Friday, October 21, 2011

Di Renjie (Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame) (2010)

Seen: At the Landmark Cinema Kendall Square in Cambridge.

With a name like Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame and the promise of spontaneous combustion, this movie was an easy sell. Inspired by real-life Tang Dynasty official Di Renjie, the film sees the highly-skilled fighter/detective Dee (Andy Lau) released from jail (after 8 years incarceration for treason) to help catch a mysterious murderer. Empress Wu Zetian (Carina Lau), the first female emperor of China, is preparing for her inauguration ceremony and worries that a series of people around her bursting into flame is the work of rebel groups trying to discredit her reign. Dee teams up with the empress's whip-wielding bodyguard Jing'er (Bingbing Li) and hardened police officer Pei (Chao Deng).

With high-flying action, a badass cast of characters, and some weird fantasy elements, Detective Dee has the makings of a really cool martial arts flick. The fight scenes are inventive, incorporating wire-work and a range of weaponry, and the mystery is strange enough to be compelling. There are not one but TWO badass ladies in this movie, with Bingbing Li totally rocking it as the no-nonsense, highly-skilled fighter Jing'er. Seriously, let's get her to play Catwoman, she obviously knows how to throw around a whip convincingly. Carina Lau is awesome as the ruthless empress- even if she's kind of evil I still rooted for her. And I must give her snaps for her courageous fashion efforts.

Unfortunately Detective Dee is bogged down by an over-long and unsatisfying script and distractingly low-quality CGI. It's also a lot more serious than I had expected it to be, as it starts out more lighthearted and then becomes darker as it progresses, I couldn't really get a handle on the tone. It's memorable in its moments of weirdness and fun action, but the mystery isn't actually that great and the potentially interesting characters are under-used.


Pair This Movie With: I don't know why but I was put in the mind of Young Sherlock Holmes.


  1. I liked it a lot. Wouldn't mind a sequel, actually...

  2. *Great* review! I completely agree! I really need to see Carina Lau in like....everything! I liked that the film went in some unexpected directions but I really wish its length had been chipped at (quite a bit actually!) and that the action scenes had matched up to the really wonderful art direction and set-pieces. :)