Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame 

Hang on loosely - Shapeshifers! Spontaneous combustions! Kung fu! Andy Lau! Talking deer! Neat!.

click to enlarge 1206431.jpg

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame



An opulently entertaining kung-fu epic steeped in visual excess, Detective Dee is big on spectacle but has a typically relaxed Chinese attitude towards narrative; the title character doesn't even pop up for the first 20 minutes or so. Master action director Tsui Hark is too busy setting the scene and burning retinas with his gorgeously rendered CGI backdrops and armies of live action extras. 

The setting is seventh century China, where a massive public works project building a towering Buddha statue is falling behind due to the alarming spontaneous combustions of its key foremen. In order to be ready for the coronation of a controversial empress, the powers that be are forced to pardon maverick investigator and political prisoner Dee Renjie (Andy Lau), the only man with the skills to handle both palace intrigue and absurd supernatural threats. Shapeshifters, flying mystery assassins and even attacks by talking deer don't faze him; he takes the Dana Scully approach to debunking the paranormal, and if that fails, he's ready to just kick the tar out of the problem.  

Andy Lau has been a Cantopop icon and matinee idol for decades, but has matured out of his '90s pretty boy roles into sturdier stuff. While not a powerhouse martial artist like Jet Li, Lau is fluid enough to keep pace here, especially because much of the action is wire and/or computer assisted. He's matched in ability by starlet Bingbing Li, who can act and fight with equal grace. It doesn't hurt that the stunts were choreographed by Hong Kong legend and Jackie Chan pal Sammo Hung, or that director Hark (Once Upon a Time in China) essentially perfected the modern form of fantasy sword fighting flicks called wuxia. All of this feels like a return to the thrilling salad days of HK action — but with a contemporary spin. Even if Detective Dee isn't as emotionally resonant as recent Zhang Yimou classics like House of Flying Daggers (also starring Andy Lau), it's certainly skillful enough to hold open the gate and let the past and future rumble. 


Opens Friday, Sept. 23, at the Maple Art Theatre, 4135 W. Maple Rd., Bloomfield Hills; 248-263-2111.


We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Detroit Metro Times Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Metro Times Press Club for as little as $5 a month.

Read the Digital Print Issue

December 1, 2021

View more issues


Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Best Things to Do In Detroit

© 2021 Detroit Metro Times - Contact Us

Website powered by Foundation