Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame

September 2, 2011 0 By Fans
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Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom FlameDetective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom FlameDetective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame


An exiled detective is recruited to solve a series of mysterious deaths that threaten to delay the inauguration of Empress Wu.

Release Year: 2010

Rating: 6.6/10 (2,960 voted)

Critic's Score: 75/100

Hark Tsui

Stars: Tony Leung Ka Fai, Chao Deng, Carina Lau

An exiled detective is recruited to solve a series of mysterious deaths that threaten to delay the inauguration of Empress Wu.

Writers: Kuo-fu Chen, Jialu Zhang


Tony Leung Ka Fai

Shatuo Zhong

Chao Deng

Pei Donglai

Carina Lau

Empress Wu Zetian

Bingbing Li

Shangguan Jing'er

(as Li Bing Bing)

Andy Lau

Detective Dee

Jean-Michel Casanova

General Aspar

(as Michel)

Sos Haroyan

Assistant to Umayyad Ambassador

Jialin Zhao


Yan Qin

Jia Yi

Jinshan Liu

Xue Yong

Deshun Wang

Xiazi Ling

Shenming He

Prison Officer

Lu Yao

Li Xiao

Yanming Jiang


Huang Yonggang

Zhang Xun

Release Date: 2 September 2011

Filming Locations: Beijing, China

Box Office Details

Budget: $13,000,000


Opening Weekend: €31,533
(28 August 2010)
(42 Screens)

Gross: $51,723,285

Technical Specs



Did You Know?


Bingbing Li had no experience in martial arts. She also had to learn how to use various weapons for the role including a whip and a sword.

User Review

Tsui Hark's historical whodunit is engrossing and suspenseful, combining mystery with classic palace intrigue and exciting action sequences for epic entertainment at its best

Rating: 8/10

Tsui Hark has done quite a few wrongs in recent years- think "Missing"
and "The Legend of Zu"- but thankfully "Detective Dee" is not one of
them. In fact, it is that one right which proves Tsui Hark isn't a has-
been, a not-too unreasonable conclusion to draw considering the quality
of his recent works. An engrossing historical whodunit in the vein of
Guy Ritchie's "Sherlock Holmes", Tsui Hark's latest big-budget
blockbuster is significant not only because it restores his status as
one of the premier Hong Kong film directors, but also because it is
game-changing entertainment for the Chinese film industry.

For far too long, the expensive Chinese historical epics have revelled
in telling tales of war and sacrifice set amidst warring states or
feuding emperors jostling for power. Not to say that they aren't any
good- John Woo's "Red Cliff" and Peter Chan's "The Warlords" among some
of the best- but their similarities were apparent, and with that came a
distinct sense of staleness especially of late. Tsui Hark's entry into
this genre however brings a welcome breeze of freshness, deftly
combining the elements of an Agatha Christie novel with the aesthetics
of a period epic.

The mystery to solve is the spontaneous combustion of two high-ranking
court officials when exposed to sunlight, these 'murders' taking place
in the wake of the coronation of China's first empress in 690 AD. Most
have attributed their deaths to superstitious reasons, but our titular
hero Detective Dee thinks otherwise. Released from prison by the very
empress Wu Zetian (Carina Lau) whose ascendancy he opposed eight years
ago, Detective Dee searches instead for rational explanations,
believing in science and reason than black magic.

Though based on a real-life Tang Dynasty court official, Andy Lau's
Detective Dee is more akin to the investigator made popular by a series
of novels by Dutch diplomat Robert Van Gulik. Here, he has two uneasy
allies- the empress' most trusted servant Jing'er (Li Bingbing) sent to
keep an eye on him, as well as albino Supreme Cop officer Pei Donglei
(Deng Chao)- both of whom he trusts little of. But that's all right
since he can pretty much fight for himself, as evidenced in the
numerous action sequences directed by "Ip Man's" Sammo Hung.

In the spirit of the best mystery thrillers, the real fun comes from
trying to piece together the parts of the puzzle before the final
reveal. Scripter Zheng Jialu doesn't make it easy, throwing plenty of
red herrings this way and that to distract you from guessing the
villain. There is divine intervention in the form of a talking deer,
facial transfiguration that basically allows one person to assume two
personas and exotic creatures such as the fire turtle. Yet Zheng's firm
determination to keep the story grounded in reality prevents the film
from descending into camp.

That same restraint is displayed admirably and wisely by Tsui Hark
himself. Sure, there are still his familiar signs of excess- the
massive Buddha bronze statue built for the occasion of the coronation;
the peculiar characters Detective Dee encounters in an underground
city; and even the empress' elaborate coiffure- but these visual
touches add colour and sparkle to the fantasy world Tsui has dreamt up
for his period mystery without diverting from the intrigue and suspense
of the film. Tsui's flourishes are also brought gorgeously to life by
rich production design and masterful art direction, matched
occasionally by lavish costume design whenever the Empress appears on

Sammo's action direction too deserves praise. While the action scenes
do not rise to the same great heights as "Ip Man", he makes the best
out of his main cast of Andy Lau, Li Bingbing, Deng Chao and Tony Leung
Kar- Fai. The wire-ful choreography is thrilling enough to set your
pulse racing, and two particular action sequences stand out- one set in
the underground city between Dee and the Imperial Chaplain and his
possum of masked assassins; and the other set in the towering Buddha
statue where Dee finally unravels the nefarious plot in a thrilling

As the lead character, Andy Lau brings plenty of charisma to the role
of Detective Dee. Though the frenzied pace leaves little time for any
character development, Andy nails down the titular character with the
right amount of wit, intelligence and virtue. When you're not too
distracted by what Tsui has placed on her head, Carina Lau will also
impress you with her Machiavellian performance as the Empress. On a
side note, cinephiles will also cheer the return of Teddy Robin- albeit
in a small supporting role- after a long hiatus (preceded actually by
last year's Gallants which sadly skipped local cinemas altogether).

With a generous dose of mystery, action spectacle and some classic
palace intrigue sprinkled with some wit, Tsui Hark's "Detective Dee" is
sure-fire epic entertainment that rivals Hollywood's "Sherlock Holmes".
Indeed, if you've enjoyed the former, you're likely to feel likewise
for the latter. It is a definite shot in the arm for the period
historical epic that China has done to death over the past few years,
and for Tsui Hark's floundering fortunes in the past few years.
Possibilities for "Detective Dee" as a franchise are bright, and this
may likely be Tsui's next big franchise a la "Aces Go Places" and "Once
Upon A Time in China"