Sunday, November 18, 2012

Watching the Detective

We've been wanting to see Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame (2010). It has been on streaming for a while, but we couldn't turn the subtitles on. It was well-worth ordering as Blu-ray.

Set at a time when an evil regent (-ess?) is about to become empress. A giant Kanon, goddess of compassion, is being built. But there is trouble! In fact, the chief architect bursts into flames. Only one man can solve his mystery, Detective Dee! But the regent-empress has had him arrested for treason.

And so on. Dee is played by Tony Leung (Kar Fai), who I always look forward to. Along with the regent, played by Carina Lau, we have her Amazon gaurd, Li Bing Bing. Rounding out our trio of crime fighters, Chao Deng plays a blonde mystic, with mighty powers and mysterious motives. All fighting, flying, and talking trash.

And as absurd and astounding as everything is - spontaneous human combustion, talking deer, flying swordsmen (ok, that isn't so unusual), Dee focuses in on the logical, scientific explanation, and that's how he solves the crime.

Very satisfying, and beautifully made, even the ancient Chinese CGI cities. Director Hark Tsui is a master that this kind of epic fantasy action film. One thing I found jarring, though - there were occasional scenes where the lighting failed to be mysterious and atmospheric, and looked flat and overlit, like a cheap TV show. Possibly they were artifacts of the digital process, or just a lapse of taste or budget.

Anyway, a great action flick, and I probably shouldn't read too much into it, but the movie did have a certain political moral. We've seen it before, as well, in Hero, Little Big Soldier, and others. Dee has the choice between accepting an unjust ruler, or fight the ruler, and let civil war tear apart the country. In the end, they chose  - SPOILER - the ruler, who has the mandate of heaven. This is faultlessly traditional Confucianism, but it seems politically relevant in modern China, and somewhat convenient for the rulers.

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