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



Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

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, … More

Rating: PG-13 (for violence, disturbing images and some sexuality)
Genre: Action & Adventure, Art House & International, Mystery & Suspense
Directed By:
Written By: Kuo-fu Chen, Chang Chia-lu, Zhang Jialu
In Theaters:
On DVD: Dec 13, 2011
Box Office: $0.5M
Indomina Media - Official Site


as Detective Dee (Di Re...

as Wu Zetian (The Empre...

as Shangguan Jing'er

as Shangguan Jing'er

as Shatuo Zhong

as Shatuo Zhong

as Pei Donglai

as General Aspar

as Wang Lu (after face-...

as Wang Lu (before face...

as Li Xiao (The Duke)

as Xue Yong (Crime Insp...

as Umayyad Ambassador

as Asst. to Umayyad Amb...

as Interpreter

as Jia Yi (Construction...

as Xiazi Ling (Blind Pr...

as Prison Officer

as Undertaker

as Zhang Xun

as Wife of Jia Yi

as Wife of Jia Yi

as Chamberlain

as Qiu Shenji

as Pei Donglai
Show More Cast

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

All Critics (49) | Top Critics (22)

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

Full Review… | September 29, 2011
Arizona Republic
Top Critic

By the end, with the running time pushing past the two-hour mark, it's reasonable to ask: Just who are these people?

Full Review… | September 26, 2011
Seattle Times
Top Critic

Detective Dee is the action flick of the year, a two-hour epic that blows the Pirates of the Caribbean to the Bermuda Triangle.

Full Review… | September 23, 2011
Globe and Mail
Top Critic

"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.

Full Review… | September 23, 2011
Washington Post
Top Critic

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.

Full Review… | September 22, 2011
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

A colourful carnival of relentless action and artful images.

Full Review… | September 22, 2011
Toronto Star
Top Critic

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

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.

Luke Baldock

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.

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.

Letitia Lew
Letitia Lew

Super Reviewer

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