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Blu-ray Review: Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame

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Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame is an entertaining movie starring Andy Lau as the title character, who is based on Di Renjie, a well-known official from the Tang Dynasty. The blending of action and sleuthing brings to mind Guy Ritchie’s take on Sherlock Holmes, yet the combination works much better here under the direction of Hark Tsui and Sammo Hung, the latter serving as the action director.

Set during the seventh century, Wu Zetian (Carina Lau) is set to become the first female Empress, but there are those who resent a woman rising to power and work to overthrow her. With her coronation about to commence, a crisis develops as people mysteriously burst into flames. The Empress calls for Detective Dee, imprisoned for treason eight years ago for speaking out against her, to solve the case. He proves to be both an intelligent man and a talented fighter as different obstacles get in the way of his solving of the mystery, such as the Empress’ enemies and the people assigned to assist him like Wu Zetian’s maid, Shangguan Jing’er (Li Bingbing).

The video has been given a 1080p/VC-1 encoded transfer with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The colors are bright, with reds being especially vivid. The image reveals the intricate details and textures of the costumes. There are some issues, though. A fight takes place involving CGI deers and the high definition contributes to the animals looking unrealistic. During the prologue, aliasing can be seen on stairs when overlooking from the top of Buddha statue.

The audio options are Mandarin DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. I only listened to the former. The Mandarin track does a good job positioning the voices in the soundfield and objects, like horses, can be heard passing across channels. At Dr. Wang’s place in the Phantom Bazaar, creatures can be heard in surrounds. One negative is there’s too much bass in the mix when Dee and others fight the Imperial Chaplain. The subwoofer rattles and distorts when logs fly through the air.

The extras are compiled from the same interview sessions and cover different aspects of the production: “The Making of Detective Dee” (5 min), “Creating The Characters” (5 min), “Weapons, Stunts, and Action” (4 min), and “The World of Dee” (5 min). Also available are stills and a poster gallery, the international trailer, and an exclusive QR code for additional bonus materials.

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame‘s plot contains good twists, and Hung creates some interesting action set pieces. I would like to see the character again, so hopefully this will lead to a series of films. Though light on extras, the Blu-ray delivers a worthwhile high-definition experience.

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS