Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Flame review

A high-flying, CGI-driven adventure set in 7th century China on the eve of the crowning of history’s first (and only) female emperor.  Treachery is obviously afoot as the soon-to-be-emperor’s officials begin spontaneously combusting in direct sunlight.  Detective Dee to the rescue!  Like a sword-swinging, Hong Kong Sherlock Holmes, Dee (accomplished actor Andy Lau) leads a team that includes a young female adviser and a kung-fu albino as they uncover clues that lead to the mystery assassins.  See the skyscraper-sized Buddha statue!  Enter the “spooky pandemonium” that is the Phantom Bazaar!  Thrill at the sight of Dee fighting a pack of deer!  Tons of fun is to be had by those who are open to this sort of thing.

Legendary director Tsui Hark has been making this sort of majestically magical kung-fu period piece since the early ’80s and he’s done a fine job keeping up with movie making magic over the years.  The film is CGI-heavy from the get-go in that strange HK manner that is more concerned with over-the-top visual impact than realism.  Veteran actor/kung-fu fighter Sammo Hung serves as the film’s action director, but the martial arts sequences are pretty standard outside of the aforementioned CGI deer fight.  Clues to the film’s mystery are examined/dispelled both verbally and through flashbacks, thus the whole film amounts to an easy watch that requires very little from its viewers.  A sequel is inevitable.

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Flame opens today at the Ritz Five.

Official site.

Author: Eric Bresler

Eric is the Founder/Site Editor of whose additional activities are numerous: Director/Curator of the Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art (PhilaMOCA), founder of Tokyo No Records, the brain behind Video Pirates, and active local film programmer including the Unknown Japan screening series. He’s served as a TLA Video Manager, Philadelphia Film Society Managing Director, and Adjunct Professor in Cinema Studies at Drexel University. He is shy and modest. Email Eric.

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