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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on January 11, 2011
Tsui Hark is one of the most prolific directors in HK cinema history, and has churned out films like Seven Swords, Zu Warriors, the Once Upon A Time in China trilogy, Ashes of Time, and Peking Opera Blues. He's in top form in this movie, which is loosely based on a true story of an exiled detective who solves a series of murders that threaten to delay an Empress' inauguration. This movie is quite an achievement in visuals, with a great script and acting. Well worth seeing. This DVD is equally good with a crystal clear picture, and excellent sound and English subtitles.
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41 of 47 people found the following review helpful
on December 1, 2011
"Men have weak points, just like weapons. They will also break when struck." Wu Zetian wants to become China's first Supreme Empress. While the stage and Buddah is being constructed for the inauguration strange things begin to happen. First Master Jia spontaneously com-busts, followed by more people bursting into flames. The empress wants this mystery solved before she takes over and there is only one person she can think of to solve it, Detective Dee (Lau) a prisoner in jail for treason. Can he put aside his feelings and solve the mystery of the phantom flame in time? This is not usually the type of genre I get into, but I did enjoy this movie. The tag-line says "Crouching Tiger meets Sherlock Holmes", it's hard to disagree with that statement. I will add that I think this is a type of modern Kurosawa film. The feel and the plot are something that he would do, and the ending very much reminds me of his style in the way that you aren't really sure if the ending is good or bad for those involved and makes you think. Overall, again this is not normally my type of movie but I did very much enjoy it. Good story and action. I give it a B+.
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32 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on November 29, 2011
Tsui Hark is back, let the word be spread. Remember Robert Hans van Gulik's Judge Dee at Work: Eight Chinese Detective Stories (Judge Dee Mysteries) wonderful books ? DETECTIVE DEE is, if I'm not mistaken, the first full-length movie devoted to this character. If you like action movies, this one is clearly for you. Also note that the film was acclaimed by Positif as well as by Les Cahiers du Cinéma !! Masterpiece.
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44 of 53 people found the following review helpful
I have to admit that I'm really getting tired of the proverbial 1 or 2 star ratings from people who, either have people over and talk during their movies, or work for a competing industry. This film is extremely entertaining and worth seeing for anybody who enjoys the assimilation of Kung-Fu and Sherlock Holmes...and who doesn't!
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on August 7, 2011
If you're a fan of Van Gulik's Judge Dee series and think this is going to be like them, put that out of your mind right now. It's pretty good as a wuxia mystery, but it has none of the sophistication of the books. For a good book-to-film translation, try and find Judge Dee and the Monastery Murders (taken from The Haunted Monastery).
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Non-spoiler review.

I thought I goofed when I noticed, after ordering, that this CineAsia Blu-Ray disc was listed for region B/2 - it shouldn't work in North America . . . but it did! Content providers don't have to actually implement the region coding, and it looks like CineAsia is one that left this version region free. Bravo. Note that the dialog is ONLY in Chinese with subtitles (English for me).

This is Tsui Hark in top notch form. The Vietnamese born Hong Kong film maker, when he is at his best as he is here, can out-Spielberg Spielberg. Detective Dee is a rollicking adventure of Kung Fu and cgi eye candy. The main characters of Detective Dee, the Empress, Donglai, and Jing'er (I LOVE those names) are well cast and well played. This is loud, brash, Raiders-of-the-lost-arkish movie fun played by actors at their best. The numerous trailers online should give you a good idea where this movie is coming from and going. Some Hark movies have too much action in my opinion (e.g., Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain) and not enough plot. This has a nice mix of both. The plot moves the action along quite nicely, thank you.

The Blu-Ray cut underscores something I've discovered about all of Hark's films: you always need a bigger screen. I own a 40 inch HDTV, but I wanted a larger one for this movie. Hark's films, much like Akira Kurosawa's, are designed for the largest possible screen. Living in St. Louis I'm not expecting a limited theater run for this movie such as is happening in LA and New York. If you're well heeled enough to own a Sony Bravia XBR KDL-70XBR7 70-Inch 1080p 120Hz LCD HDTV (a little over $22,000 as of this writing!) you'll do fine. On my wimpy 40 inch HD TV I was still dazzled by the cinematography in this film, but I want to see this on a bigger screen! Nonetheless, this is blu-ray HD and sound (Mandarin DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and Mandarin Dolby Digital 2.0) at the highest level.

Bugs: I couldn't get most of the extras to work. Though the subtitles in the movie itself were flawless, when a special feature that didn't work was invoked I kept getting the "Not Support!!!" message. The best part of the extras that DID work were the 18 movie trailers supplied. There is almost 30 minutes of non-stop (booming deep American Voice) "In a time in China when a hero was needed . . ." type trailers. One was for Woochi the Demon Slayer for which I just placed an order. You see, it's about "A time in China when gods and demons stalked the earth . . ."

4 out of 5 stars because not all of the extras worked - will upgrade if it turns out I've got a sucky blu-ray player.

UPDATE 13 OCTOBER 2011 RE SPECIAL FEATURES: It turns out that a lot of the special features are in the PAL format which my (Magnavox) blu-ray player can't handle. Bump up one star to five because this really is just a super cool movie.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on January 11, 2011
I actually fell asleep during Sherlock Holmes. It was an incredibly boring, poorly scripted, poorly acted movie. And it probably had ten times the budget of this fun little film. If Sherlock Holmes left you dissatisfied, definitely check this out. Ever since ASHES OF TIME, I've been a huge fan of Tsui Hark. He's done it all. Artsy films, dramas, and big budget films. This is the later, but it doesn't disappoint. The story is solid and will keep your interest for the full two hours. The martial arts and action is well done, the acting fantastic, and the sets are gorgeous. This DVD is great, and the picture looked fantastic on my 60 inch HDTV.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on January 9, 2011
The DVD I was sent is an obvious bootleg with blurry artwork, an insert that doesn't fit into the case, and a weird cardboard case surrounding it. The disc was loose upon receipt, and the case was cracked. Picture quality wasn't up to snuff. The movie looked interesting but I couldn't finish watching it. I have a 60 inch TV and I guess I've been spoiled by good DVD releases recently.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on March 30, 2011
Good movie and very good for the price. Andy Lau does his usual excellent job of course, seems he can't do otherwise. Tsui Hark has not been so reliable over his many years but is in his best form for this one and has put together a very smooth, visually busy and stimulating movie. There's wirework but of an exceptional quality, there are cool characters that are very well played and it really is a mystery film that probably moves along a little too quickly and sumptuously for you to solve the mystery but all the clues are there. If you're a martial art movie fan and you're enjoying their revival you can only like this movie.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
You can keep your Charlie Chan and your Mr. Moto and your Mr. Wong. I'd rather have Detective Dee on the case, a lofty guy what predates all three aforementioned sleuthing gents. Detective Dee - or, as history's wont to call him - Di Renjie - was a real person, a great statesman, who lived his life in the 7th century. And yet somehow, in this modern era, he's more celebrated for solving whodunits. Back in 1949 author Robert Van Gulik introduced Detective Dee to the western world when he translated the 18th century detective novel DEE GOONG AN into English as CELEBRATED CASES OF JUDGE DEE, and Van Gulik would go on to write further novels about him. And that's a fairly roundabout way to finally arrive at DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME. Now here's a film that's a half-step outside your average martial arts Hong Kong flick.

When you propose a film that features wuxia and Andy Lau and a Chinese Sherlock Holmes, I get all curious. DETECTIVE DEE trots out Di Renjie (or Detective Dee) as the main protagonist, and even though Dee is a real life character, this period narrative climbs to fanciful heights. In the year 690 A.D. a towering, sixty-six yard tall Buddha statue is in its finishing stages of completion, erected to commemorate the coronation of the Dowager Empress Wu. Except no one anticipated the upper chambers of the statue becoming the site of a horrific murder. Maybe it's because he neglected to ingest the required two liters of water a day, but a loyal subject is shockingly consumed in flames from his insides out, and is reduced to a smoldering husk. When a second similarly themed death occurs shortly after, Empress Wu has had enough. She recalls her best investigative official, Detective Dee (Andy Lau), to poke his nose in and solve the murder mystery before her scheduled coronation, never mind that Dee had been languishing in punishment for the past eight years for treason. And since you don't really turn down a summons from the Imperial throne unless you want to try breathing thru the massively bleeding open end of your neck (on account of your head having been disattached from it), well, Di Renjie - who is also an inherently honorable bloke - is now on the case.

I've got nothing but good things to say about Andy Lau and that hasn't changed after viewing this film. Guy's charismatic and he anchors the film, even though his character arc traverses the unimpressive span of A to B. Detective Dee essentially remains the same person start to finish, but Lau makes him extremely personable. Dee is assisted by two officers at odds with one another, and this makes for nice friction. One of them, Shangguan Jing'er (a memorable Lee Bingbing), is a favorite of the Empress and a martial artist who favors the whip as her choice of weapon. The other, Pei Donglai (Chao Deng), is a hostile judicial officer and an albino. With their various agendas, they seem as likely to get in Dee's way as to contribute something useful. But when assassins strike, Dee, Jing'er, and Donglai must work together, and so now cue the bonding process. For Jing'er, it becomes a hard-fought tug of war between her (reluctant) fondness for Dee and her allegiance to the Empress (who pretty much appointed her to spy on Dee).

DETECTIVE DEE is lavishly produced, with sleek cinematography and visually stunning set pieces. The combat scenes - and I wished there were more - were inventively staged, I thought. Oodles of elaborate wire-fu went into this. Dee turns out to be as capable with the fighty fights - love his mace which can isolate the weakness in his opponent's weapon - as he is with tracking down clues. Gratifyingly, the mystery angle is given enough weight that this movie does have this genre-breaking feel to it. I was very curious as to how he would go about his investigative process. I like that he isn't swayed by the local superstitious theory - that the murders were a direct magical fallout of removing some sacret amulets - and that he instead holds out for a more factful, more rational solution. Even the talking deer is eventually explained away. And yet the modus operandi he unearths still ends up straying into the realm of really out there. Of course, there's even more stretching of the term "really out there" when one has to also factor in a supernatural Imperial Chaplain, fire turtles, an underground Phantom Bazaar, and demented (yet amazingly cool) acupuncture which allows one to reshape one's features. All these farfetched elements may render even someone like Sherlock Holmes all wiggy and floundering. But not Dee. This rather warped version of the Tang Dynasty happens to be his bailiwick. Detective Dee is unfazed. He can't be fooled for long. Assassins. Red herrings. Weird acupuncture. It's all part of the sleuthing process.

Lastly, note that no CG deer were harmed in the making of this film. There was a concerned look on your face.
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