Feature

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame

This “splendid, action-filled period epic” is set in ancient China when the country's first female empress is set to take the throne.

Directed by Tsui Hark
(PG-13)

***

Director Tsui Hark, a longtime heavyweight in Hong Kong cinema, is in “top form” in this “splendid, action-filled period epic,” said Kevin Thomas in the Los Angeles Times. With “stylized settings of elegance, grandeur, and scope; flawless special effects”; and amazing fight scenes, this limited-release feature “has an appeal way beyond fans of Chinese martial arts fantasies.” In A.D. 690, China’s first female empress is set to take the throne when members of her court begin spontaneously bursting into flames. To find out why, she enlists the services of a former enemy, supersleuth Detective Dee. Soon Dee is descending into “a hallucinatory underworld of assassins, poisonous fire beetles, and talking deer spirits,” said Keith Uhlich in Time Out New York. The story “becomes more deliriously nonsensical by the moment, which is part of its intermittent charms,” even though the oddness grows tiring. Sure, the film is unhinged, but it’s also glorious and almost impossible to describe, said Stephanie Zacharek in Movieline.com. “It’s the kind of ambitious, loopy spectacle that begs to be seen on the big screen if at all possible.”

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