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DVD Review

DVD cover

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame


Starring: Andy Lau, Carina Lau, Li Bingbing and Tony Leung Ka-fai
Cine Asia
RRP: £17.99
Certificate: 15
Available 27 June 2011

With her coronation swiftly approaching, and the gigantic statue of the Buddha yet to be completed, a number of unexplained deaths force the Empress Wu Zetian to bring inspector Dee out of prison to solve the mystery - a mystery which will cut to the heart of imperial politics...

Detective Dee: Mystery of the Phantom Flame (2010 - 1 hr, 58 min, 25 sec) is a historical mystery thriller, directed by Tsui Hark staring Andy Lau, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Chao Deng and Carina Lau. The film won six awards and was nominated for a further eleven.

Based on a real historical figure, Dee has been given a modern makeover to place him more in the mould of Sherlock Holmes. With Andy Lau playing the leading role, you know you’re in for some well-choreographed fight scenes. The film is presented on a two DVD set, with the movie residing on the first, while the second has most of the extras.

Dee is brought back when officials start to die, it is not just that they are dying which is worrying, but the manner in which they do it. Seemingly one minute they are fine, they spontaneously start to combust. Dee is the natural choice to head up the investigation, even though he had been convicted of treason for opposing the coronation of the Empress.

For the film this brings up a troubling attitude of Dee, he does not oppose her because he feels she is corrupt or evil, but just because she is a woman. It’s difficult to know if this was intended to be historically accurate, misogynistic or something lost in translation. There are certainly some things in the film which do not translate well including the character Donkey Wang, personally that name would have been the first thing I’d change as it leads to unintended hilarity.

Andy Lau makes a good lead character and the script is such that no matter the fantastical elements the film retains its internal logic, though the mystery remains until the big reveal. This is partially because characters can change their appearance, even from man to woman, but also because the audience, like Dee, is led up a few dead ends before logic prevails and Dee solves the case. The question is can he survive knowing the truth?

The first disc contains a trailer gallery, original poster artwork and trailers for other films. Audio options are between Mandarin 2.0 and 5.1, with some of the worst burned in subtitles I’ve seen for a long time, the script used is very distracting during the film. Also included is a very informative, full length commentary, given by Asian expert Bey Logan

On the second DVD there are twelve small interviews with the main cast and production staff, most of them are between three and four minutes long. The Behind the Scenes (16 min, 56 sec) is a collection of scenes shot around making the film. Intro into Cini Asia (22 min, 53 sec) with talking head providing what is in reality a massively long advert, with shots from various movies.

The film is visually splendid, even though the odd shot betrays its CGI beginnings and the pace of the film is kept up throughout, arriving at a satisfying ending.


Charles Packer

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