lau (Infernal Affairs, The Warlords / Tau ming chong) as Detective Dee, who is recruited by Empress Wu Zetian (Carina Lau) to solve an very unusual case during the time leading up to her coronation. As it's a time of political transition there are eyes set on many as the culprit of the bizarre case that they show seen through different perspectives of forensics, to folk lore & superstitions. I loved how it showed the different perspectives and tones, because it alleviated my only concern about the film: that it would feel like CSI but during the Tang Dynasty. Thankfully, not so. It brings in the forensic investigational spirit but also has a great sense of adventure and an espionage paranoia element that piled all together in a mystery story makes for intensely engaging entertainment. The historical setting during the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 AD) and around an Empress' coronation allows for a multitude of lush settings and events that are gorgeous to look at. Plus: action, because we can't leave out that aspect of a historical Asian film! It's the high flying, creative thinking and with flourishes action which completely aligns to the tone of the film. I was really impressed with how the film brings this all together without feeling overwhelming but rather always takes it to the right heightened level. I would have loved to see more of Empress Wu, and maybe we'll get more about her in future films.
A great story and a true mystery, Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame / Di Renjie delivers on many fronts from it's gorgeous look to compelling characters. I'd strongly recommend it to any fan of historical action films, and anyone who loves a good mystery and even those who like to delve in the supernatural. Pure entertainment value on so many levels, and a truly enjoyable film.
Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame / Di Renjie opens in Toronto & Vancouver on September 23, 2011 and plays at the Dark Bridges Film Festival in Saskatoon on Sunday October 2, 2011
Shannon's Overall View:
I enjoyed it
I'll watch it again
I strongly recommend it to fans of historical martial arts films
Also see: All 2011 Films Reviewed and All Film Reviews
© Shannon Ridler, 2011
Andy Lau as Detective Dee
Li Bingbing as Shangguan Jing'er in Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame / Di Renjie