Tag: Tsui Hark

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.

Triangle

“Triangle” is one of those films where the concept is more promising than the final product. Told in three 30-minute segments — with each one helmed by a different director — the movie stars Simon Yam, Louis Koo and Sun Hong Lei as a trio of drinking buddies who are down on their luck. But when a mysterious man approaches them one night with information about an ancient treasure buried underneath a government building, the three friends attempt to pull off the perfect heist. Unfortunately, just about everything that can go wrong does, and while that certainly makes for an engaging crime thriller, it’s also the film’s biggest problem. There are simply too many people with their hands in the pot, from the three directors (Tsui Hark, Ringo Lam and Johnnie To) to the six writers credited for the script. As such, the story is confusing as hell at first, testing the audience’s patience with very little background info and numerous subplots. By the time Lam’s second third has run its course, however, the pieces are all in place for a tension-packed final act that To masterfully directs with equal parts action, comedy and drama. “Triangle” isn’t one of their finest films, but fans of the directors will no doubt enjoy watching how it evolves in the hands of some of Hong Kong’s greatest filmmakers.

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