Movie Review: Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame
Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame

The year is 689 of the Tang Dynasty and Wu Zetian is, despite of a good amount of opposition, about to be crowned China’s first Empress. When an official bursts into flames on the construction site of her celebratory giant Buddha statue, the conspiracy theories start flying about and the need for a very special detective to not only solve this case but also prevent the untimely demise of the endangered royal arise.
Enter Di Renjie (Detective Dee), a man imprisoned after leading a failed rebellion some years so, who must now solve this case with the aid of the Empress right hand woman Shangguan Jing’er and penal system officer Pei Donglai. Facing a sorcerer, assassins left and right and a dangerous conspiracy to bring down the Empress to booth whilst they try to solve this particular enigma.

This isn’t just another brilliant special effects and marvelous costumes Hong Kong cinema piece of visual extravaganza. It is of course visually pleasing all the way, but it’s the actual story that will keep you watching. The characters are all rather well developed in the plot, that unfolds rather brilliantly. This just isn’t China’s take on Sherlock Holmes, even though at times you may be left feeling that way and wondering whether it’s Jing’er or Pei playing the part of Doctor Watson, but a story with novel characters in their own right. The villain actually has a reason to be a villain rather than just being an obnoxious bad guy and the unexpected twists in plots and personages left and right keep it all interesting to watch from beginning to the end.

I also really love the use of the different locations in this movie, which are not only very diverse and radically different from one another but the amount of detail used on each and every one is astounding and really contributing to the entire atmosphere of the movie and the story itself.

Even if you don’t like watching foreign films, give this one a go. Steampunk elements are scattered throughout, making it worthy of a review spot on this blog, but above all: this is just a marvelous, original piece of cinematography of the likes we simply don’t see anymore in Hollywood or even indi movies these days.


  1. Ironically, I watched this movie on Netflix a couple of nights ago, and was quite impressed. Interesting plot and characters which were based on an 18th century Chinese detective novel Dee Goong An. Author Robert Hans van Gulik translated these stories in 1949 under the Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee title.

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