Det Dee & the Phantom Flame

Monday, 27 June 2011 08:20

"Detective Dee" is an effects-heavy action adventure set in 689AD China. It is the eve of the coronation of the first ever female ruler (Carina Lau - "2046"), and not everyone is happy about it. Her personal security is placed on high alert for assassination attempts. Outside the royal palace, the construction of a gigantic Buddha statue is going well until an important visitor spontaneously combusts and a bizarre murder investigation ensues.

Political prisoner Detective Dee (Andy Lau - "The Warlords", "House of Flying Daggers") is released to lead the case. Before he can uncover the truth, Dee must overcome magical killer deer (that can talk!), bewildering splitting monks and armies of deadly ninjas. Aiding and sometimes hindering Dee are whip-yielding Officer Jing'er (Bingbing Li - "The Forbidden Kingdom") and Minister Donglai (Chao Deng), a very suspicious and nimble albino.

Detective Dee comes to Blu-ray and DVDThe movie comes from director Tsui Hark, a man who has shot or produced some truly impressive titles such as the "Once a Upon a Time in China" and "A Better Tomorrow" trilogies, "Black Mask" and "Iron Monkey". My expectations were high, and I am glad to say that "Detective Dee" provides two hours of inventive, high energy, high budget martial arts action with lashings of murder mystery, and a hefty dollop of fun.

The plot gets a little baffling at times, not least because it appears that almost everyone has a chip on their shoulder, and alliances are constantly shifting. Fortunately for the viewer, people keep going up in smoke (accompanied by top-drawer special effects), so the list of suspects is quickly whittled down. The relationship between Dee and his two companions is grudging and fragile, and this helps to keep the tension high even when they come under fire from a common foe.

The action sequences come thick and fast thanks to action director and all-round legend Samo Hung, and if you are a fan of gravity-defying kung fu then you are in for a treat. Characters bound all over the sets and are sent flying by their opponents with little regard for realistic injuries or broken bones. Literally thousands of razor-sharp arrows are dodged, and massive log projectiles are kicked back where they came from in fits of crazy comic book violence.

Part-way through the film Dee is reacquainted with his prized mace. This very special but visually unremarkable weapon has the ability to exploit cracks and weaknesses in enemies' arms, shattering them on contact and - in Dee's capable hands - sending the shards straight into the torsos of other opponents. The Detective is deadly without the mace and even more of a force to be reckoned with when he wields it.

Though the movie is rated ‘15’, I would say that most of the action is ‘PG’ or ‘12’ strength at most. I suspect the amazing combustion effects are to blame, even though they mercifully spare the audience from horrifying gore.

If you are tired of Hollywood's superhero blockbusters and want to sample one of the better recent action adventure movies from the Orient, I recommend you give "Detective Dee" a shot.

The special features on this release include:

  • Dolby Digital Manadrin 2.0 & 5.1 (DTS HD 5.1 on Blu-ray)
  • English Subtitles
  • Audio Commentary by Bey Logan and Mike Leeder
  • Trailer Gallery
  • Interview Gallery
  • Behind the Scenes
  • Introduction to Cine Asia

Most of this content is acceptable at best, sadly reverting to Cine Asia's frustrating tendency to knock together rather roughly-hewn, on-set interviews and random behind-the-scenes clips without any narration or structure. The 23-minute intro to the label's past (and few future) releases is much better, with a succession of high-energy clips, honest (but mildly sycophantic) comments from experts like Kim Newman, and glossy production values. It really sells the material and stands in marked contrast to most of the other shoddy extras. A little more effort is required to match the often sparkling movies being promoted!

“Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame” (2010) is out now on DVD (reviewed) and Blu-ray, courtesy of Cine Asia. The main feature has a running time of 119 minutes approx, carries a ‘15’ certificate and retails for £17.99 on DVD, £24.99 on Blu-ray, or less from

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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