Thursday, October 6, 2011

Mystery of the Phantom Headache

Director: Hark Tsui
Writers: Kuo-fu Chen, Jialu Zhang
Starring: Andy Lau, Chao Deng, Carina Lau
2010 | China/Hong Kong | PG-13 | 119 mins

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame is a Sherlock Holmes-ian highly fictionalized account of Di Renjie, one of the most celebrated officials of the Tang Dynasty. In 690 AD, a giant towering Buddha is being built for the inauguration of Empress Wu Zetian (Carina Lau). But when the mysterious spontaneous combustion death of one of the towering Buddha's architects sparks a sinister mystery, the Empress decides to spring Detective Dee (Andy Lau) from his imprisonment for having spoken against her and puts him on the case. With two assigned assistants, Dee must use his detective skills to crack the mystery all the while being hampered by repeated assassination attempts and political mistrust. As more and more people become victim to spontaneous combustion, Dee is running out of time and the lack of people he can trust is dissipating, but Detective Dee seeks truth and justice no matter what gets in his way.

Detective Dee is a giant convoluted mess. Continually adding new cogs into the wheel every scene, the mystery piles up with more vague and secretive clues or back story that don't challenge the audience in participating in solving the puzzle, but instead further confuse the audience with multiple characters and set-pieces to keep track of. It's such a mess you literally need a pen and paper to keep track of everything. If properly structured this could have been an entertaining challenge, but instead poor plotting, dialogue, and the rampant idea of cramming as much action into any given scene instead causes the Mystery of the Phantom Flame to simply flicker and die out.

Combining epic action set-pieces and the fantastical locations requires wire-work and some of the worst CGI since Lawnmower Man. One of the characters, a shape-shifting Chamberlain, is represented as a CGI deer and there is even a fight scene between Detective Dee and said deer, and the CGI on display is atrocious. The biggest fault of the over-use of CGI is when it's executed poorly, it takes one out of the story and that's the worst thing any film can do, and Detective Dee does this in spades.

Tsui Hark puts his focus on maintaining the fantastical action rather than focusing on properly explaining the mystery. Filled with more junk than it can handle, Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame loses its audience in it's own labyrinth and ignores explaining the proper clues to get out. The run time also contributes by excessively cramming this all together which gives the film a feel that it's as long as an extended cut of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, it is that unsatisfying and boring. If attention to detail was paid to properly mapping out the convoluted plot this could have been a fun and engaging mystery, instead we are left with just plain bad filmmaking that will induce countless headaches.

All contents copyright 2011 Tyler Baptist

No comments:

Post a Comment