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Showing 1-10 of 129 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 174 reviews
on March 3, 2015
In the trailer, the movie is described as "Crouching Tiger... meets Sherlock Holmes." And that is a perfect description for this movie. This Chinese film combines the grace, fluidity, and magic of the romanticized martial arts common to such films, with the action and mystery of Robert Downey Jr.'s Sherlock Holmes. If you're looking for a CSI mystery, don't watch this, but if you like the aforementioned genres, or urban fantasy-mysteries, you'll probably enjoy this movie. Moreover, I liked this film because I didn't figure who the villain was before the reveal. I read/watch a lot of mysteries, so it's rare to find a one where the "who done it" is actually a surprise to me. I just found there's a second movie (prequel, "Young Judge Dee"), and I'm looking forward to watching it as well.
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on April 7, 2015
This is not at all what I'd expected. I've read the Judge Dee novels by RH van Gulik. Read them all several times. I was hoping for a movie version that would be like these stories. Well, I do like the Dee person in the movie. He looks like I would expect a younger Dee to look. And his character traits seem as great as that of the judge in my beloved books. And I do like the beauty of the scenery, architecture and interiors. Even the grim fantastic places have eye appeal. But I hate the stupid artificial agility by which the characters spin like dervishes, brandish horrible looking weapons and leap tall buildings at a single bound. Yeccchhh! Too much noise, too much violence, too much that's ridiculous. My husband likened the action to cartoons where the character gets flattened by a steam roller and bounces right back in the next frame. Recommended only if you like that sort of thing. We don't.
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on January 28, 2017
This is a fun, gorgeous, atmospheric film. I don't know how many movies there are that combine a terrific wuxia narrative with a fun detective story, but this must be one of the best examples. Andy Lau (who was so good in Infernal Affairs and House of Flying Daggers) is terrific, as is Li Bing Bing (who's great in everything). I don't remember if this ever played in US theaters, but I'm so happy to have found it on blu-ray. The practical sets and period costumes are beautiful. The CG is clunky at times, but the movie as a whole still looks great. It doesn't take itself too seriously and is entertaining throughout. Highly recommended.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon July 1, 2011
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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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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on April 24, 2014
A Hong Kong version of a summer blockbuster, this one is an enjoyable ride, as long as you don't approach with strict logic in mind. As in most wuxia flicks, the combatants can fly, leap, run, spin, etc., with an unearthly grace, and in defiance of physics, but this one has the added benefit that it is a type of Sherlock Holmes film, with the detective always two or three steps ahead of everyone else. Lots and lots of CGI, most of it well done, but all of it fairly obviously unreal, but as well some surprisingly effective performances, and just enough depth of character to keep us interested. The only mis-step here is the ending, which, like many HK films, allows space for a sequel – though in fact, Andy Lau did not show up for a sequel, the producers instead opting for a "prequel" with a different actor – when the logic of the script itself clearly indicates a full-stop ending. I will say no more at the risk of spoiling things.
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on April 19, 2014
I probably should not be writing a review of this dvd because it has so many different things to judge....I have now 15 Asian dvds all of which I enjoyed and followed with subtitles .but this was a dvd that my grand kids could watch and then rationally explain it all to me while wondering why I did not "get it".. so O.K. I saw it a second time and appreciated it for its unique story and beautiful color filming. The second time I could follow the mystery and Dee's logic to its conclusion (which ends with the open question of whether he lives or burns-up) so it literally cry's for a sequel to follow...must say now that I liked it and am recommending it as a good but unique buy...for you and the kids
who might clean up some points you didn't understand.
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on February 5, 2016
A well made and entertaining romp through period China. Obviously influenced by western "Big Bang" film styles exemplified by the likes of Indiana Jones and Robert Downey Jnr's Sherlock Holmes, the movie demonstrates that Asian directors can produce blockbuster type epics with the same skill as those from the US. Great sets, a maze-like plot, an interesting cast of characters, and plenty of action make for an enjoyable 2 hours of escapist Saturday matinee type of viewing.
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on August 15, 2013
The tag line (on the DVD case) for 'Detective Dee and The Mystery of the Phantom Flame' is 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' meets Sherlock Holmes (the character, not the movie per se).

Well I don't know how specifically Sherlock this is but I found it cool how the director tries to incorporate a casual Holmsian mood into this and succeeds to some degree.

The action is incredible, the FX some of the best of the genre for the most part (the Towering Buddha something to behold, and not just as a cityscape backdrop) though there is a tad cheese here 'n there with flying logs(!), acting is good and the film is uplifting amidst the spookiness and "flying" mayhem.

Our hero Detective Dee sure gets himself in an interesting conundrum in the end, sparking a sequel perhaps?. I for one hope so. A solid B.
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on February 9, 2014
I actually ended up watching this movies only cause I had ordered the newest release of it. However to be honest I had no idea what the movie was about. I just happen to like kung-fu type of movies so I gave this one a chance. While there is some fight scenes in this movie it's more a story driven film. With Hollywood style effect. Mixed in with some of those crazy over the top martial arts scenes.

If your expecting a IP Man type of fight scene then this is not it, but it's a very good movie in it's own right and must be watched for it's story first and foremost. Think of it almost as a bit of Sherlock Holmes without his helper.
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