Corn Rigs and Barley Rigs: “Detective Dee” movie review

By Anthony Crabtree

First, let me welcome you to Corn Rigs and Barley Rigs: A Guest Blog About Film. This will be a once a week piece in which I will look at a number of titles that interest me, and hopefully interest you as well. Not all of the films I watch will be good, but all have merit for one reason or another. I also will promote a new film-related blog or site each week.

Ready? Let’s go!

“Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame,” based on the novel Lin Qianyu, written by Jialu Zhang, directed by Tsui Hark, 122 Minutes.

Tsui Hark is a director whose work I’m always interested in, but sometimes find myself avoiding because of negative word of mouth. I’m not normally like this with directors. If there is a director whose work I like, I generally try to seek it out despite what reviews say. With Hark though, I’ve found that reviews for his films generally reflect how I will receive the film.

The last movie that I remember watching from Hark was 2005’s “Seven Swords,” and I walked away from that film entertained. The  action and battle scenes were well done, and I remember thinking to myself that Tsui Hark was back. Sadly, six years later, I find myself not too crazy about his latest film “Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame.”

“Detective Dee” has a lot going for it on paper. Andy Lau (who is a fantastic actor) is in the lead role as Detective Dee, Carina Lau plays the Empress who is about to be coronated, veteran director Tsui is at the helm, and Sammo Hung is the action choreographer. Yet somehow, even with all this talent involved, “Detective Dee” falls short and is a bland piece of cinema.

The plot revolves around a mystery where people spontaneously combust and in order to solve this mystery, exiled Detective Dee is brought in to solve the case. It’s an interesting premise, and starts off as a fairly engaging film. Andy Lau plays a charismatic Detective Dee, and though he doesn’t really do anything for the first hour, he comes off as remarkably likeable.

This can only be attributed to the skills of Andy Lau, because he does not have much to do in “Detective Dee.” He does have a fight scene against some unknown assailants, and he is attacked by more unknown assailants, but nothing that gives his acting chops anything to chew on.

After an hour or so of clunky dialogue about the political leaders being suspects, and clumsy fight scenes that do not live up to the excitement that comes with Sammo Hung choreographing, the film becomes a complete bore. The actors do their best, but the film is uninteresting. The action scenes do not help make “Detective Dee” more entertaining. If anything, the 10-minute action sequences actually bring the film to a crawl because they move at such a slow pace and are poorly edited. I have seen Hark create some fine action sequences in his day, but unfortunately, there are none to be found here.

While the writing and the plot leave a lot to be desired, Detective Dee’s interactions with Jing’er (Bingbing Li) and Pei Donglai (Chao Deng) do seem genuine. The bond that the three form, while there is ultimately little to it, is entertaining. In fact, the moments with the three of them are some of the best parts of this movie. Unfortunately, these moments only last for about 20 minutes in total, as the film keeps the three apart as they head on their own separate adventures.

This is all a shame, because at the beginning you almost think that the film could be entertaining enough to recommend. The sets are well designed, the visual effects look solid, and the acting is on par with most martial arts-fantasy films. Yet, once the film gets going, the realization sets in that there is nothing for the actors to do, and not enough good-looking sets and visual effects to save this film from the plodding story and the lifeless action.

If you are still interested in seeing the film, be warned that it is not yet available in the United States. You can, however, order the film from www.yesasia.com.

Grade: C-

Power Link of the Week:

If you’re interested in excellent reviews of horror films, then I implore you to visit this blog. The blog is called Absolute Cinephelia and is definitely worth visiting. The link is at http://absolutecinephilia.wordpress.com/.

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