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Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame (2011)



Average Rating: 6.9/10
Critic Reviews: 21
Fresh: 17 | Rotten: 4

No consensus yet.



liked it
Average Rating: 3.4/5
User Ratings: 4,493

My Rating

Movie Info

A period epic from genre master Tsui Hark, Detective Dee is an action-packed, visually breathtaking Sherlock Holmes-style mystery starring some of China's top acting talent. Stunningly choreographed by master Sammo Hung, this intricately plotted whodunit is set in an exquisitely realized steampunk version of ancient China. On the eve of her coronation as Empress (Carina Lau), China's most powerful woman is haunted by a chilling murder mystery: seven men under her command have burst into flames,

Dec 13, 2011


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All Critics (49) | Top Critics (22) | Fresh (38) | Rotten (9) | DVD (5)

It is a peculiar conflation of history -- there really was an Empress Wu -- and pure cinematic fantasy.

September 29, 2011 Full Review Source: Arizona Republic
Arizona Republic
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By the end, with the running time pushing past the two-hour mark, it's reasonable to ask: Just who are these people?

September 26, 2011 Full Review Source: Seattle Times | Comments (2)
Seattle Times
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Detective Dee is the action flick of the year, a two-hour epic that blows the Pirates of the Caribbean to the Bermuda Triangle.

September 23, 2011 Full Review Source: Globe and Mail
Globe and Mail
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"Dee" doesn't shoot for the gravitas of Zhang Yimou's "Hero." It doesn't approach that film's magnificent sensory impact, either, or the artistic romanticism that made "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" such a success here.

September 23, 2011 Full Review Source: Washington Post | Comments (3)
Washington Post
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Three decades into his career, Tsui Hark stands as one of the movies' great entertainers, displaying a dancer's sense of rhythm and movement and manipulating physical space with an abandon worthy of Chuck Jones.

September 22, 2011 Full Review Source: Chicago Reader
Chicago Reader
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A colourful carnival of relentless action and artful images.

September 22, 2011 Full Review Source: Toronto Star
Toronto Star
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The game's afoot, and the foot knows kung fu.

November 17, 2011 Full Review Source: Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)
Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)

There is nothing wrong with its reach, but its grasp of genre elements is random.

October 20, 2011 Full Review Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

In their best moments, Hark's action movies have a what-did-I-just-see giddiness, as if their choreography were springing straight from a cartoon id.

October 13, 2011 Full Review Source: Oregonian

The film's visual style is at times so dense it simply overwhelms (ditto the plot).

October 9, 2011 Full Review Source: Film Comment Magazine
Film Comment Magazine

The huge budget fails to hide a certain poverty of imagination.

October 6, 2011 Full Review Source: East Bay Express | Comment (1)
East Bay Express

Creative spectacle, humor, and suspense drive the film, and we can only hope that Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame kicks off a new mystery franchise.

September 29, 2011 Full Review Source: Austin Chronicle
Austin Chronicle

Directed by the master Tsui Hark, 'Detective Dee' is one rip-snorting piece of action-movie eye candy,

September 23, 2011 Full Review Source: Boston Herald
Boston Herald

Detective Dee And The Mystery Of The Phantom Flame is a thriller, an action movie, an effects-heavy mythical adventure and even a little bit of a love story. In short, it's every sort of film director Tsui Hark has made in the past all rolled into one.

September 23, 2011 Full Review Source: NOW Toronto
NOW Toronto

A computer-generated fantasia where something as ridiculous as a fistfight that occurs while the fighters are on the backs of two different horses entertains us because it is so audaciously unreal.

September 23, 2011 Full Review Source: St. Paul Pioneer Press
St. Paul Pioneer Press

...feels like a return to the thrilling salad days of HK action - but with a contemporary spin.

September 22, 2011 Full Review Source: Metro Times (Detroit, MI)
Metro Times (Detroit, MI)

Spectacular and spectacularly goofy...Even if you find the story ludicrous, the visuals will keep your eyes occupied--if not your mind.

September 22, 2011 Full Review Source: One Guy's Opinion
One Guy's Opinion

Audience Reviews for Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame

A larger than life, martial arts, Arthur Conan Doyle style thriller epic. Phew. Sounds good doesn't it, well it is! I was blown away by this film, the colour, the action, the story, it's all spectacular. I've been meaning to see Black Mask and the Once upon a time in China films for some time now and they, and all of Hark Tsui's film have now been bumped up on the priority list, this is a director I want to see more of! Brilliant stuff!
January 15, 2013

Super Reviewer

A wonderful martial arts adventure that keeps a fun and engaging pace. Detective Dee is released from prison in order to help solve a series of spontaneous combustions. He's pretty much the Chinese Sherlock Holmes, but the film does mix fantasy elements as well. Detective Dee is joined by a series of interesting sidekicks, such as the albino member of the supreme court, Pei, and Jing'er a delegate of the Empress. The film has a fantastic ability to conflict characters with their own actions, showing a distinct line between responsibility and choice. The sets and landscapes were breathtaking at times, especially the gigantic statue of Buddha. The film does it all with great adventure sequences, and even has an impressive fight with some CGI deer.
December 29, 2012

Super Reviewer

Viewing Detective Dee I often felt a stranger in a strange land. The sensibilities of the film seemed as foreign as the language - all the talk of honor and serving the empire... while each character (and believe me, there are many) has their own and seemingly changeable beliefs on how to do so.

This flexible playing field could make for some interesting Byzantine politics, but somehow the film never got under my skin, making me care who was what. Perhaps it was the language barrier - having to read subtitles while watching all the beautiful sets and then missing parts of the action as the subtitles rolled by. "Wait a minute - who is this guy... isn't he.... No, he's some other guy" happened way too often - and perhaps this is just my inability to keep up with the twists and turns while trying to read the badly translated dialog (or at least I hope it was just a bad translation and not fer real cheesy dialog).

Anyhow, there are lots of nice sets and cool costumes on display, along with acrobatic foo reminiscent of Crouching Tiger - though here the jumps and such seemed too much CG.

I also have a distaste for films that start out with a long written narrative that tries to put you into the time and place (except for the first Star Wars film) - I dunno, it just seems like the film should let the viewers draw their own conclusions as far as the where and when of a piece - but I guess, given the gravitas of the narrative conclusion, that the Chinese take this story seriously (evidently there was actually an Empress Wu), and perhaps I'm missing something here as well.

On a final note of disquieting strangeness for me - it is mentioned several times that the towering statue to Budha being erected for the Empress' coronation was 60 yards tall - ok, half a football field - 180 feet, or 18 stories tall putting it another way - somehow that just didn't seem right as this sucker towers over everything. Again, putting a definite number on something where there didn't have to be one - just say the sucker was huge and let's leave it at that.... And once again I don't know why this bugged me - but somehow is part and parcel of my entire feeling of disconnect and bewilderment with the film.
July 13, 2012
paul sandberg

Super Reviewer

Chinese version of Sherlock Holmes + Men In Black + some genuinely Chinese fantasy and campiness. And again, I just love Andy Lau.
June 8, 2012
Letitia Lew

Super Reviewer

Movies Like Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame

    1. Detective Dee (Di Renjie): The will of heaven is bright and clear, but I'm traveling alone.
    – Submitted by Frances H (12 months ago)
    1. Empress Wu : Remember, when one's aim is to achieve greatness, everyone is expendable.
    – Submitted by Frances H (12 months ago)
    1. Empress Wu : Men have weak points, just like weapons. They will also break when struck.
    – Submitted by Chris P (3 years ago)
View all quotes (3)

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Foreign Titles

  • Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame (Di Renjie) (DE)
  • Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame (Di Renjie) (UK)
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