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Movie: Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame (狄仁杰之通天帝国) (2010)

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame (狄仁杰之通天帝国) (2010) is Hong Kong director, Tsui Hark's latest epic mystery and martial arts movie based on Di Renjie, a real-life court officer during ancient China's Tang Dynasty.

However, Andy Lau's Detective Dee in this movie is more akin to the character popularized in the West by a series of detective novels written by Robert Van Gulik, who called him "Judge Dee".

Take a look at the characters: Detective Dee (Andy Lau); Empress Wu Zetian (Carina Lau); the Empress' most trusted servant, Jing'er (Li Bingbing); Supreme Commander, Bei Donglai (Deng Cao); and Shatuo (Tony Leung).

Here's a full synopsis from this article: Director Tsui Hark Cranks Up the Action with Detective Dee

In 690AD, ancient China witnessed one of its most prosperous and dynamic era through the powerful Tang Dynasty. Reaching its peak of time, Tang boasted of the highest population and broadest borders amongst all nations. Neighboring countries bowed to China's emperor, and European ministers traveled thousands of miles to visit this great kingdom for trade and cultural exchange, and it was also during this time, Empress Wu, the first and only female emperor to ever rule China, was preparing to officially announce her place in throne.

Our story begins at just weeks before the grand inauguration ceremony of Empress Wu is to take place. The entire country had been preparing for
this day for many years, redecorating the Imperial Palace, the capital city Luoyang is retouched to the last detail, rare delicacies are shipped in from every corner of the country for the banquet feast, and foreign Ambassadors from around the world have begun to arrive to attend this great celebration. All that was to be done was the completion of the 100 meters tall Stupa that was being built and worked on day and night.

Everything was at the ready, people of the Luoyang city are holding celebrations every night to commemorate this big day to come. And just
when nothing could possibly go wrong, a series of unexplainable deaths begin to occur, creating panic within the city. To make matters worse, all the victims are found to be loyal supporters and serving administrators of Empress Wu.

Devastated by this, Wu is all the more anxious to find out who or what is behind these murders before it disrupts the inauguration that she had been planning for years. With no choice, Wu calls on the only person she knows who could solve the crimes -- the infamous Detective Dee; the man who defied her when she first seized power of the court eight ye
ars ago, leading her to send him on exile.

Detective Dee dutifully returns to her Majesty's service, and partnering with the gung-ho Commander Bei, and the Ghost Doctor, a specialist in black magic and disguise, they set out to unveil the mystery of the murders. As they inch closer and closer to unveiling the truth, they are confronted with further danger and bizarre events.

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IMHO, these are the elements that contribute to this movie's cinematic success:

1. Packed with elements of mystery and suspense with inter-connected subplots before the grand finale is revealed. It's impossible to guess who's the villain and when he's revealed at the end of the movie, you'll be intrigued and in total awe!

2. Lavish and elaborate details of ancient Chinese mythology elements but not too overbearing. E.g. a talking deer, the art of facial transfiguration into two different persons, lethal fire turtles, and peculiar humanoid creatures in a dark, underground city.

3. The whole production design boasts of grandeur, beauty, and majesty. Whenever the Empress is on the scene, you can't help but to indulge in the lavishness of her rich and colorful headdress and costume.

4. Kudos to Sammo Hung, the action director with his spectacular, pulse-racing, and thrilling action sequences. Andy Lau, Li Bingbing, Deng Cao, and Tony Leung are engaged in a lot of fighting scenes with wires, whips, arrows, swords, and other weapons. Impressive!

I agree with this excerpt from a review: 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.

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Watch the trailer and I promise, you will watch this movie soon!



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