Di Renjie: Tong tian di guo [Detective Dee: Mystery of the Phantom Flame] (2010)

(On Cable TV, April 2014) One of the best things about the globalization of mass entertainment is the opportunity to see Hollywood-style blockbuster epics coming from very different places. So that’s how we end up with Detective Dee: Mystery of the Phantom Flame, a reinterpretation of a brilliant historical Sherlock Holmes-like investigator with the trapping of a modern action/adventure tent-pole event. In this case, we find ourselves in seventh-century China, as a massive Budha statue is about to be unveiled to commemorate the coronation of an empress. When sudden combustion strikes important people, it’s up to disgraced detective Dee to track the clues leading all the way to an attempted coup. This being a made-in-China-for-Chinese-audiences affair, Mystery of the Phantom Flame has a welcome flavor for Western audiences, but the structure of the film will be familiar enough to transcend all barriers: Detective Dee, played by Any Lau, is pleasingly brilliant, his back-story makes for a complex figure, and the action sequences don’t need any translation. Sure, the mysticism-tinged plot doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense at times. But Hark Tsui’s direction is slick and polished, and the film does have the heft of a big-budget spectacular. Having a look at it portends a future in which not all blockbusters will be American.

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