Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame

Steampunk elements are scattered throughout, but above all this is a marvelous, original piece of cinema.

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame

The year is 689 of the Tang Dynasty and Wu Zetian is, despite of a good amount of opposition, about to be crowned China’s first empress. When an official bursts into flames on the construction site of her celebratory giant Buddha statue, the conspiracy theories start flying about and the need for a very special detective to not only solve this case but also prevent the untimely demise of the endangered royal arise.

Enter Di Renjie (Detective Dee), a man imprisoned after leading a failed rebellion some years ago, who must now solve this case with the aid of the empress’ right-hand woman, Shangguan Jing’er, and penal system officer, Pei Donglai.

Facing a sorcerer, assassins left and right and a plot to bring down the empress to boot, they must try to solve this particular enigma.

This isn’t just another brilliant special effects and costumes piece. It is, of course, visually pleasing all the way, but it’s the story that will keep you watching.

It may occasionally feel like China’s take on Sherlock Holmes, but this is also a story in its own right. The villain actually has a reason to be a villain rather than just being an obnoxious bad guy and the unexpected twists keep it all interesting from beginning to the end.

I also love the use of the different locations in this movie, which are not only diverse and radically different from one another but the amount of detail used in each and every one is astounding and really contributed to the entire atmosphere of the film.

Even if you’re not fond of foreign films, give this one a go. Steampunk elements are scattered throughout, making it worthy of a review spot on this blog, but above all this is just a marvelous, original piece of cinema of the likes we don’t often see in the West.

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Ironically, I watched this movie on Netflix a couple of nights ago, and was quite impressed. Interesting plot and characters which were based on an 18th century Chinese detective novel Dee Goong An. Author Robert Hans van Gulik translated these stories in 1949 under the Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee title.

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