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

detective dee mystery of the phantom flame 2010 poster
7.5 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 7/10
Visuals: 8/10

The mystery is fun, nice, fast editing & fights

Slow to get going

Movie Info

Movie Name: Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame

Studio: Huayi Brothers

Genre(s): Martial Arts/Action/Adventure/Mystery/Suspense

Release Date(s): September 29, 2010

MPAA Rating: PG-13


I’m Detective Dee…don’t mess with me and my mace!

Empress Wu Zetian (Carina Lau) is about to take the throne as the first female leader of the Empire.  When mysterious deaths begin to occur in which the victims burst into flames, Wu Zetian orders Detective Dee (Andy Lau) released from the prison in which she put him for opposing her rule.  With Shanggaun Jing’er (Li Bingbing) and Pei Donglai (Chao Deng), Detective Dee sets out to stop the assassins and solve the mystery of the Secret Flame before the Empress’ inauguration.

Directed by Hark Tsui, Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame brings the true figure of Di Renjie to the screen.  Judge Dee became a popular character through Robert van Gulik’s novels which started with a translation of Di Gong An’s detective novel Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee.  Critics liked the movie and it topped many Chinese top ten lists in its release in 2010.  The film had a limited release in the U. S. (opening only on three screens) on September 4, 2011 and now is available on DVD and Blu-Ray.


Watch out Bambi! Detective Dee’s going to turn you into venison!

The movie is set up as a mystery with a science/mystic basis. Within the story, everything can be explained…the deaths, the “magic” possessed by the evil fighters, and even talking deer (yeah, that happens).  Things like a mystic mace that can find the weak point of anything and be used to destroy it are fun, but it isn’t real or possible.  The storytellers make it real in the context of the story no matter how implausible it seems.

The mystery is kind of fun.  There are a lot of twists and turns and red herring suspects.  It is one of those things where right before they reveal the real villain, you say “I wonder what happened to _________.”  It is a bit slow to get going and it was a bit hard to get into near the start of the movie, but once they go to the underground city it really picks up.  If the movie had maintained the pacing of the first twenty minutes or so, I don’t know if I could have held on.


Dee will get by with a little help from his friends

The effects are pretty typical for nowadays.  There is a lot of wire work and crazy jumping, kicking, swordfighting, etc.  Like many movies, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon really opened up the possibility for this type of film to become a crossover hit.  For the most part the action is decently choreographed so it isn’t confusing and the editing is fast and furious

The movie gets a lot of comparisons to Robert Downey, Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes and I can see a connection both in storytelling and film style.  I don’t know that Andy Lau pulls off Downey’s charm and the fact he really likes mysteries, but he does work as a more brooding character than the Sherlock Holmes type.  Even before Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame was released there was talk of a sequel.  With the reviews and popularity of the movie, I’m sure Detective Dee will return.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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