Quick Movie Review: Detective Dee And The Mystery Of The Phantom Flame (2010)

detective dee and the mystery of the phantom flame Hi gang, sorry about the lack of posts lately. If you know me or follow my exploits over on PopPoppa.com you’ll know that we welcomed our son Jack into the world about 7 weeks early a few weeks back. He’s home from the NICU and hanging with us now, so I’m going to slowly get back into some pop culture blogging here on UM.

This is usually the part of the post where I regale you with a tale of how I came to watch this particular film, but there isn’t one this time around. I don’t think I’ve even heard anything about Detective Dee And The Mystery Of The Phantom Flame but I saw it on Netflix Instant and figured I’d give it a shot.

I’m really glad I did because it was a really fun mystery with (mostly) solid CGI, slick fight scenes and a historical setting I wasn’t super familiar with. It’s actually kind of funny that I enjoyed this movie because, historically speaking, I’m not a fan of period piece martial arts films or the wire fu type stunts going back to when I first saw Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

But, this film has a Spielbergian feel to it that surpasses infuses everything. You can chalk that up to director Hark Tsui’s direction but also Sammo Hung’s stunt design and Andy Lau’s performance as the title character who comes off as a much more likable Sherlock Holmes who can kick your ass if he wants to (but doesn’t).

The plot is actually fairly simple, the first ever Empress is about to go through her coronation. To coincide with the event, a huge Buddha statue is being built nearby. But, some of the people involved start going up in flames. Unable to figure out what’s going on, the Empress allows for Detective Dee to come out of prison (where he was charged with treason after opposing the Empress several years back) to solve the case. He’s helped and hindered by a few other government employees and goes on a journey to discover the truth as a whole lot of people do their best to stop him. I didn’t see the end reveal coming and enjoyed going on the strange journey that Dee went on, so all in all it was a fun experience. Add in some equally entertaining fight scenes (though Dee more so uses his speed and skill to dodge and block blows than actually throw down) and I was in all around. Plus, there’s a talking deer and a character called Donkey Wang, so those are pluses.

I found myself pleasantly engaged with the film as it progressed and didn’t even mind reading the subtitles on Netflix. I will say that if you can watch a dubbed version you might want to because so much is going on in the film that, like me, you might miss a few pieces because your eyes are focused on the bottom of the screen. Meanwhile, the feel of the movie reminded me a bit of Indiana Jones mixed with Dragon and even some¬†The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adele Blanc-Sec¬†thrown in. Anything that taps into that adventure-filled feeling I had as a kid watching Raiders is aces in my book, so I’m definitely going to check out the prequel in the not too distant future!

We Want Action Tonight

Who doesn’t love a good fight scene? Not me that’s who. The problem I have is sitting through 90-120 minutes of a pretty boring or unengaging movie to get there. Well, if that’s not a leading intro to me talking about a couple of movies, I don’t know what is!

I’ve watched two action movies in the past couple of weeks that gave me varying levels of action satisfaction. First up, I watched Gorgeous (1999) which is actually a pretty perplexing movie. I went in knowing nothing more than that Jackie Chan was starring. I love me some Chan-man, so I was all psyched for his usual combination of funny and dazzling martial arts. Well, I was very disappointed. The story, as best I can tell is about this girl who leaves her home to meet a guy who threw out a message in a bottle. Turns out the guy is gay and she ends up falling for Jackie’s character. There’s also bad guys, but I’m not exactly sure why they’re bad. Seriously, I watched the whole movie and that’s all I can remember a few days later.

My first tip off that I wouldn’t like this movie is that they didn’t get Jackie to do his own dubbing. That’s CRAZY! The dude is super famous, everyone knows what he sounds like AND he speaks English. Get him to do his own voice!

Aside from that, it’s pretty light on the action. There’s a pretty good fight on a boat and then Jackie fights some dude. Then he fights him again later. Sorry for the lame review, but this is all I can remember. It’s really more of a love story than anything. No thanks. I’d rather watch Rumble in the Bronx, Police Story 2 (my favorite action comedy of all time) or Drunken Master.

There was one saving grace though, this fight between Jackie and the guy he fought twice. I don’t remember what the set up was, but it seems like just two dudes sparring. The fight it FAST though. I actually had to pay attention to keep track of what was going on. I’m sure the YouTube clip won’t do it justice, so I recommend adding it to your Netflix Instant Queue and fastforwarding to the last 20 minutes or so. You can probably skip the rest of the movie.

The other flick I watched was called Double Team (1997) and starred Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dennis Rodman and Mickey Rourke and I liked it MUCH better than Gorgeous. I never thought I’d say that I like a JCVD and Rodman joint more than a Jackie Chan movie, but there you go.

First off, I enjoyed the crazy high concept of the movie. JCVD plays a spy who’s going after Rourke. In the process he gets hurt and this secret society of spies comes in and bring shim to an island where they help keep the world safe (or something). As far as the outside world is concerned they’re all dead and they can’t leave the island because it’s got lazers and bombs and whatnot all over the place. No surprise here, but JCVD breaks out after finding out that Rourke, who knows about the secret spies (I think he was one of them) sends JCVD a message that he has our hero’s wife.

So, yeah, the movie is incredibly over the top, but it’s also a lot of fun. They also, wisely, didn’t try and shoehorn Rodman into the whole movie, just scenes at the beginning and then everything after JCVD breaks out (he’s a weapons dealer). Rodman’s character is fun and out there and it would have been even better if an actor played him. Rodman does a good job, but he’s still got that stiff sports guy thing going on you usually only see on episodes of SNL after a major sporting event.

But really, what the movie comes down to is the final scene. And boy is it crazy. Just when I think I’ve seen everything a movie shows me Mickey Rourke sending a tiger after JCVD in the middle of a sand covered, mine-infested coliseum. Meanwhile, Rodman rolls in on a dirt bike. Just in case you missed that, JCVD fought a TIGER. And it had to be real because back then they didn’t have CGI (don’t check my math, just go with it). That last 10 minutes is pure crazy awesomeness. Here’s a clip of it, but I highly recommend watching this whole movie, it’s also available on Netflix Instant Watch (man, they should pay me for all the name dropping).