4 February 2011

DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME (Dir. Tsui Hark, 2010, Hong Kong/China) - Immortal Heroes

Andy Lau as the Sherlock Holmes type figure Detective Dee.

Andy Lau has a face that never seems to age. He is 49 but since he started working busily in the Hong Kong industry during the eighties, Lau seems to have preserved his youth. Maybe he’s an immortal – he certainly acts like it in many of his films. As a superstar, Lau has much more poise and grace than his western counterparts whilst his commercial value at the box office has been relatively consistent. Tsui Hark, a key player in the Hong Kong film industry, operates on a level of stylisation that is infectious and wildly hyperbolic. An expensive co-production between Hong Kong and China, Detective Dee is based upon a historical figure Di Renjie from the Tang Dynasty who served as a chancellor in the empire of China’s only woman empress. Hark’s 2005 tribute to Kurosawa, Seven Swords, was somewhat of a disappointment considering the costly budget and extensive production. Lau is wonderfully charismatic as Detective Dee who is the given task of unlocking the mystery behind a spate of deaths involving spontaneous combustion. Shot at the Hengdian World Studios in China, (the world’s largest film studios), Tsui Hark’s trademark action flourishes are evident throughout the impressively staged production design. It is likely that we will see a series of Detective Dee film given the commercial success the first film has enjoyed and this is a franchise that potentially has a wider international appeal that is unless Hollywood decides to do a pointless remake. With some terrifically choreographed fight sequences by the legendary Sammo Hung and an engaging political back story, Detective Dee and The Mystery of the Phantom Flame is vastly superior to many of the mainstream offerings regularly shoved down out throats by Hollywood. Oh, and it’s a lot of fun too.

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