MOVIE REVIEW: Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame

Many people have praised “Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame” as the long-awaited comeback of legendary director Tsui Hark when in fact it’s just another example of everything that’s wrong with Asian cinema. It’s way too long and feels even longer, the plot is incomprehensible at times, and the tone is all over the place. This is a movie that has its hands in some many different genres (from wu xia, to supernatural thriller, to detective story, and historical epic) that it never really creates its own identity.

Set in the late 7th Century on the eve of the coronation of China’s first female emperor, the film follows renowned detective Dee Renjie (Andy Lau) as he’s called into action to solve a mystery involving the deaths of several of the empress’ most trusted officials. The men have all been killed by spontaneously bursting into flames, and though some believe it’s the work of divine intervention, Detective Dee knows that there’s someone of flesh and blood behind the murders. But in order to crack the case, Dee teams up with the empress’ favorite enforcer (Bingbing Li) and an albino official (Chao Deng) to help with investigation, neither of whom he trusts.

Though he’s been referred to as the Asian equivalent of Sherlock Holmes, Detective Dee’s first cinematic adventure isn’t nearly as entertaining as it should be. The potential was certainly there (especially with a great actor like Andy Lau in the lead role), but the film is sorely lacking the wit and complexity that’s made Holmes such an engaging character for all these years. When Lau gets the chance to inject a little humor into the story, it’s actually quite fun, but Hark abandons that comedic tone early on and the movie never really recovers from it. Add to that some surprisingly dull action sequences and subpar special effects, and “Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame” fails to be anything more than another great concept thwarted by an industry that favors quantity over quality.

  

You can follow us on Twitter @moviebuffs and on Facebook as well.

Related Posts

Bond is coming back; Soderbergh promises he’ll retire

In 1962, a bouncing baby franchise was born when superspy assassin James Bond did in the evil “Dr. No.” Now middle aged and needing a bit of exercise to keep its financial heart pumping after nearly five decades of very hard living, the Bond machine survived the end of the Cold War that spawned it, only to be stalled by MGM’s financial morass. Some thought, “It’s a 22 movie run, more if you count a few non-canonical Bond flicks, give it a rest already.” Today, however, Nikki Finke has word that Bond 23 is officially going ahead with star Daniel Craig and the long-rumored Sam Mendes in tow as director. You’ll have your next serving of Bond with your Thanksgiving turkey in November of 2012, assuming nothing untowards happens in post-production.

19

In 1963, a bouncing baby human being was born in Louisiana. 26 years later, director Steven Soderbergh personally gave the modern day independent film movement one of its biggest kickstarts with 1989’s “Sex, Lies, and Videotape.” Now, he’s announcing officially that he’s packing it only two decades into a career that, at least in theory, could go another four or five.

Though Mike Fleming jokingly pre-accuses him of doing a Brett Favre, movie directors are not sports figures, and, to paraphrase Marcellus Wallace of “Pulp Fiction,” their asses really can age like a fine wine. John Huston, who led the kind of life that might have killed a lesser man in his forties, made one of his greatest films, “The Dead,” when he was pushing eighty and about to be dead himself. Old French New Waver Alain Resnais is scheduled to release a movie more or less to coincide with his 90th birthday, and Portugal’s Manoel de Oliveira released “The Strange Case of Angelica” in 2010, the year of his 102 birthday. (He’s supposedly working on another.) Almost no one, except Matt Damon, seems to be taking Soderbergh seriously about this.

12222010_soderbergh1

You know what, I’m on board with both moves. James Bond has become far bigger than any one set of filmmakers and, like Sherlock Holmes, Superman, and Mickey Mouse, there’s no reason he shouldn’t keep on chugging along indefinitely in new incarnations. And, given how surprisingly good “Casino Royale” was, I’m willing to let the current James Bond team overcome the disappointment of “Quantum of Solace.” All I ask is for a little more of “From Russia with Love”-era Bond and a little less shaky-cam Jason Bourne.

As for Soderbergh, I’m a fan who admires the fact that he’s unafraid to take risks and make movies that, admittedly, sometimes kind of suck, but always in interesting ways. Re: his impending retirement, I’ve watched too many creators repeat themselves over the years to have anything but respect for his decision. I think it’s possible that we all have only so many stories to tell in a particular way and that, perhaps, when we feel we’re through telling them in one medium, maybe the thing to do is switch to another that might permit new stories to emerge. Later, if we return to the first medium, maybe we’ll then have a new story to tell, or at least an interesting new way to tell it. So, if Soderbergh just wants to spend his life painting, I say, “bless him.” If he gets the urge to start making movies again from time to time and unretires as many times as Frank Sinatra, that’ll be great too. The thing not to do is stagnate.

  

Related Posts

A Chat with Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss (“Sherlock”)

The characters of Sherlock Holmes and his trusty associate Dr. John Watson have been interpreted every which way but loose since their original inception in 1887, courtesy of Arthur Conan Doyle, and with Guy Ritchie’s take on the Holmes mythos having only just hit theaters last year, it would seem to be a bit premature to put Baker Street’s most famous detective onto the small screen as well…but, then, “Sherlock” – premiering here in the States as part of PBS’s “Masterpiece” on Sunday, Oct. 24, bears precious little resemblance to Robert Downey, Jr.’s big-screen adventure. This is a modern-day look at the characters and their mythology, and for those who might be skeptical that they can successfully survive such a transformation, I believe you’ll be pleasantly surprised. I’ve only seen a portion of the first episode (“A Study in Pink”) thus far, but it was more than enough to sell me on tuning in on the 24th. Mind you, I also had the advantage of sitting down with the series’ executive producers, Steven Moffat and Mark Gattis, whose enthusiasm for the project proved decidedly contagious.

Bullz-Eye: Steven, you and I met in passing a few years ago at the “Jekyll” panel…a show which I loved, by the way…

Steven Moffat: Oh, thank you. Oh, good!

BE: …and, Mark, I didn’t realize it at the time, but I now know that you made an appearance in that series.

Mark Gatiss: That’s right!

BE: So, Steven, what do you enjoy about the challenge of contemporizing British icons? I mean, you can argue that Dr. Jekyll is an icon of sorts, but then you’ve got Doctor Who, and now Sherlock Holmes.

SM: Well, being honest, for me, there isn’t really…it looks like there’s a narrative through that, that I’m trolling for things, but I’m really, really not. “Jekyll” was a totally different experience to this, the one big difference being that it was a sequel set in the modern day. And, really, it looks as if I’ve just been doing that, but, really, seriously, it wasn’t that. This is a completely different experience, and the challenge of this…well, they’re just joys, aren’t they?

MG: It’s true, yeah.

SM: There are so many things that…well, once having started talking about this, we realized it was going to work, because he can still be coming home from Afghanistan, a flat share is what we now call sharing rooms, we’ve gone back to sending telegrams by sending texts…it’s just perfect.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

Related Posts

What Else Ya Got? “Sherlock Holmes”

When a movie makes as much money as “Sherlock Holmes” did at the box office (certainly not “Avatar”-sized numbers, but still respectable for its budget), you expect the studio to reward its audience with some cool DVD bonus features. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case here, as Warner Brothers has only included a 14-minute making-of featurette called “Sherlock Holmes: Revisited” that, although not as shallow as the typical EPK, doesn’t go into nearly enough detail for being the only extra on the disc.

Among the topics discussed include how this rendition of Holmes is actually closer to Arthur Conan Doyle’s original vision; Guy Ritchie’s originally plans to cast an actor in his late 20s to play the title character before meeting Robert Downey Jr.; and why Jude Law’s Watson is unlike any other we’ve seen before. In other words, it’s information that anyone following the film would have already read about, rendering the featurette fundamentally pointless. It’s a real shame, too, because there had to be some other bonus material (like bloopers or deleted scenes) sitting around in the vault that fans would have liked to have seen. Though the Blu-ray edition gets the added incentive of WB’s awesome Maximum Movie Mode, even that seems a bit light for such a major release. The history behind Holmes is simply too rich to receive such a lackluster treatment, and though I’ve never been a very big proponent of studio double dips, this time around, it’s almost necessary to make up for such a major blunder.

  

Related Posts

Your Premium Hollywood Oscar Live Blog

GetCarloAllegri_oscar460

Yes, my friends, the action starts right here, right now, right after the jump.

New comments will go above older remarks, so if you’re reading this later and want to start at the beginning, you’ll scroll down to the end. Got that? Good. Let’s hope for an interesting night and don’t forget to keep refreshing — the page and yourself with the commestibles of your choice.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

Related Posts