Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame
2011, PG-13, 123 min. Directed by Tsui Hark. Starring Andy Lau, Li Bingbing, Carina Lau, Deng Chao, Tony Leung Ka-Fai.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Sept. 30, 2011
As bodies begin to spontaneously combust prior to the coronation of Empress Wu (Carina Lau), the soon-to-be-ruler calls in Detective Dee (Andy Lau) to get to the bottom of the mystery. Never mind that she had him incarcerated eight years ago for criticizing her. Dee is a sleuthing mastermind on the order of a Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie, and thus the familiar form of the whodunit merges with this Tang Dynasty (circa AD689) period piece and action tale. A historical figure who has been popularized over time, Dee uses his wits as well as science to solve cases. Nefarious intrigue abounds in this mystery, and genre master Tsui Hark makes great use of computerized composites, classic wirework, and, of course, those unforgettable spontaneous combustions. The martial arts sequences are staged by the master, Sammo Hung. Creative spectacle, humor, and suspense drive the film, and we can only hope that Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame kicks off a new mystery franchise.