Detective Dee

and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame


Detective Dee

[aka: Di Renjie]

Written by Zhang Jialu

Cinematography by Chan Chi Ying & Chan Chor Keung

Sound Supervision: Wang Danrong Zhao Nan

Fight Choreography: Sammo Hung

Editing by Yau Chi Wai

Music by Peter Kam

Production Design by James Chiu

Visual Effects Produced by Edward Chiyun Yi & Chang Ik Jeong

Visual Effects Supervision: Sang Woo Nam & Yong Gi Lee

Image Design by Bruce Yu

Produced by Tsui Hark, Peggy Lee & Nathan Shi

Directed by Tsui Hark




Andy Lau

Li Bing Bing

Carina Lau

Deng Chao

Tony Leung Ka Fai



Theatrical: Huayi Brothers & Film Workshop Co. Ltd.

Video: Indomena Entertainment



Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Codec: AVC

Disc Size: 50 GB

Feature size: ca. 34 GB

Bit Rate: Moderate-High (25-35 Mbps)

Runtime: 123  minutes

Chapters: 15

Region: A / NTSC



Mandarin DTS-HD MA 5.1

English Dolby Stereo


Optional English & French



The Making of Detective Dee (4:05)
The World of Dee (5:10)

Weapons, Stunts & Action (3:45)

Creating the Characters (5:15) 



Amarary Blu-ray case: BRD x 1

Release Date: December 13, 2011



When a series of mysterious murders prevents the inauguration of China's first Empress, Detective Dee, the greatest investigative mind and Kung Fu Master of his generation, is brought back from exile to embark on a manhunt that will forever change the course of history!

With a matchless performance from leading-man Andy Lau (Warlords and House of the Flying Daggers) and breathtaking action from the martial arts director of Ip Man and Ip Man 2, Detective Dee is non-stop, heart-racing entertainment in the highest traditions of Asian Action Cinema.


The Movie: 8

Critical Reaction:


Very much a film in the Everything Including The Kitchen Sink mold of The Bride With White Hair or A Chinese Ghost Story, the preference for CGI effects - some good, some less good - over practical work may irk some but the spirit of the picture is spot on with Hark's own roots and that return to devil may care, let's try a bit of everything film making reminds us why we cared about Hark in the first place. A bit of comedy, a bit of mystery, some romance, some martial arts, a dash of horror, a trace of palace intrigue, Detective Dee is like a full season of your favorite kung fu soap opera distilled down into a more compact package with far better production values. - Todd Brown



Slant Magazine:

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame is so batshit that calling it director Tsui Hark's comeback is an aptly ridiculous claim. Hark's new film is a consummately bizarre crowd-pleaser that throws everything at the viewer from makeshift plastic surgery by acupuncture to death by spontaneous combustion. Hark navigates a hyper-convoluted series of plot twists with a weirdly self-possessed kind of poise. Hark's made weaker films out of equally crazy source material, like his schizoid segment from Triangle, the omnibus film he co-directed with Ringo Lam and Johnnie To. But he hasn't pulled of something this strange and this well in a while. By the end of Detective Dee, you'll watch the Buddha's face attack the only Chinese empress in history and sincerely enjoy it as a spectacular disaster set piece. Hark's back and in a big, screwy kind of way. - Simon Abrams



Los Angeles Times:

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame finds Tsui Hark, a genre wizard, in top form in this splendid, action-filled period epic. It has opulent, stylized settings of elegance, grandeur and scope, flawless special effects, and awesome martial arts combat staged by the master, Sammo Hung. Yet bravura spectacle never overwhelms either the plot or the key characters. Chang Chia-lu's intricate script bristles with wit and suspense; the film from start to finish is a terrific entertainment. - Kevin Thomas



Time Out Hong Kong:

Impressively enthralling amid an over-convoluted narrative (Tsui’s signature, you may say), the film provides Di [Dee] with three ambiguous distractions – Wu’s beloved protégé Shangguan Jing’er (Li Bingbing), the impulsive albino judicial officer Pei Donglai (Deng Chao), and a one-armed construction supervisor of the Buddha, Shatuo (Tony Leung Ka-fai) – all of which blur the boundaries between friend and foe while livening up the rather fantastical search for the real culprit. With its wildly inventive visual design (a hellish underground city called Phantom Bazaar leaves a big impression), jarring jumps in locations (characters move from dark, claustrophobic caves to a sweeping forest in a blink), and a general flair for supernatural shenanigans (when was the last time you saw a deer attack in the movies?), Detective Dee presents a hugely satisfying glimpse into the director’s delirious imagination. More of this, please. - Edmund Lee



Image: 9/10

I gather that Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame was shot on the Red One digital camera, which came as something of a surprise to me, since my only experience with movies thus far based on that camera are far from what we might think of as high definition material. (cf: My Son My Son What Have Ye Done, Antichrist, Beginners). PQ is excellent, even if it makes apparent the shortcomings of Chinese CGI.


Indomena’s high definition transfer shares much the same color palette as Cine Asia’s UK Blu-ray released this past June.  The main difference is contrast, which is apparent in side-by-side screen caps but less so in the viewing of the two discs. Clearly, the UK disc has blacker blacks and white whites and higher edge sharpness. One might even say that the US version doesn’t have black at all.  What it does have is a longer tonal scale, which the UK, with its popping contrast, lacks, and as a result, loses some detail in the upper midrange.



  Cine Asia



Either of these discs, however, looks terrific, and there is no particularly good reason to favor one over the other, other than taste. Perhaps because sharpness declines with enlargement and my home theatre centers around 110” projection, I come down in favor of the UK. Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame is a fantastic idea to start with, so a glossy presentation is in keeping. On the other hand, you might prefer the more filmlike look of the Indomena, which pops quite enough on rear projection of 60 inches and less.  Also, the fact that the Indomena is a little less sharp means that we don’t notice the integration problems of CGI as much.


In other respects, Vivnedi’s transfer is without blemish or defect.  Colors are true, deep and glorious as befits Tsui’s tonal palette. Shadows have detail, highlights retain information. Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame should become one of the favorite Blu-rays of the year on image quality alone.



  Cine Asia



Audio & Music: 9/7

In my review of The Stool Pigeon, where I had given its Audio a score of 9 of 10, I had noted that that movie had lost out to Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame in last year’s Hong Kong Film Awards, so I was looking forward to the Blu-ray of Detective Dee with eager anticipation.  Well, it’s pretty good, but not better.  The difference is largely to be found in what each is trying to accomplish.  The Stool Pigeon heightens reality effects only in the service of the movie, and in so doing, it has a more subtle range of character – and one we can recognize and, to an extent, identify with.


Not so in Detective Dee, where just about everything excepting dialogue and music is invented.  This or that effect is enhanced or diminished in the service of fantasy.  The entire soundscape has only a remote connection to reality: here is a lightning storm, there a talking deer, here a grinding wheel of chains, there a facial transformation.  We are in awe of the artistry and the technical wizardry to bring it off on Blu-ray.



Unlike the case with the image, I found little to distinguish the UK and US Mandarin DTS-HD MA mixes.  They are very likely identical, as the translations appear to be.  The Indomena adds an English language dub in Dolby Stereo, which should be avoided for the customary reasons in addition to its not having the same effects and music balance or uncompressed realization.


The lossless dialogue is beautifully realized from whispers to shrieks of pain; the thunder storm has some good cracks, but I’ve heard more gripping elsewhere; the rain, on the other hand, was so drenching I felt my hand unconsciously reaching for an umbrella; the talking deer is marvelously enhanced for proper surround effect; the work area within the Buddha statue is detailed with all manner of effects, from the light banging of distance hammers to the weight of chains, from the scurry of the workmen to the flapping of banners. You can almost feel the heat of the furnace and the casting process.  Elsewhere I was less convinced by the attack on Dee and Shangguan Jing’er.  The arrows flying from every direction hit their marks, often as not, off camera, the effect seemed deliberately confused, more subjective than objective.  A judgment call, perhaps.  I wasn’t sure.



Extras: 5

In addition to a small handful of promotional trailers in HD, the four production featurettes are brief (totaling less than 20 minutes), all in SD and non-anamorphic, with no Play All function.  The various segments cover effects, stunts and action sequences, costumes, the creation of the Buddha and overall art direction.  It’s all useful as far as they go, but none are sufficiently detailed.  The UK disc is the clear winner here with the inclusion of an informed and lively audio commentary by Bey Logan, chock full of background, cast and production details.


Also missing is a featurette on the historical context and the literary antecedents for the title character (save Bey Logan’s remarks).  Di Renjie was an historical figure, who was credited for positively influencing the reign of China’s first empress, the seventh century Wu Zeitan.  “Judge Dee” appears in Robert van Gulik’s mysteries of the mid-20th century, which were initially based on an eighteenth century Chinese detective novel that made use of Di Renjie.  Certain plot points of the movie, such as the charge of treason and his influence on subsequent dynastic rule, are consistent with what is known about that period in China.



Recommendation: 8

So, what’s not to like about “eye candy?”  Just consider The Fifth Element.  Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame is likely to find its way onto quite a few short lists for this year’s best image and sound.  The movie is relentlessly entertaining in direct proportion to its maze of subplots.  It’s like an upscale version of A Chinese Ghost Story: beautiful to look at and fully worth your money for purchase.  Cine Asia’s region-free UK disc wins on points because of the audio commentary. (Note that the UK Blu-ray will not play its video extra features with out a player that can interpret PAL.) On the other hand, Indomena’s Blu-ray includes an English language dub for the Language & subtitle impaired, and has the benefit of local purchase.



Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

November 23, 2011

More screencaps from Detective Dee:

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